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J&J deflects quality issues at meeting


– Johnson & Johnson shareholders, upset over the health giant’s battered image amid unprecedented product recalls and ethical lapses, peppered its new CEO with questions and criticism during J&J’s annual meeting Thursday.

Others among the 1,800 J&J retirees and other shareholders attending raised concerns over serious side effects of some J&J prescription medicines.

Outgoing CEO Bill Weldon, stepping down after a decade, and successor Alex Gorsky tried to reassure the audience that the company is resolving its quality problems and focused on helping patients.

Both noted J&J, parent of Warsaw-based DePuy Orthopaedics Inc., has instituted new quality procedures as it works to fix problems that have led to about 30 recalls of consumer health products, hip replacements and prescription drugs. The causes have included nauseating packaging odors, wrong levels of active ingredients in pills, and glass and metal shards in liquid medicines.

“It is encouraging to see that through our actions we are regaining our standing with both our employees and the public,” Weldon said.

Gorsky and Weldon both repeatedly stressed that J&J is sticking to the values in its corporate credo, which puts patients, doctors, nurses and employees ahead of profits. Gorsky, the seventh J&J CEO since the company went public in 1932, said he is “resolute in his determination to keep our credo as the foundation for Johnson & Johnson.”

The meeting included about an hour’s worth of videos showing how Johnson & Johnson products have helped patients, from an old man with prostate cancer to a young woman with severe spine damage.

Weldon said J&J started growing again last year, with revenue climbing 5.6 percent to $65 billion. But some shareholders pressed on.

“Are you going to be implementing more careful procedures to ensure that Johnson & Johnson continues to be the honorable company that it’s always been?” one woman asked.

A man said that after cringing the past few years over TV news reports on the recalls and quality problems he hopes Gorsky will “lead us back to the point where we will all be happy to hear the name Johnson & Johnson on the evening news.”