Johnson, D(aniel) Mead

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Johnson, D(aniel) Mead

(b. 2 March 1914 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; .21 January 1993 in Palm Beach, Florida), president of Mead Johnson and Company from 1955 to 1968.

Johnson was the son of Edward Mead Johnson, Jr., a phar-maceuticals executive, and Katheryn Josephine Moran. His grandfather Edward Mead Johnson, Sr., was the founder of Mead Johnson and Company. Upon the founder’s death in 1934, the company was headed by Johnson’s uncle, Lambert D. Johnson, Sr., with Edward Mead Johnson, Jr., serving as vice president of sales and advertising until his death in 1930 at the age of forty-two.

Though born in Philadelphia, Johnson spent most of his life in Evansville, Indiana. His introduction to the family’s heritage and responsibility came at the age of twelve, when his first job at Mead Johnson and Company was to clean the rabbit cages in the laboratory. Although he was the founder’s grandson, Johnson was shown no favoritism. He was expected to work for his $12 a week. He attended the Tennessee Military Institute in Sweetwater from 1927 to 1932, graduating as valedictorian. In 1936 Johnson enrolled at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he majored in business administration and chemistry until World War II interrupted his education. He enlisted in the American Field Service and served with the British Eighth Army in the African, Indian, and Burmese campaigns, receiving citations of valor from both the British and French governments. After a bad fall aggravated an old back injury, Johnson was discharged in October 1943 and resumed his education. At Johns Hopkins, he was elected president of the student council and was a winner of the Carlyle Barton Cup as the outstanding senior-year student. He received a B.S. degree in economics.

Starting as a sales representative in one of Mead Johnson’s divisions in New York City, Johnson soon moved up the corporate ladder through a series of vice presidencies. In 1955 Johnson became president of the company, the third member of his family to head the firm and, at forty-four, its youngest president.

Under his direction, Mead Johnson and Company grew from a moderate-size manufacturer specializing in baby formulas to a global nutritional pharmaceutical company. Annual sales more than tripled under his leadership, and profits rose from $3.2 million to $8.2 million per year. In 1967 Mead Johnson and Company merged with Bristol-Myers. Johnson remained chief executive of Mead Johnson and joined its board of directors and executive committee. He was also made senior vice president of Bristol-Myers.

Although he held high positions, Johnson never lost touch with his employees. He liked to go through each plant, stopping occasionally to chat with the workers. One colleague remembered him and noted: “You got a feeling the moment you watched him at work, intense, serious and full of drive. Here was a man with pride of accomplishment, a pride in his job and his company, in its growth, development and security of the 1,850 employees and their families.”

Through the D. Mead Johnson Foundation, monies were contributed to capital building funds of civic organizations. In addition to these contributions, the company contributed extensively to scholarship funds, professional organizations, and welfare activities around the globe. Johnson was a member of the John Hopkins University board of trustees from 1953 to 1955 and was also a trustee of the Tennessee Military Institute; he also served as a director of the Health Information Foundation, the Citizen Nation Bank, the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, and First National Bank.

In 1968 Johnson resigned as head of Mead Johnson and Company and retired to Palm Beach, Florida, where he built an 8,000-square-foot beachfront mansion. In retirement he became a founder and principal supporter of Evansville (Indiana) Future, Inc., a community group that worked to bring the city out of its federally designated classification as a depressed area. Evansville was the community Johnson grew up in and he was determined to see it through its difficult times.

Johnson married Elizabeth Jane Baumer. They had one son, Edward Mead Johnson III. They were later divorced and Johnson married Valerie Ellis Anderson, who had three children from a previous marriage. His hobbies included deep-sea fishing and cars.

Johnson died at the age of seventy-eight at his home at 1515 North Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach. He was remembered by Jesse Newman, the president of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, as “a gregarious, wonderful man. He had excellent taste. He had a keen sense of business acumen.” Upon his death, the Johns Hopkins University received a gift of $1 million for the D. Mead Johnson Chair in Chemistry. W. Paul Torrington, a top executive of Mead Johnson and Company, remembers Johnson as a wise leader who hired the best people he could get and used their collective knowledge to build the business. “Mead was a marvelous guy, brilliant.” He recognized and embraced the need for change in organization. He said, “it’s futile to restore normality; normality is only the reality of yesterday. This job is not to impose yesterday’s norm on a changed today, but to change the business, its behavior, its attitudes, its expectations—as well as its products, its markets, and its distribution channels—to fit the new realities and the new opportunities.”

An article on Johnson can be found in Biography Index 18 (1993). Obituaries are in the Evansville Daily News Society, Evansville Courier, Evansville Press, and Palm Beach Post (all 22 Jan. 1993), and New York Times (23 Jan. 1993).

Yan Toma