Monday, August 30, 2010

Putting Problems Behind You

Ever face a thorny problem that you wished would just go away? By "thorny problem," I mean a difficult problem. (For more on the word thorny, including to hear a man pronounce it, click here:

These days, it seems many corporations are facing thorny problems. British Petroleum, Toyota, Hewlett-Packard, and now Johnson & Johnson (J & J). Maybe someday computers will take over the job of management and things may run a little smoother. After all, as the popular old saying goes: to err is human (to err = to make a mistake).

Let's focus now on J & J and how they're addressing their thorny problem. The following is an extract from today's Wall Street Journal article entitled J&J Chief Tends Corporate Wounds co-authored by this blog's favorite Joann Lublin and Jonathan Rockoff. After the extract, we'll discuss some key terms used in the article so you can improve your business English. Terms we'll be discussing are in bold.

At a recent town-hall meeting, Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive William Weldon sketched out for employees his plans for fixing the manufacturing problems that have prompted a string of recalls and triggered a criminal investigation.

Now, he faces the more difficult task of executing those plans and convincing the public that J&J has put its problems behind it. His success—or failure—may be among the most important legacies he leaves the company near the end of a four-decade career there.

Mr. Weldon, 61 years old, is expected to retire late next year, though the company doesn't have a mandatory retirement age. To resolve the pressing issues, he will likely draw on a careful, low-key approach to decision-making and the support of J&J's board, in keeping with his conservative style, people familiar with the situation say.

Okay, here we go with our business English exploration:

town-hall meeting - an informal meeting in which all employees are invited to share their views (in theory at least). This is a friendly term. It suggests a great meeting in a democratic forum. Town Hall is of course the government building in a town or city where all key administrative functions are housed.

(to) sketch out - to discuss plans; to describe something in a general way

a string of - a bunch of; one after the other

(to) trigger - to cause; to set something off (this is a powerful action verb - think of a gun - you pull the trigger to shoot it - no wonder this verb has such a sense of impact)

(to) face a difficult task - to deal with something thorny (see the discussion of "thorny" above)

(to) put one's problems behind one - a nice way of saying one is getting rid of one's problems. You want your problems BEHIND you, not with you or IN FRONT OF you! This phrase suggets that you are ready to move on, get a fresh start.

pressing issues - biggest problems (these need to be "resolved" or figured out). Resolve your pressing issues and you can move on to more important stuff - like figuring out how to make bigger profits!

low-key approach - a style one uses when one does not want to attract a lot of attention; a calm, rationale way of going about something

Discussion questions (feel free to post your comments to one of these questions on this blog):

1) Why are so many big corporations facing thorny problems these days?
2) What would you do if you were the CEO of J & J?
3) What is a legacy? How does a CEO leave a positive legacy?