How women at Johnson & Johnson are changing healthcare as we know it
Johnson & Johnson has created life-saving medications, sanity-saving baby products and so much more—and none of it would have been possible without female leaders at its core. Movers and shakers like these forward-thinking women.
Women in the U.S. make 80% of the healthcare decisions for their families. And their influence doesn’t stop there. They’re also helping to reshape healthcare on a much greater scale—as leaders at some of the biggest companies in America.
Just look at Johnson & Johnson.
Dating back to its inception 130 years ago, Johnson & Johnson has been committed to not only transforming the world of healthcare, but to transforming the world itself—not just for the sake of innovation or profit but, first and foremost, for the doctors and nurses, parents and babies and myriad others who use its products.
And women have helped the company achieve these goals since the very beginning.
A full 107 years after hiring its first female scientist, a chemist named Edith von K., Johnson & Johnson has remained at the forefront of healthcare by continuing to elevate talented women to its top tiers. Today, 44% of management positions in the company’s U.S. workforce are filled by women.
Why has this female-forward approach helped the company succeed? “Because women are smart, they’re good at listening and they’re good at connecting the dots,” says Sandi Peterson, Group Worldwide Chair. “Women park their egos at the door.”
Case in point: When asked who her personal heroes are, Jennifer Taubert, Company Group Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, The Americas responds, “Our patients. The best day for me is when I get to meet them in person. Just recently, my team visited a leading center for treating Crohn’s disease, a serious gastrointestinal illness that causes painful, debilitating symptoms. We got to meet a boy, just a few years younger than my son, who’s bound and determined not to let his Crohn’s disease get in the way of a full life. He and his mother reminded us of how important our work is—we’re not just delivering treatments, we’re transforming the lives of very brave people and the families who love them.”
Humble words for a woman who, along with five-time honoree Peterson, was just named one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women.
But they’re not the only women at Johnson & Johnson who are achieving greatness daily. Take the top leaders we’re about to introduce to you, all of whom share a few key traits: a deep passion for products that can change lives, forward-thinking business acumen and, above all, a sense of humanity that they believe provides the foundation for all the important work they do.
Welcome to the future of healthcare—Johnson & Johnson-style.
Combating the World’s Greatest Diseases
“You called me at the right moment—we are expecting the immune data on Monday,” says Hanneke Schuitemaker, Vice President, Global Head of Viral Vaccine Discovery and Translational Medicine, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, intimating what the next week could have in store for her. “We are so excited.” But she quickly qualifies that with, “Maybe Monday I’ll be in tears.”
Schuitemaker is talking about the potentially headline-making news that, after decades of several groups trying and failing, we may soon be closer than ever to a vaccine that could help prevent the transmission of HIV. Her nervousness reflects the natural highs and lows of life as a discoverer: Years and years of promising work, which can often be dashed by disappointment. But so it goes for Schuitemaker’s team at Janssen, which is tasked with creating innovative vaccines that can help address unmet medical needs worldwide.
It’s certainly been that way with the group’s work on Ebola. “We have a program for an Ebola vaccine in place and we’re thrilled that we managed to do so much in so little time,” says Schuitemaker, referring to the company’s speedy formation of clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world in the midst of the outbreak in early 2015. “Fortunately for the world, the epidemic got under control,” she says. “But for vaccine development, that’s not necessarily the best thing because we have to prove the vaccine has effects.”
Luckily, Schuitemaker possesses that necessary virtue of vaccine hunters: patience. “I’ve always tried to motivate women not to be scared [of this field]. It is hard work, but it’s also very rewarding,” she says. “When you are a scientist, you work on the edge of the unknown.” She pauses and adds, “But that is such a driver.”
Infectious diseases aren’t only the health crises that women at the company are focused on troubleshooting. At Ethicon, part of Johnson & Johnson’s medical devices sector, a talented team of engineers and scientists work diligently to bring “engineering, materials science, chemistry and biology capabilities—all of it—together to solve big problems in surgery, with a strong focus on cancer and metabolic disease,” says Beth McCombs, Vice President, Research & Development at Ethicon.
McCombs and her team have brought so many cutting-edge ideas to the operating room, it’s almost hard to count them: Think minimally-invasive surgical staples, devices that control bleeding and advanced sutures. Recently, Ethicon started an exciting robotics collaboration with Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), and acquired an ablation company, Neuwave Medical, that, she explains, basically allows doctors to “kill cancer thermally.”
Her team’s work is inspired not just by the ever-stretching boundaries of technology, but also by the people who benefit from these inventions. In McCombs’ case, that includes her parents—her father was an engineer, and her mother was a nurse.
My job is to empower and enable a talent pool to reach their highest potential. We give them all the weapons they may need in their arsenal.
McCombs recounts a story of sitting next to a stranger in a crowded café who “shared with me, very openly, how she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.” The woman went on to explain that her needle biopsy was preferable to the first, more invasive biopsy she’d had.
“I was working with minimally-invasive breast cancer devices at the time,” McCombs recalls. “This was a rare opportunity to connect with a patient who was impacted by my design work.” Today, she feels privileged to serve the “millions of people who are touched by the innovations” her team has developed.
Creating a Crucible for Innovation
If people like McCombs and Schuitemaker are tasked with developing better healthcare solutions, then finding enterprising people with potentially great ideas for how to do it is, essentially, Melinda Richter’s job. As head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS—an incubator arm of the company focused on helping budding healthcare start-ups—Richter is charged with recruiting, nurturing and developing the scientists and engineers of today who could create the game-changing inventions of tomorrow.
“My job is to empower and enable a talent pool to reach their highest potential,” Richter says. “We give them all the weapons they may need in their arsenal.” And that could be everything from holding regular entrepreneur QuickFire challenges, whose winners receive generous research grants, to providing a Brazilian Zika scientist with a souped-up lab space, easier access to the compounds she needs and mentoring by Johnson & Johnson’s experienced scientists.
In particular, Richter loves telling the story of two gifted young entrepreneurs who’d barely scraped up $40,000 to pursue their dream of starting a company focused on developing a platform to target any gene in the human genome for therapeutic purposes. Richter recognized their talent and threw JLABS’ resources behind them.
“After a year, our infectious diseases team heard their story and said, ‘This is the missing technology we’ve been looking for to go after Hepatitis B,’ ” Richter recalls. “Within two and a half years of starting their company, these young men completed nearly $2 billion worth of deals, accelerating their science to patients suffering with the deadliest diseases.”
Our motto is: Don’t think about the product, think about the patient.
As with many forward-thinking initiatives, the inspiration for JLABS came from a personal place. When Richter was 26 and a rising star in the tech industry, she was bitten by a toxic insect in Beijing and almost died.
As she was lying in her hospital bed, she thought, “Here I am working for a company doing something as frivolous as ordering soda from a vending machine with a cellphone, and yet you can’t figure out what I have? How can we live in a world where all the press, money and talent goes to the tech industry, when there are basic gaps in the healthcare industry?”
“Well, I decided I needed to help solve that problem,” she says.
Putting the Patient First—Always
That kind of personal judgment call can be fairly easy to arrive at. In medicine, however, getting to the right answers isn’t always so straightforward. Say there’s a promising drug in clinical trials that hasn’t yet been FDA-approved, but sufferers of life-threatening diseases desperately want access to it. Now multiply that dilemma by the many drugs and devices that Johnson & Johnson is developing at any given time.
To help guide the company’s thinking about who should receive compassionate access to therapies still under development, Chief Medical Officer Joanne Waldstreicher, M.D., approached renowned NYU bioethicist Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., to put together a pioneering committee of physicians, ethicists and patient advocates to review every patient request of this nature. This way, each decision could be made thoughtfully.
When it came to a breakthrough treatment for multiple myeloma, “100% of the requests that Caplan’s committee approved, we approved,” Dr. Waldstreicher says.
In other words: The right people got early access to the experimental drug, for the right reasons.
Another way Dr. Waldstreicher is working to advance medical care is through clinical-trial sharing. “We partnered with the Yale School of Medicine to set up a committee to review every [outside] request for [data from] a Johnson & Johnson clinical trial,” she says.
While this kind of openness between academic institutions and companies can accelerate learning and discovery, it’s a novel concept for research groups used to keeping new findings close to the vest. But “we thought it was important for an external group to make a decision,” Dr. Waldstreicher says. “Our motto was: Don’t think about the product, think about the patient.”
It is still too rare for a woman to be in these roles—only 5% of Chief Supply Chain Officers are female.
Dr. Waldstreicher’s motivation to put people first came from her father. “He was a baker,” she says. “He never went to college, but he was brilliant and deeply knowledgeable about science and chemistry. He inspired my siblings and me to pursue careers in science and to make a difference in the world.”
That’s actually a guiding principle that permeates the company—even when the consumers aren’t patients, but new parents. Tara Glasgow, Vice President of Research and Development, Baby and Scientific Engagement, leads pipeline development for Johnson & Johnson’s iconic baby brands. And although some of the company’s most popular baby products are for skincare, “when we think about our kids, it’s not their skin we think about—it’s their bright futures and healthy development,” Glasgow notes.
This belief is what led Glasgow to the research she’s currently overseeing on babies’ sensory and cognitive development. By partnering with neurobiologists and psychologists at universities from California to Ireland, Glasgow and her team have unearthed new, heartening proof that “washing, hand-kissing and cheek-kissing makes a baby’s brain ‘light up,’ ” Glasgow says. “The babies laugh more, make more eye contact, and they’re more engaged. Their learning is better developed when multiple senses are stimulated.”
It’s rich territory that Glasgow, a mom herself, didn’t foresee as her career calling. She started out as an engineer, but a moving encounter in a focus group led her to an aha! moment—and the decision to pivot to consumer research & development. “I was so touched after listening to a woman cry about her health problems,” Glasgow recalls. “And it struck me just how much of an impact scientists could have on someone’s life.”
Improving Quality of Life, Every Day
Scientists aren’t the only ones who can have a profound effect on consumers’ lives. Take it from Ashley McEvoy, Company Group Chairman, Consumer Medical Devices.
Before joining Johnson & Johnson, she had honed her career working in various industries, ranging from food products to personal goods. “I fell into healthcare,” she admits. “But when I tried it on, it fit like a glove.”
And how. In her 21 years at Johnson & Johnson, she’s overseen four different operating companies. At present, she’s charged with growing Johnson & Johnson Vision from, as she puts it, “the #1 contact lens company to the leading eye health company in the world.”
A new product pipeline currently valued at $1.5 billion, built under her leadership, is sure to help pave the way toward that goal—along with major acquisitions she helped spearhead, such as Abbott Medical Optics, a leader in surgical ophthalmology.
“I want to make sure we’re a modern, progressive company that embraces all patient populations around the world,” McEvoy says. “Health is the great equalizer. To be able to help make people better is a great opportunity.”
Prioritizing Humanity and Heart
Tying together all the threads of Johnson & Johnson’s various passion projects and promising pursuits is Peterson, who’s perhaps the most powerful woman in healthcare today. While she has numerous responsibilities at the company—including overseeing the consumer business, supply chain, quality, information technology and much more—her bigger-picture vision is to transform not just the field of healthcare, but how it’s delivered.
“We probably have hundreds of partnerships with tech companies and deep strategic partnerships with very large hospital systems and retailers,” she notes. “I’m incredibly pleased that we’ve made more progress in the last 12 months than I thought was possible.”
One factor that’s made such strides possible? “We’ve attracted an incredible number of amazing leaders with incredible skill sets,” Peterson says.
That includes Taubert, who has overseen the building of new businesses and delivered innovation-based growth from Canada down through South America.
“Part of what makes working in healthcare so exciting is that the next breakthrough may be literally just around the corner,” she says. “We’re at an extraordinary moment in medical research where we’re understanding the underlying mechanisms of human biology and disease much better, and we’re focused on turning that insight into not just pills or therapies but better health outcomes. We’re moving beyond treating diseases to true healthcare—understanding individual risk of disease and stopping it in its tracks before it starts. Honestly, I can’t imagine an industry or company where you get to make more of a difference in human life.”
There’s also Kathy Wengel, Worldwide Vice President, Supply Chain, who leads one of the most complex and largest supply teams in any industry. As Wengel explains it, “Our job is to safely and efficiently plan, source, make and deliver a high quality, reliable supply of all the products in the Johnson & Johnson portfolio.” This encompasses everything from surgical and medical devices to contact lenses and other consumer products.
When you ask Wengel what she’s proudest of, she ticks off the competitive advantage that her team is creating through acceleration, innovation and a deep commitment to social responsibility. Her group is tasked with quickly “bringing new products up to full scale”—products like the first drug in 50 years for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
We have a simple draw. We ask: Do you want to be the person who monetizes algorithms? Or do you want to save someone’s life?
“Our company serves one billion people all over the world, at every stage of life, with the most advanced medicines to help treat such diseases as Hepatitis and HIV,” Wengel says. “We are transforming the supply chain into the engine that helps drive our innovation portfolio.”
When Wengel took over as Chief Supply Chain Officer two and a half years ago, nine out of 11 members of her leadership team were men. Today, that ratio is 50/50, and she’s proud of the fact that 40% of her 63,000-person team is comprised of women.
Unfortunately, says Wengel, “It is still too rare for a woman to be in these roles—only 5% of Chief Supply Chain Officers are female.”
It’s why she’s also a dedicated leader when it comes to inspiring young girls to pursue careers in science and technology, as well as recruiting young women for roles in these fields through an ambitious WiSTEM2D (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design) program. The goal of the Johnson & Johnson initiative is to not only attract more talent to the company, but also nurture a future generation of female scientists and engineers well before they head off to college.
Wengel’s passion project stems from experience: When I was in college, “I was one of the very few females in the engineering program,” she says. “I literally sat in classes where I was one of three women—with 50 men.”
Meanwhile, Peterson is savvy to the fact that people under 35 “get information, products and services in a very different way these days. I grew up with the Encyclopedia Britannica!” So another top project of hers is to marry “The Internet of Things” and the array of devices and monitors that people already use, like smart watches and wearable trackers, with the power of behavioral science to nudge them along to their healthier selves.
Peterson frames it like this: “We have a really simple draw. We ask: Do you want to be the person who monetizes algorithms? Or do you want to save someone’s life? If it’s the latter, come work with us.”
She pauses, then reveals: “It works!”