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America's Most Admired Lawbreaker: Chapter 10, "Chess at $1,000 An Hour"

The New CEO

On February 21, 2012, five weeks after Johnson & Johnson paid $158 million to Texas and made Allen Jones a multimillionaire, the company announced that the board had appointed Alex Gorsky to succeed William Weldon as the new chief executive officer. The press release noted that Gorsky had begun at J&J in 1988 as a salesman for Janssen and then worked his way up to president of the unit. Although he had left in 2004 to run rival Novartis' North American division, he had returned to the fold in 2008 to assume a variety of top positions, including vice chairman. The announcement quoted Weldon, the outgoing CEO, describing the "rigorous, thorough, and formal multi-year" board selection process.

I tried to reach each member of the J&J board that chose Gorsky to ask how Gorsky’s involvement in the Risperdal marketing and sales campaigns had factored into his or her decision. Of the 12—who include the former president of the University of Michigan and five retired Fortune 500 CEOs—I was able to reach eight by phone or email either directly or through their designated assistants. All declined comment on that question, and despite being independent board members, technically unaffiliated with the company, all referred me to J&J’s public relations department.

But Michael Johns, a board member, physician and former chancellor of Emory, did say, “As I understand it, Risperdal was a drug that treats symptoms of a disease, not any disease. So maybe it’s the system that’s screwed up.” That rationale aligns with how the company’s lawyers, according to one of them, saw the cases—that the government’s off-label argument puts the company in an impossible position when it comes to drugs like Risperdal. “These diseases,” the lawyer explained, “don’t have a blood test or anything else; they are all about symptoms. And many different types of people can have those symptoms, which our drug does a great job of alleviating.”

Gorsky was described in the Wall Street Journal story covering his promotion as a “former Army ranger, who had “edged out fellow Vice Chairman Sheri McCoy, 53, for the top spot. Both inside and outside the company,” the Journal reported, “Ms. McCoy was thought to have an edge over Mr. Gorsky in the horse race to become the 126-year-old company’s ninth leader.”

The story’s concluding sentence quoted a health industry consultant saying he “thinks the board chose Mr. Gorsky partly because ‘he has been responsible for the largest acquisition in the history of J&J,’ the Synthes deal.”

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To read Chapter 10 in its entirety and view the accompanying materials online, visit The Huffington Post: Highline website:

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