Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Carroll School of Management

Wellness and Prevention

Alex Gorsky

Chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson

Excerpt from remarks to Boston College’s Chief Executives Club  

September 11, 2015

TAKEAWAY: Wellness and Prevention

Audience Member:
I’m fascinated with your comments on wellness and prevention. As you know, we’re willing apparently to spend endless amounts of money on medicine. We spend almost nothing on public health, comparatively, or wellness and prevention efforts. So I’d love you to say a little bit more about what Johnson & Johnson is doing in that realm. But beyond that, what you think it’s going to take for us to really get the buy-in to those aspects of the strategy overall.

Thank you. We’ve had a little bit of a pilot laboratory, you might say, in our own employee base. Jim Burke, who was the predecessor of my predecessor of my predecessor as CEO, who was a remarkable leader, was a big believer in health and wellness and started some of the very initial programs. This was back in the ’70s, putting health care facilities in some of our plants. They put gyms in them, would encourage people. We called them Live for Life points, if you worked out in the gym, you got Live for Life points, where you could go in the company store and get something for free. They’re pretty rudimentary, but he had the right idea.

Through the years, we’ve tried to build on that with more scientific study and background. Now we actually have an entire group looking at how do we keep our own employees healthier? We’re convinced that a healthier employee is going to be more engaged, is going to be more productive, is going to be happier, more engaged, and ultimately do better, personally and professionally.

What we’ve been able to demonstrate is that when we invest in things like smoking cessation programs, when we invest in really good prenatal care, when we get a patient much better educated in controlling things like type two diabetes, when we help them make decisions, particularly when they’re facing areas like very serious cancer care, that you do get better outcomes. We find that, for about every dollar we invest, we get a return of about $4. If we look at our average health care cost per employee, our rates of increase, actually they’re lower than the benchmarks for the industry.

When we look at our levels of engagement in our employees, which we survey every two years, we’ve also seen a correlation there, where they feel better. Very often, in fact just in a couple weeks, I’ll be with another group of CEOs that are working with the American Heart Association. I know many of your companies, by the way, do different elements of that. But one of the things we’re trying to work on is how could we scale this more so that we could share some of this information across a number of different organizations, because I think there’s some great learnings, and we don’t have to relearn them every time when you’re trying to start your own program. But I can tell you, when you try to sell a health and wellness program and prevention, it’s a tough sell. We’ve tried to do that on the market and, but so I think part of this has to be something that business leaders, that government leaders believe in. It will take some investment before you see the longer term results.