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Wed, Mar 11


Mervis Hall, Classroom 114

The Tylenol Cyanide Incident - Johnson & Johnson's Reputational Response Deconstructed

Was there negligence? Was it beyond the company's control? Does it matter? How does a leading US corporation respond to protect its reputation?

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The Tylenol Cyanide Incident - Johnson & Johnson's Reputational Response Deconstructed
The Tylenol Cyanide Incident - Johnson & Johnson's Reputational Response Deconstructed

Time & Location

Mar 11, 2020, 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Mervis Hall, Classroom 114 , Mervis Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA

About the event

It seems like a weekly occurrence now when a major corporation must deal with a crisis that can potentially damage its reputation.  Wells Fargo, Facebook, Target....the list goes on.  One of earliest cases of a major corporation having to navigate a crisis of reputation comes from the tampering of Tylenol Pain Relief Medicine that took place in 1982 and from a second incident occurring in 1986. Johnson & Johnson, known in the 1980's mostly as the "Baby Company" suddenly had national visibility for issues that directly challenged its core mission of providing safe and effective products to the public.  The company was thrust into reacting to a daily series of events in 1982 and developing a plan under the glare of the media spotlight.  Then, it happened again four years later.

Bill Slivka, HBS '78, will lead  the discussion on the Tylenol crisis and will deconstruct J&J's response and navigation in stormy waters in late 1982. He will re-create the "real time" environment that descended upon J&J executives through contemporaneous news reports and provide attendees the opportunity to assess the facts and opine on what they would do at different points during the crisis.  The case will include a similar assessment of the second tampering in 1986.  At the conclusion of the case, there will be an opportunity to outline what was learned from the J&J experience that can be applied to other corporate reputation crises.

Bill was a J&J manager at the time and led several of the company's consumer brands.  He has firsthand experience related to the crisis, from manning Tylenol hotline phones during the crisis to the national Tylenol relaunch sales meeting.  Bill is currently an Executive-in-Residence at the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business School and has lectured previously on this topic.  

Fear not : there will be no case to pre-read and materials in class will consist of video and slides that will outline the facts and actions taken by J&J in the crisis.  Importantly, as with any case, you will be able to weigh in with your thoughts on what the company could have done and debate with other attendees in an HBS classroom-like setting.  

Please plan to arrive starting at 5:30 to the Katz Graduate School of Business School Mervis Hall located on the University of Pittsburgh campus near Schenley Plaza (and right next to the still standing outfield wall of the old Forbes Field).  The case will commence at 6:00 pm and go to about 7:15 pm or so.  There is metered street parking around the building and Schenley Plaza (allow time to find a space!).


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