Alex Gorsky isn’t talking himself yet but details have begun to emerge about the West Point grad, Army Ranger captain, Wharton biz school graduate, ex-marathon runner and intrepid “bag carrier” who has risen through the ranks and will now lead Johnson & Johnson –- a company whose own illustrious credentials as a consumer marketing and medical-device powerhouse have been tarnished in recent years by product recalls and questionable decisions.
The company announced on Tuesday that Gorsky, 51, currently vice chairman of J&J’s executive committee, would replace Bill Weldon, 63, as CEO on April 26, the date of the annual shareholders meeting. Weldon will remain as chairman.
The smart money had been on Sheri S. McCoy, a research and development scientist and the co-vice chairman of the executive committee, to get the CEO job. The release makes a point of stating, in only the third paragraph, that McCoy “will continue to lead the pharmaceuticals and consumer groups, and maintain responsibility for information technology” going forward.
McCoy, 53, holds a masters’ degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University and an MBA from Rutgers University, and is likely to be heavily recruited by other firms, several stories observe. Gorsky may try to keep her aboard by offering her a new title such as COO. The two executives have a close professional relationship and “sort of had an understanding between them that ‘if you win, I will work for you’ -- and vice versa,” a source tells the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan D. Rockoff and Joann S. Lublin.
"He has an incredible ability to connect with people and get the best out of people," David Norton, a former supervisor, tells the reporters, relating that Gorsky still trades emails with sales reps he met at a conference 15 years ago.
Gorsky “fits the mold of someone who once ‘carried the bag’ -- industry slang for working as a sales representative,” writes Katie Thomas in the New York Times. “He is known as a polished speaker and an intense yet likable manager who is a quick study when it comes to learning new topics.”
Indeed, Gorsky is rooted in J&J’s sales culture, as the Times headline points out, and served as head of the company’s medical device and diagnostics group when “critical decisions were made about an artificial hip implant that has failed in thousands of patients, crippling some of them.”
That’s led some critics to charge that not much will change at J&J. “As somebody steeped in J&J culture, I would be very surprised to see big changes,” Miller Tabak & Co. portfolio manager Les Funtleyder says and, if they come, the company is “so big that it would take a very long time to move a big battleship like that.”
“We do not anticipate significant changes in J&J’s strategic direction under his leadership,” Wells Fargo Securities analyst Lawrence Biegelsen wrote in a note.
Gorsky offered lessons on making business decisions that he said he learned during his career in a speech to the MBA Veterans group last year, writeBloomberg Businessweek’s Drew Armstrong and Robert Langreth. He gamely addressed the ranks despite having been slotted in the “postprandial lull” position.
“You don’t have to get it 100% right,” Gorsky says. “When you get it 60%, go! Any more time that you spend trying to figure it out, you’re going to lose in the speed that you’re missing out on.”
Gorsky also says he tries to listen before he talks in an online video discussing his experiences at the Wharton School of Business, Armstrong and Langreth point out. “That allows you to collect much more meaningful input and ultimately make the right call,” he says.
“I’ll try to keep you energized, on the edge of your seats for the next 20 minutes or so,” Gorsky tells the crown returning from lunch in the MBA Veterans video, “and then we’ll do a Q&A.” He does a pretty good job of it. Only time will tell how that strategy goes at J&J, of course, which seems to be suffering from a postprandial lull of its own.