J&J: Tripped By Its Own Credo?

LOFTY-SOUNDING STATEMENTS about corporate mission, so popular in recent years, can be risky. Johnson & Johnson's credo says employees must have a "sense of security" and "feel free to make suggestions and complaints." But now a fired employee is using the four-paragraph credo in his $3.2 million wrongful termination suit. Former R&D executive Daniel Tripodi says the credo is a contract and protects him after he faulted a supervisor's plans to send allegedly misleading test results to the feds for a medical device. In the trial, which began Nov. 7, J&J denies it submitted false information.

The 51-year-old credo serves as the "enduring guide to the way in which we try to run our business," declared J&J's 1993 annual report. J&J lawyers say the credo is a corporate philosophy, not a binding contract. The company says it axed Tripodi in 1989 because he was a bad manager who sowed dissension and missed deadlines. He rejects that assessment.

The larger questions: Will others follow Tripodi's example? And how vulnerable do these credos make companies? Many now have disclaimers to ensure the credos aren't legally binding. Vagueness helps: Nynex recently declared its core values are "quality, ethics, and caring for the individual."

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