Sandi Peterson, J&J Group Worldwide Chairman
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7 Questions for Sandi Peterson
7 Questions for Sandi Peterson
A Q&A with the Johnson & Johnson Group Worldwide Chairman and a member of the 2015 Fortune Most Powerful Woman list.
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andi Peterson will be taking the stage at the Fortune The Most Powerful Women summit this year. Not only is she a powerful leader, she’s a devoted mentor, with tips to share with other women looking to follow in her footsteps.

Q:

This year’s theme at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Conference is “Leading with Purpose.” How do you lead with purpose?

A:

Professionally, leading with purpose equates to listening. I think you really have to listen to your people – the challenges and issues they’re facing, the opportunities they see ahead and everything in between. It’s about taking the journey with your people so that you can lead them effectively, and in a way that really connects with them in the head and the heart.

I think it also means being the kind of leader who is not afraid to motivate and positively push the people you lead beyond the limits of what they thought they could do, to discover new personal bests for themselves and for the business. I try to live my personal life in much the same way. I watch and listen to others as much as possible. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t have to become a different person at work than I am at home, and vice versa. I try to bring my whole self to every situation.

Q:

What excites you as a leader at J&J right now?

A:

We are amidst a massive paradigm shift in healthcare, globally, and we have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the transformation of healthcare for the future. By 2025, the world will be a different place. 70% of us will have a wearable device guiding our health. We’re delivering holistic solutions, centered around people, so they can have the same personalized experience caring for their health that they’re used to having in every other aspect of their lives.

Q:

Does society still struggle with idea of a woman in power? What about at J&J?

A:

We’ve made strides as a society, but there is still a gap in terms of gender equality in leadership positions all over the world. As of last year, women make up almost half of the U.S. labor force, and yet only about 14% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women.

At J&J, we’re making good progress, but we can, of course, do better. Women now make up more than a third of our corporate executive base at J&J. I’ll be personally more satisfied when we reach 50%. This is not just the right thing to do, but it also leads to better business outcomes. Women make up half of the population, it only makes sense that they should make up half of the idea/business decision base.

I believe this inequality still stems from an unconscious bias – male leaders are still likely to be making a majority of the hiring decisions, leading them to gravitate toward hiring other males into leadership positions.

Q:

What advice do you have for young women in the process of choosing, or building, their careers?

A:

My advice for young women building their careers doesn’t differ all that much from my advice to women in general pursuing success in their professional lives: You need to be courageous – take risks! Growth comes when you’re uncomfortable.

I firmly believe that women must advocate for themselves, but I also think it’s extremely important to surround oneself with exceptional people – build a strong and diverse network. Find a mentor or sponsor to help to not only guide you on your path, but to advocate for you at critical points in your career. Be confident, but remain authentic.

Q:

What was the earliest career lesson you ever learned?

A:

In one of my earlier jobs working at a family-owned ski resort, I did almost every job you have to do to keep a business running. The owner and patriarch of the family didn’t have any daughters and took an interest in me. Recognizing that we were located in a remote small town in Vermont, he told me I should be reading the New York Times every day. That’s where I first started to gain an external perspective, and learned that running a business is multidimensional.

Q:

What’s one piece of career advice you wished you’d gotten much earlier in life?

A:

You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room. It’s critical to be able to collaborate with your peers and to be able to make others feel comfortable.

Q:

What other women in power inspire you? What is it about them?

A:

Two women I’ve found inspiration in are Angela Merkel and Eleanor Roosevelt. Both have had very clear convictions about morality, honorability and the fact that neither of them “took the easy road.”

I also admire them for their immense humanitarian efforts. Standing by your principles and fighting for causes you believe in encourages others to do the same, and that’s something they’ve inspired in me.

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