Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty

The Johnson & Johnson dynasty: A headache-inducing biography of the Johnson family

Aug 10th 2013 |From the print edition

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Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty. By Jerry Oppenheimer. St Martin’s Press; 496 pages; $27.99 and £18.99.Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

“CRAZY RICH” ought to be good. It has a bestselling author, Jerry Oppenheimer. It has a fascinating subject, the family that founded Johnson & Johnson, the company that invented Band-Aids and now peddles everything from painkillers to antipsychotics. The Johnson scions include drug addicts, a sculptor and the owner of the New York Jets football team. Yet somehow this book is unreadable. The problem is hardly the raw material. Robert Wood Johnson, the son of a poor Pennsylvania farmer, founded Johnson & Johnson with his brothers in 1886. After his death in 1910, his brother James led the company’s expansion during the first world war, creating the plasters and gauze used by soldiers at the front. Robert Wood Johnson’s son, named after his father, may have been the company’s most forceful leader. He steered it through the Depression and oversaw its initial public offering in 1944. He served in the army for a few months during the second world war and called himself “General Johnson” for the rest of his life. His son Bobby (Robert Wood Johnson III), was the firm’s president for just four years before the General helped oust him in 1965. They were the last Johnsons to be in the family business. The book’s many other characters include Evangeline, the General’s sister. She had three husbands and, if Mr Oppenheimer is to be believed, a lesbian lover. There is the strange case of J. Seward Johnson junior, whose wife shot an investigator hired to track her. There is Keith Johnson, who parked his BMW on a beach, dropped acid and then watched the tide carry away his car. The most delectable titbits involve Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, who owns the Jets and was a leading supporter of Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate last year. His public persona has been rather staid. Mr Oppenheimer paints him as a dolt. He earned poor marks at the University of Arizona, hardly a bastion of academic rigour. When drunk once, he fell off a bridge and severely injured his back. As a young man in Florida, he courted a business partner by supposedly saying, “My dad told me that I have to learn business from somebody who made their own money without inheriting it, and preferably he should be a Jew.” All this should make for juicy reading. But “Crazy Rich” is all guilt and no pleasure. The sources for this “unauthorised biography” are patchy. Mr Oppenheimer’s long sentences are packed with clichés. The narration ranges from sloppy to preposterous. Must he compare the Johnsons to a Greek tragedy twice in two pages, or to the Kennedys even more frequently? When Woody Johnson’s daughter criticised a family member in a tabloid, Mr Oppenheimer opines that she “was now considered a tabloid terrorist, and her act of vengeance their own personal 9/11”. The Johnsons have had many sad stories, including drug overdoses and fatal accidents, not to mention ugly fights over inheritance. One might think this would inspire sympathy, or at least greater interest in its subjects. Yet “Crazy Rich” arouses few feelings other than the desire for it to end. Best then not to start it in the first place.

Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty Hardcover

by Jerry Oppenheimer  (Author)

From the founders of the international health-care behemoth Johnson & Johnson in the late 1800s to the contemporary Johnsons of today, such as billionaire New York Jets owner Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, all is revealed in this scrupulously researched, unauthorized biography by New York Times bestselling author Jerry Oppenheimer. Often compared to the Kennedy clan because of the tragedies and scandals that had befallen both wealthy and powerful families, Crazy Rich, based on scores of exclusive, candid, on-the-record interviews, reveals how the  dynasty’s vast fortune was both intoxicating and toxic through the generations of a family that gave the world Band-Aids and Baby Oil. At the same time, they’ve been termed perhaps the most dysfunctional family in the fortune 500. Oppenheimer is the author of biographies of the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Hiltons and Martha Stewart, among other American icons.Editorial Reviews

Review

“A breathless tell-all . . . Oppenheimer trains his gaze on the Johnsons, the cursed Kennedies of pharmaceuticals—a family who, with every generation, find themselves at the center of celebrity and political scandal. . . . The book is an impressive example of journalistic synthesis, bringing together bits of tabloid journalism not usually connected (playing celebrity connect-the-dots is half the book’s fun) around a strong narrative core [about] a family whose money can buy influence and power, but comes with costly personal consequences.” —Publishers Weekly

“A prolific biographer of the rich and infamous, Oppenheimer digs into five generations of the Johnson family . . . detailing their mind-boggling personal wealth. . . . A fast-paced chronicle of births, courtings, marriages, divorces, estrangements, bitter lawsuits, drug and alcohol abuses, crimes, memorable deaths and other unpleasantness. . . . A character-driven saga suggesting that the spoiled rich are their own worst enemies.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A wicked debunking of Stewart’s carefully crafted persona.” —People on Just Desserts

“After reading House of Hilton, you’ll wonder why anyone wouldn’t beg to be dropped from the speed dial of a family that makes the Osbournes look like the Brady Bunch.”
The New York Times

About the Author

JERRY OPPENHEIMER is the bestselling author of unauthorized biographies of public figures including Hillary and Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, Rock Hudson, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Ethel Kennedy, Jerry Seinfeld, and the Hilton family. In addition to being a biographer he has also worked in several different capacities as a journalist, including as an investigative reporter and a producer of television news programs and documentaries.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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