01 Mar 2003


Waxing Philosophical


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As he turned over company operations to his children last winter, it was a time for reflection for Samuel Johnson (MBA ’52), chairman emeritus of SC Johnson, one of the country’s oldest and largest family-owned firms, with $9 billion in annual revenues. A successful CEO and perhaps the most prominent environmentalist in corporate America, Johnson discussed with USA Today (December 4, 2002) the drinking problem that he had developed toward the end of his career. He sought treatment in 1993 after an intervention by his family; sober ever since, Johnson wants to help others.

To this end, Johnson openly explores his difficult relationship with his late father and how alcoholism has affected him and generations of his family. He also examines these issues in a film, Carnauba: A Son’s Memoir, that aired on the Hallmark Channel in December and has been seen by thousands in private screenings. (Johnson showed it at his 50th HBS reunion.)

Alcoholism afflicts 5 to 10 percent of the general population, a figure that experts say is probably higher among CEOs. That’s attributable to the greater levels of stress and work-related socializing CEOs experience and because they are surrounded by assistants and other workers who, in effect, can “act as buffers,” USA Today said. But with treatment, the recovery rate for CEOs is higher, too — about 90 percent.

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