Michael Sneed, EVP, Global Corporate Affairs and CCO, Johnson & Johnson

It’s Time For Business to Lead

Having diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds—and sharing those things liberally—is the spark that fuels new ideas and forward progress. Corporations in particular know this. It’s why we’ve invested so heavily in diversity and inclusion initiatives and in technology platforms that better enable us to appreciate, leverage and learn from our differences. 

Society is no different. We’ve seen that GDP improves with increased diversity. There’s proven value of progressive immigration policies, societies where multicultural communities are supported, and diversity of all types is embraced. Communities and entire nations are stronger when they acknowledge and respect people’s cultural, social, religious, gender and economic  differences, to name a few.

Yet, today, society finds itself trapped in a paradox. Technology is bringing us closer together socially, while also enabling us to maintain an insular existence and experience. People are withdrawing to their own corners and holding tight to individual ideals. Tension is accumulating to breaking points and, left unchecked, the consequences of this polarization can escalate dramatically, as we’ve seen with recent events.  

Many corporations operate in a precious middle ground between the extremes. Our employees reflect a similar range of viewpoints. Between our interactions with the general public, and partnership with communities, governments and other key stakeholders, we are constantly listening to and working to strike a balance that addresses all perspectives. Importantly, we know firsthand the consequences of being too insular or set in our ways. In business, being closed off to new ideas and constructive conversation will most certainly lead to failure.

It’s a challenge worth accepting and overcoming—because we’ll all be better—as businesses, as individuals and as a society—when we are able to listen to, hear, learn from and respect each other more openly.

This unique reality is where we find a new opportunity to lead. Whereas initially, corporate social responsibility efforts focused on philanthropy, environmental stewardship and the like; today, our role is much broader. Being a good corporate citizen requires us to take a stand and not be afraid to step up and speak out—especially when it matters most. We have the unique ability to break down geographic, economic and other barriers to reach and connect people from all walks of life. We must use that position to contribute to constructive conversation and drive progress and positive outcomes on a societal scale. 

At Johnson & Johnson, this is the ideology that we’ve subscribed to for the last 134 years, and that is expressed in Our Credo. As the largest and most broadly based healthcare company in the world, we must play a role in civil discourse. I will tell you from experience that these efforts are not easy. As public trust in institutions continues to decline, it’s an uphill battle for even inherently good individuals and organizations to garner belief and trust from the general public. Your character as a company will be tried and tested. People will question your motivations. But it’s a challenge worth accepting and overcoming—because we’ll all be better—as businesses, as individuals and as a society—when we are able to listen to, hear, learn from and respect each other more openly. 

As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, stated in his 2019 letter to CEOs, “Companies cannot solve every issue of public importance, but there are many … that cannot be solved without corporate leadership.” Now is the time for us to convene people from all standpoints, shoulder to shoulder, to advance the common good and create a more prosperous future together.