Robert Wood Johnson devoted his life to public service and to building the small, but innovative, family firm of Johnson & Johnson into the world's finest health and medical care products company.
The title by which most knew him—General—grew out of his service during World War II as a brigadier general in charge of the New York Ordnance District. He resigned his commission to accept President Roosevelt's appointment as vice chairman of the War Production Board and chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corporation.
General Johnson was an ardent egalitarian, an industrialist fiercely committed to free enterprise who championed—and paid—a minimum wage even the unions of his day considered beyond expectation. He was a disciplined perfectionist who sometimes had to restrain himself from acts of reckless generosity. Over the course of his 74 years, General Johnson would also be a politician, writer, sailor, pilot, activist, and philanthropist.
His interest in hospitals led him to conclude that hospital administrators needed specialized training. So he joined with Malcolm Thomas MacEachern, MD, then president of the American College of Surgeons, in a movement that led to the founding at Northwestern University of one of the first schools of hospital administration.
General Johnson also had an intense concern for the hospital patient whom he saw as being lost in the often bewildering world of medical care. He strongly advocated improved education for both doctors and nurses, and he admired a keen medical mind that also was linked to a caring heart.
His philosophy of corporate responsibility received its most enduring expression in his one-page management Credo for Johnson & Johnson. It declares a company's first responsibility to be to its customers, followed by its workers, management, community, and stockholders—in that order.
Despite the intensity and determination he displayed in his role as a business leader, General Johnson had a warmth and compassion for those less privileged than he. He was always keenly aware of the need to help others, and during his lifetime, he helped many quietly and without fanfare.
Robert Wood Johnson's sense of personal responsibility toward society was expressed imperishably in the disposition of his own immense fortune. He left virtually all of it to the foundation that bears his name, creating one of the world's largest private philanthropies.
Read more about the rich history of the Foundation.