Ray Jordan is senior vice president of corporate affairs at Amgen, the world’s largest independent biotech firm. A pharma veteran, he previously was vice president of communications and information at Johnson & Johnson, and brought 27 years of experience in global health care to his position at Amgen, having spent 17 years at Pfizer before joining J&J.
March 22, 2012
New York City
Interviewer: Richard Jones
Videographer: Karen Bryan
INTERVIEWER: It is March 22, 2012, (this interview is for) the oral history project of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State. We are at the Grand Hyatt in New York and speaking with Ray Jordan, vice president for public affairs and corporate communications for Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Ray, students always like to know how successful people got where they are, could you give us a thumbnail of your career trajectory?
JORDAN: Career trajectory, okay. I was afraid you were going to ask that question because I have a colorful trajectory. In the sense that I’ve had both—during my career both a fascination with numbers and with words. And it was only over time that I actually started bringing those together in the public relations, public affairs area and found that kind of the analytical work on the business side was actually helpful for being able to frame messages on behalf of an enterprise, and to be able to focus on the messages. And also to some extent, being able to drive the messages with senior leadership. So my root, given that, was that I had begun some work as a math major. Didn’t want to pursue finally a degree in mathematics. Took a break, and went back to a passion that I had, which was journalism. Spent a couple of years as a journalist, finished off my undergraduate degree, and began work back more in the operations side of businesses, where I spent about half a dozen or 8 years in operations work. Worked for Pfizer in operations and increasingly missed the engagement with the media, with the press, with all the things that I had experienced earlier that were more on the language than let’s say the analytical side of the equation. So in a big company, I was able to gravitate my way into the public affairs organization. I did some policy research work, and then migrated in to more responsibilities in the classic communication area. So it took me a good 20 years to make my way over to the work that would then form the back half now, of my career, which has been in public affairs. My move from Pfizer to Johnson & Johnson was quite a consistent move in terms of the responsibilities and the role I was playing. Just in a very different type of organization.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Johnson & Johnson traditionally is one of the world’s most trusted companies. A lot of people know about the famous Johnson & Johnson credo that spells out the responsibilities to constituents and several publics. How does Johnson & Johnson ensure that the credo, which was developed a long time ago, remains applicable to the company today?
JORDAN: Right. The credo emerged in the early 1940s and has been a centerpiece for how we’ve thought about our responsibilities for the 60+ years since, and the embedding of it, the way it becomes a part of the fabric of the company is absolutely essential—in my mind—to the culture at J&J. I would say there are two components of that. One is the fact that it just needs to be and is a part of each decision making process that impacts stakeholders. It has to be recognized as real and as driving decisions. People in meetings have to feel that it’s there; it has to be not just on the wall, but in the discussion with people so that really comes from mentoring, from behavior modeling. It’s toned from the top. It’s toned from the middle. So it’s just seen as a way of helping you make decisions. That’s one. The second way which I think is supportive of that, but could not replace it are to create opportunities for people to engage more directly with the elements of the credo, to build better understanding and so on. I’ll give you one example of that from the last couple of years, which is where we established a tabletop process where people as small groups could stand around a table with a map of sort of a journey through the credo, and actually would talk about their own circumstances, the situations they faced. How did this part of the credo come up? Where was it challenged? Where did you have tradeoffs that you felt you had to make? So it was more of an exercise that engaged people. But again, that’s supportive of what to my mind is the core; which is seeing it in the room, in the decision making process.
INTERVIEWER: Is it important for—not just J&J, but other corporations to have an ethical mission statement or credo?
JORDAN: We could call it different things. I think being clear on your identity and your character is absolutely essential. And in the discussions that we’re having today with the Arthur Page Society, we’re talking about corporate character as the foundation for really driving the communication practice today, and the definition of that character, and being really conscious about what it is, and how you’re describing it is essential. We’ve been very fortunate to have the credo as a cornerstone for our character, but any company would benefit from time spent finding its character. And even with the credo, we still spend time thinking about, what are the commitments in terms of who we are and what we stand for, given the markets that we’re in, given the environment that we’re in. So the short answer is yes. Critical.
INTERVIEWER: What do you feel are the keys to building trust and credibility in an organization?
JORDAN: If you’ve defined character up front, I would say that the core step to building trust and credibility is to act consistent with that character. So if you’ve said who you are and what you stand for, be absolutely certain, make certain that the actions you take, across your business, are consistent with that character. I do say that those of us in our profession have an additional responsibility which is to help those actions become visibly apparent to people. But the actions to start with must be consistent.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like something Arthur W. Page would have said a number of years ago.
JORDAN: Probably more eloquently than that.
INTERVIEWER: Generally, what are the challenges facing public relations executives today in the corporate world and how can those be met?
JORDAN: Wow, that’s a wide question but it’s one that we at Page are constantly wrestling with. What I’m hearing from across the professions is that a large set of the challenges comes from the dramatically changed communication environment that we’re operating in. Social media is part of it - the digital environment, that seems to be driving a level of transparency that is unique to us, yet brings us back to the fact that our actions are going to speak equally loud as our words in driving that credibility. But that’s a different responsibility for us, right? Driving our actions rather than just communicating about them. But I think that’s a challenge. I think related to that is the organizational challenge that is coming from the fact that in this new communication environment there are many more decision makers, many more publishers, in effect, than there has ever been, so every person has a voice. It’s not just the opinion leaders, or the influencers driving points of view, but it’s every person who can influence every other person. So this notion of a much more diverse communication universe is I think, changing things. Among the things that are changing are the structures of our own organizations. Classical marketing, classical PR, are not nearly as separate as they used to be since the dialogues now have to happen between them. So I think managing those organizational constructs is key. Both of those, which I think are among the biggest challenges, come from that dramatically changed environment in which we’re operating.
INTERVIEWER: And how are CCOs meeting these challenges?
JORDAN: Addressing them in different ways, and we’re learning as we go, that’s the one thing I can assure. But I’m seeing a lot of movement where organizations are recognizing social media as not only a skill that the organization has to have, but as a core skill. And in fact, I’ll even mention, at Johnson & Johnson a couple years back, we had the notion that social media was a special competency for our communicators. So where you might do financial media, you also do social media. And about a year and a half or so back, we decided—no, no, this is wrong. Social media is no longer a specialty; it is a core competency, like writing, like counseling. So that’s one approach, which is to embed this new mechanism right into your organization. The other side is, I think we’re seeing closer and closer collaboration and integration between the marketing and the communications structures. So there’s recognition that you can’t just broadcast your equity over here for marketing, and deal with the press over here, but that there’s much more of an interplay and integration. Those are a couple of examples of addressing it.
INTERVIEWER: The aim of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State and of the Arthur W. Page Society is to help individuals become counselors to leadership. How can individuals best prepare themselves for that role?
JORDAN: That’s a wonderful question; I don’t think there’s a single answer to that. I actually struggled in thinking about that question—what is the right trajectory to counseling. I do believe it comes first from getting to a perspective on issues that are so critical to the organization that you can defend your perspective on those issues, right up to and including, betting your job on it. Because it’s the point where, if you’re convinced enough about a matter that you’re prepared to do that, then you really can boldly counsel a senior leader, often in ways that are going to be uncomfortable. If the counseling is simply to support or encourage, it’s probably not the most valuable counseling. The most valuable counseling is going to be the counseling that challenges the leader. It’s never an easy place to be, but I would say that it’s a place that as you build to that, for any given issue, you need to get yourself to such a solid foundation that you’re prepared to take that on. So, I would encourage in any activity that you’re operating in, get to a perspective. Get to an informed opinion about a topic that you feel so strongly about, that you’re prepared to take on the challenges.
INTERVIEWER: And what do you think is the status of the counseling role of public relations in the corporate world today—is it growing in importance or diminishing? I think I know you’re answer.
JORDAN: It’s growing. In fact, organizationally for us over the last few years, we’ve seen that the strongest model for us in terms of organizing the function is to be sure that, at all of the senior levels of the function, we have a very tight alignment between the communication leader and the business leader who has a similar portfolio of audiences and issues. You establish a close link between the communicator and the individual with a comparable remit. So for me in my role, it’s the CEO, chairman—same or different person—and the same portfolio that makes up their day, the same portfolio that keeps them restless, is the portfolio that I’m dealing with. For somebody working with our pharmaceutical group leader, that’s a one-to-one linkage with the same portfolio, and that’s fairly new to us—a few years old – but it cements the link between each of these business leaders at each level of the organization and the communication leader. That puts extra prominence on the counseling role. The personal interaction in those situations matter.
INTERVIEWER: What education or previous professional experience best prepares a person for the rigors of ethical decision making in the communications field?
JORDAN: In that regard, I would put the emphasis on having been involved deeply in business decisions through your career. Having helped business leaders wrestle with those decisions, and then implement based on them. You can get there in different ways, the skill sets that we bring in the corporate communication area: you can get to them through journalism, through liberal arts, through business training, through agency work. I’m less concerned about what has built the initial capabilities—and more concerned about what kinds of engagements have you had that have put you with a business leader - or as a business leader- in a firing line of making business decisions. Somebody who may have run their own company for a while, or may have been part of an agency business model would have had those kinds of experience. An attorney who may have helped counsel a business leader may have had those experiences, certainly just as much as an agency person or a PR person coming up through the junior ranks may have had. So it’s that engagement with business, with sort of difficult business decisions where you have to wrestle with different parties with tradeoffs. That to me is a core skill set, and that’s something I believe you develop on the job, and it can be at different jobs.
INTERVIEWER: How important is mentoring to the fostering of ethical decision making in the workplace. I guess you’ve sort of answered that question in that, if you have that experience of working with the people who are wrestling through the problems, that’s a form of mentoring isn’t it?
JORDAN: It absolutely is. And that’s precisely correct. We talked about the credo earlier at Johnson & Johnson and the most powerful moments for me. I can give you the individual stories about them, because they’re that emblazoned. They are the moments when you saw someone—usually more senior in the organization because that seems to have a special impact on you, or somebody from another part of the organization - who has really taken the ethics to heart. In a meeting, they’ve been bold in raising a question or making a suggestion based on the ethical concerns that our credo may have raised around a particular decision. And when you see that, when you see that played out a couple of times, it gives you the strength and helps your personal character develop in a way where you live up to the memory of what these other folks have done. It emboldens you to take the same positive actions in the future on behalf of the business by making ethical decisions moving forward.
INTERVIEWER: You talked a little earlier about the new communications environment and bringing many more voices into the equation than have been there before. What has this done to journalism, are they still the watchdogs of business as they have thought they were? Where do journalists fit into all this now?
JORDAN: Fit into the equation? Yes, they still are the watchdogs. What’s new is who is a journalist. And I do believe the net of journalists is larger than it’s ever been. And where there historically had been a fairly clear delineation between journalists and non-journalists—if you were a journalist you could get something published, if you were a non-journalist you’d read it. Where today, what you have is you have a continuum of journalism which is approached on one end by our classical beat reporters who can get something published very rapidly, and with editorial oversight and traditional press, but very rapidly you move to online publishers and bloggers who reach tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of readers – sometimes more impactful collections of readers than certain print journalists. All the way to folks who are commenting in significant ways about your products. So I think the range of who is a journalist and what is their impact is changing. I do think the watchdog role is still there. We feel a regular pressure from the traditional press on why we’re doing what we’re doing, how we’re doing what we’re doing. But you feel an additional pressure from the other journalists along the dimension as well.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any perspectives that you could share with us on issues of diversity in the public relations field today?
JORDAN: Well, I’d make two points about it. First, I think that the underlying notion of diversity, which is that to really represent your profession and your business, you should represent the community, the customers, and the environment that you’re operating in. So as much as diversity would be appropriate for the public relations field, it’s equally appropriate for the business itself. It’s critical to be able to relate to your audiences, your markets, your communities, with a group that’s consistent with the composition of that. Right now it would be different in different countries and so forth. In public relations, I’m disappointed in the progress that we’ve made in some areas around that. Many of our U.S. based companies are to my mind, not sufficiently diverse both racially and geographically. There’s much more of a bias towards U.S.—sort of U.S.-centric thinking. So I think on many dimensions, we haven’t made the progress we need to make as a function to properly represent the constituents that we’re interacting with. It’s also true for our businesses, so we’re fighting a common battle to keep pushing forward on this with our businesses.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any other things that we should cover, any points that you’d like to make? Any things that we haven’t talked about that we should?
JORDAN: Just a reminder to folks about what an exhilarating field this is that we’re operating in. I’ve had a couple of conversations with people, and I told the story about my career trajectory earlier. Folks who have found their way into the profession from other fields have been stunned by the view we can get of the business operating from this profession;by the impact we can make; by the relationships we can build with senior leaders. So that would be my one final thought: just to remind people of what a thrill, and what a responsibility it is to be in this field we’re working in, so thanks.
INTERVIEWER: Ray, could you give us a couple of examples of times that you have been confronted with and dealt with ethical issues?
JORDAN: I’ll offer a couple of situations that stand out to me in terms of where I’ve seen our credo, our values system really come to the fore, and it’s dramatic in my mind. One was actually as I was considering joining Johnson & Johnson, I remember having a series of interviews and at one point an interview with a senior person at Johnson & Johnson, and I had asked the question about whether the credo entered into considerations for acquiring companies, which Johnson & Johnson does pretty regularly as part of its growth strategy. And he said, “Oh yeah, the credo. We have to assess whether we feel the companies that are joining can live up to the expectations of the credo and responsibilities of the credo.” And I said, “Okay, but are there any cases where you feel you’ve rejected an opportunity as a result of the credo?” And he had said, “Yeah, I can think of one of those.” And I said, “In that instance, with the exception of the credo, would the acquisition have been a good deal?” And he looked, and he paused, and he sort of looked down, looked up and he said, “It would have been a very good deal.” And it was the fact that he was so torn with that, which made me realize, wow, this is real. That struggle, and seeing that struggle, the hair sort of lifted on the back of my neck, and I was in. It didn’t matter what the deal was, I was going to join this company. So that was one there. And thankfully, once I was in the organization, I saw this time and again. One that I’ll mention was, we were looking at an issue that involved changing our distribution systems to eliminate, or reduce the possibility that products could be counterfeit. And it’s a little complicated, but what we had to do was essentially stop a customer from buying products from us, and then selling it to other customers. Because what would happen is that in the course of selling it to other customers, counterfeiters could come into the network. So we ended up having to set up a mechanism where we validated, and would actually publish that certain customers were buying directly from us. So, if you were a hospital and getting your product from those customers that we certified were buying directly from us, you were safe from that risk of counterfeit. Now, it was great work and we went through rapidly, and I believe we really impacted things for patients and so on through that. What we discovered in this process, was that the customers who were buying from us and selling to other customers would commit to let’s say buying 100 of them, they might use 60 of them, but then they would sell the other 40 to somebody else so that they could get the 100 discount even though they didn’t actually use 100. So there was some activity going on in that regard, in that market, and as we eliminated it, we were in the process of talking about this whole thing and somebody said, “Well you know the credo talks about our suppliers are entitled to a fair profit.” And we were like, yeah, but… He continued: “But that business, that whole distribution business has been built on the expectation and the knowledge and the habit of being able to do these subsequent downstream deals.” So he said, “So what action are we going to take to treat our distributors fairly and make up for that difference?” To me that was just a very impactful question. We had done the right thing for patients by eliminating the activity, but here we were in the same meeting saying how are we going to make it up to another constituency that was in the credo. I was very proud of us in that particular moment. So there are a couple of cases for you.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you.