What would JP Morgan do?
Q: Tony Hayward, once credited for BP's "green" turnaround, is forced to resign in disgrace. Michael Dell, the revolutionary high-tech entrepreneur, is sanctioned for misleading investors. Wall Street titans, once lionized, are now reviled. Where have all the CEO heroes gone?
Heroes are forged in adversity - and while the global corporate community has certainly experienced its fair share of hardship in recent months, its leaders' responses have often been anything but courageous. Whether the matter at hand is a product recall, allegations of corruption, or an economic disaster of epic proportions, we've seen top business executives put their own interests ahead of broader public interest time and time again.
Where are the sacrifices? Where's the sense of responsibility that was once a foundation of commercial success? When we have easy answers to these questions, heroes will abound. For now, however, they are harder to find than ever.
In 1907, when the Knickerbocker Trust Company's collapse sparked a financial panic similar to the one we're still wrestling with today, J.P. Morgan brought together the leaders of the major financial institutions of the day to come up with a strategy that would stem the crisis. They didn't go to Washington, D.C. with their hands out. And they didn't scramble for golden parachutes as the plane they were flying nosedived to the ground with the public aboard.
What they did do was risk their reputations - and the considerable fortunes that were tied to them - in order to tackle the greatest economic challenge they'd seen to date. In the end, they stemmed the panic and paved the way for what would become the Federal Reserve.
In 1982, Johnson & Johnson executives dealing with a Tylenol tampering crisis that had caused several deaths in the Chicago area didn't just pull potentially dangerous products from the affected area. They pulled every bottle of Johnson &Johnson's leading over-the-counter pain medication from every store shelf in the nation. Then Johnson and Johnson pioneered the tamper-resistant packaging still used today. This costs billions and took many years for Johnson & Johnson's stock price to recover. But there's little doubt that they also saved lives and laid the foundation for Johnson & Johnson's enduring brand reputation and profitability.
Today's business leaders need to do what is right and build on the good examples of those before them. Tough decisions might lead to some bad quarters, and the risk of being fired - but who wouldn't trade one tough year for the decades of prosperity enjoyed by giants such as J.P Morgan and Johnson & Johnson?
In crisis, true heroes realize that their interests are inexorably tied to those of the people that depend on them. Unfortunately, it seems that not enough of today's business leaders understand this principle. Hopefully the next generation can learn from bad examples of leadership, and follow a better path.
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