Johnson & Johnson has a rich history of supporting employees in the armed forces that dates to 1898, when the company held positions for workers who served in the Spanish-American War.
Fast forward 120 years and Johnson & Johnson’s generous service member benefits include paid time off after military leave to help soldiers re-acclimate to civilian life, as well as the ability to continue to receive a full salary, in addition to what the military pays, while deployed for up to 24 consecutive months.
And these policies don’t just help our country’s heroes—their military experience also enriches the company’s workforce.
With that in mind, we asked Johnson & Johnson employees who are serving or have served in the military to answer the following question: “What was the most invaluable lesson you learned during your military service that you now use in your professional or personal life?”
Read on for their inspiring responses.
Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson, and former Captain, U.S. Army
“There are so many lessons I learned during my time in the military, but there are two that I think are most universal and still help me every day:
First, the importance of learning to work with diverse groups of people, experiences and skills. Listening and being exposed to different ideas and perspectives taught me a lot about decision-making, as well as the importance of creating an environment where everyone is valued and all ideas are heard.
The other lesson is resilience—being able to fall down, pick yourself up and keep going in the face of uncertainty and adversity. It’s a very important character trait in the military and at work and home. Life is full of highs and lows, and you’ve got to be able to overcome obstacles and rally your team to see light at the end of the tunnel when things seem almost overwhelming. Resilience taught me not to focus on the problem, but on the opportunities that the problem provides. This has been incredibly valuable to me.”
Kathleen Widmer, President, OTC Division, Johnson & Johnson Consumer, and former Captain, U.S. Army
"The most important lesson I learned during my service as an Army officer is the difference between managing and leading. Leaders inspire followership by connecting people to the purpose. They help the team see possibilities, and they create an environment that encourages individuals to live into their potential.
You know it when you see it—the best outcomes and performance arise when true leadership is present."
Courtney Billington, President, Neurosciences, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and former Captain, U.S. Army
“The military celebrates diversity and inclusion—it includes people from all ethnicities, cultures and walks of life. Being a leader in the military taught me how to motivate diverse groups of people to work together in high-performing teams.
These skills have a direct application in my career at Johnson & Johnson. We value diversity and inclusion, and we constantly strive to create a work environment where people can collaborate with one another, freely sharing different perspectives and ideas. This is one of our core strengths and helps make us a better organization, which benefits not only our employees but also our communities, customers and patients.”
Heather Waterson, DDTL Director, Digital Orthopaedic Surgery, DePuy Synthes, and former Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
“As both a Navy veteran and a former ‘Navy brat,’ I’ve learned that adaptability to change is essential. In addition to constantly changing your physical surroundings, the military brings a steady flow of diverse people in and out of your life. Some people are with you for a couple of years, others for just days.
From these experiences, I’ve learned to be perceptive of others and to form lasting relationships quickly. These skills have proven invaluable when building strong and effective teams in a work environment.”
Roberto Landeros, Staff Manufacturing & Engineering Team Lead, Vistakon, and former Officer, U.S. Navy
“During my seven years of naval service, I was an aviation electrician working on F/A-18 jet aircraft. Working on aircraft can be dangerous under normal conditions, but when you add the complexity of trying to launch aircraft in a fast-paced environment, it can be deadly if safety procedures are not followed. Safety of self and peers was discussed daily during my service, and not following procedures was not tolerated. We were also constantly reminded that our work was critical to the success of the mission—and that lives were depending on us.
Working at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care is very similar to my experience in the military in that our focus is always on safety and quality.”
Jonathan Ng, Staff Engineer, Temperature Systems, Johnson & Johnson, and Executive Officer, U.S. Air Force Reserve
“The most invaluable lesson I have learned in the Air Force is the importance of taking care of your team.
First, as a leader, make sure you know your team members: their strengths, goals and opportunities for improvement. This will enable you to position people in roles where they can shine, and provide support for them where they need it. The result will be a high-performance team in which each person can showcase their talents and improve the whole.
Second, be a wingman. Watch out for your team members, offering help where you can, as well as praise for a job-well-done.
Third, be a good follower. This does not mean practicing blind obedience, but rather, actively working toward the team’s objectives. Identify potential problems, provide a recommended action plan and support efforts to address those challenges.”
Abigail Horvath, Manufacturing Manager, Ethicon, and former Captain, U.S. Army
“I served in the Army for eight years and went on two combat tours. One lesson I learned from that time that stands out from the others, and that I take with me every day, is to treat people with dignity, and trust their experience and knowledge.
I believe in humility as a core value, especially when working with people—whether they're Army soldiers or Johnson & Johnson employees—who have many years of experience and pride in what they do. It is an honor to work beside them and learn from them.”
Richard Atkinson, former Key Account Specialist, Janssen Neuroscience, and former Sergeant Major, U.S. Army
“For me, very simply, the military solidified the importance of high personal values, good character and dedication to the organization and its mission. I also found that when any situation became difficult, soldiers looked to their leaders to display fortitude, a calm and confident demeanor, tactical and technical competence, and focus to accomplish the mission. I believe employees look for the same characteristics in their workplace leaders.
Furthermore, the importance of leading from the front, selflessness and displaying a genuine concern and caring attitude is paramount. It motivates and allows the team to accomplish the most daunting of tasks.
These lessons are enduring and certainly transcend the military, having applications in both my professional and personal life.”
After the publication of this article in May 2018, the Johnson & Johnson family was saddened to learn of the passing of Richard Atkinson. He will be remembered as a hero to our country, as well as a valued and well-respected leader at the company. We express our deepest condolences to his loved ones.