Q&A Woody Johnson ’72 by John Brown
lumnus Robert Wood Johnson IV ’72 is pilot training for helicopters, arguably the most difficult man-made machines to get airborne. Learning to fly the inherently vertically challenged helicopter requires a patient, methodical approach. It’s a fitting exercise for Johnson, a fourth-generation member of the founding family of Johnson & Johnson, the worldwide healthcare and consumer products company. Johnson applies that philosophy to build upon his family’s proud legacy of achievement as successful business people, civic leaders, and compassionate philanthropists. Johnson is hopeful another endeavor takes flight this year: the New York Jets National Football League franchise he purchased nine years ago. Under his leadership, the franchise has posted six winning seasons, appeared in six postseason games, and captured an AFC division title. But he won’t be satisfied until the organization brings home the Super Bowl title he says “Jets fans and the community deserve.” Off the field, Johnson champions children’s health, nutrition, and well-being through a number of charitable initiatives. He serves as a trustee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic organization devoted exclusively to promoting health and advancing healthcare. Johnson also is chairman of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, an organization he helped grow into the largest private medical entity focused on finding a cure for diabetes. Demonstrating his unflinching commitment to healthcare, in 1999, Johnson founded the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR), an organization devoted exclusively to finding new methods to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure lupus. For his day job, Johnson serves as chairman and CEO of The Johnson Company, a private investment management company. He recently talked to Alumnus magazine about New York, the UA, and why Jets fans are the best in the world.
The New York Jets organization has been very busy. How are things falling into place for the next season? We’re coming into our 10th year of ownership. The last couple of years have been a busy period for us. We’ve been working on a new stadium, a new practice facility, and
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New York Jets photo
with a new coaching staff, so we’re making about as many changes you can make on a football team all at once. All these changes are coming to fruition. Talk about the draft and personnel changes being implemented by head coach Rex Ryan. Rex Ryan was the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, where he consistently had one of the
top-5 rated defenses in the league. One of the most interesting things about Ryan is that he is a second-generation coach. His father, Buddy Ryan, was actually a coach during our Super Bowl appearance and win with Namath. The new stadium is amazing. I understand that in addition to being a great venue for fans and players, the stadium is green-friendly. It will be the highest-rated stadium in the country in terms of energy efficieny. We just received an award from the Obama administration through the governor of New Jersey for all the green initiatives we’ve done — from using recycled products to the ways we save water through conservation and drainage techniques. We consider our green movement — naturally Jets’ green — as a place to start. There’s a lot more we can do. You are in the biggest sports market in the world. What is the organization doing to draw on its storied history to inspire new excitement for the team? Our organization is built on a tradition of winning. It’s what our fans, players, coaches, and community expect from the New York Jets. We have deeply devoted fans who have stuck with us through many changes. The new stadium will give us the home field our fans and players deserve. Tell me about the new Jets store in Manhattan. The new store is in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s right around the corner from the epicenter of New York. It also is right off the parade route for St. Paddy’s Day. It’s tradition for us to turn the green parade into a Jets parade. One of the original founders of the Jets organization was born on Saint Paddy’s Day, which is the origin of the Jets’ green heritage. Most people don’t know that. Football is only one of your passions. I understand you host a TV show that covers a wide range of interesting topics. It’s a show I co-host with David Asman on Fox News. It’s called Playmakers; we talk to individuals in sports, politics, and business. I think (featuring UA) President (Robert) Shelton would be excellent because running a major university is a very complex organizational assignment.
For many years, you’ve been passionate about supporting research and treatments for lupus. Lupus is a disease that affects 1.5 million Americans, 90 percent of whom are women. We created Alliance Lupus Research with the mission to treat, cure, or prevent lupus. We run our philanthropy like a business. We’re results driven, so we try to maintain exquisite focus on desired outcomes. Our focus is translational research that improves patients’ lives in the short term. UA football is coming off its best season in more than a decade. What do you like about the Wildcats? The university has to be 100 percent behind the football program. Nothing builds the brand of a university more than having a winning football program. You have to be able to recruit the best players in the country. They have to believe that playing at The University of Arizona will get them into pro football. Talented players have to look at the UA as one of the elite places in the country. The program seems to be moving in the right direction. Do you plan to make it to a game this year? I’m going to try to get out (Oct. 24) for the UCLA game. (The Jets) play the Raiders the next day. I would fly out and possibly spend the night before going to Oakland. Tell me about your visit with UA President Robert Shelton when he visited you in New York over the summer. I was impressed with the president. He described the scope of the organization and what the challenges are, and he’s totally up to them. From what I can gather, I think he is a good leader. He’s going through the process of determining what the UA is good at, and working to support those areas so it can be a place of excellence in a number of areas. Dr. Shelton and I discussed the importance of the UA establishing a dominant presence in the New York metropolitan area. I offered to host some alumni and UA-related events with the president. Talk about your UA experiences. What are your fondest memories? When I first visited Tucson with my father — to be exposed to mountains and sunshine — I had never seen anything like it. I remember coming into the front gates and they had flooded the grass. Then I saw all the girls from Southern California coming out of the home economics building and I said, ‘Dad, this looks like a pretty good spot here.’ Tucson is a fabulous city; I think it’s about as good as it gets.
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