Johnson & Johnson 2017 Working Mother of the Year: Innovation leader and cancer activist Amy Foley
It hasn’t been an easy road for Amy Foley. But by channeling personal challenges into something good, she has proven herself to be unstoppable—and an inspiration to everyone around her.
When it comes to supporting working moms, Johnson & Johnson has a long history of going the extra mile.
In the U.S., the company offers up to 17 weeks of paid maternity leave, covers up to $35,000 in fertility benefits—and even helps moms traveling for work ship breast milk home via a temperature-controlled delivery service.
And those are just a few of the benefits—and part of the reason why—Johnson & Johnson has earned (for the 32nd consecutive year!) a spot on Working Mother magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies, which honors organizations that prioritize the needs of working parents.
In conjunction with the award, Working Mother is recognizing one mom from each winning company who has overcome personal or professional obstacles to make a significant contribution to her community and company. Each Working Mother of the Year will be honored at the annual WorkBeyond Summit October 23–24.
The Johnson & Johnson winner, Amy Foley, 47, Vice President, Product Innovation and Delivery, Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions, certainly fits that bill.
The New Jersey native and mom to Natalie, 14, and Ryan, 11, joined Johnson & Johnson in 2015, about two years after losing her husband to colon cancer. In her short time with the company, Foley has already made a big impact, from launching wellness products like Health Partner (digital tools that help people navigate knee and hip pain and weight-loss surgery) to hiring more than 30 product managers in record time.
“When you meet Amy, it’s clear you’re not connecting with just another human being, but with a force of nature,” says co-worker Lowinn Kibbey, Global Head, Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, who nominated her for the award. “She shows up at work ready to crush it—then races home to wrap her energy and passion around her children.”
And as her daughter puts it: “One of the words that pops into my mind when I think of my mom is: strong. She has endured so many tough times and experiences. She puts everyone else’s needs before her own, and never fails to amaze me with how determined and generous she is. I aspire to be as loving and determined as she is one day.”
As Foley gets ready to attend the WorkBeyond Summit, we sat down with her to hear more about her work and family life, as well as her third passion project: The Richard T. Foley Defy the Odds Fund, a charity that raises money for colon cancer research.
“Why I strive to be authentic to who I want to be”
“In 2012, my husband, Rich, suddenly became sick with colon cancer. It was out of the blue: He had no family history, and was only 45 when he was diagnosed—a full five years before screening is even recommended. It was already stage 4 and had metastasized at that point. He passed away within 13 months.
That was really a pivot point for me from a career perspective. When you go through major life changes, you think, Maybe I should try something less stressful, like basket weaving. You also reevaluate who and what is important to you.
So when I got a call in 2014 from an executive recruiter about a role at Johnson & Johnson, I initially declined. At the time, I was working at another healthcare company, where I’d been since 1998. I figured, Things in my life have changed, and I have a lot of priorities that aren’t traditional ‘executive’ priorities now.
I needed to be with my children. I needed to re-center myself.
But the recruiter called again to ask why I was hesitant, and I told her the truth. When Johnson & Johnson came back saying they would support my goals, I decided to take the job.
A lot of companies talk about flexible work schedules, but Johnson & Johnson really committed to making that happen for me.
For example, I used to work eight miles from my house, and I now work 51 miles away. Yet I probably make more than 90% of my daughter’s soccer games today, whereas I only made about 20% of them when I worked close to home.
I love what I do. I get to lead a talented team of experts in digital product and analytics, compliance and quality, and customer service and implementation. We’re committed to innovating by applying behavior science within product design and development to address and elevate well-being, as well as improve and drive care path and medication adherence. In a relatively short time frame, we’ve been able to bring these solutions to life for the people we serve.
Innovation is, and always has been, central to who I am. It’s a way to solve real problems, make people’s lives easier and, most importantly in healthcare, keep people well and improve quality of life.
I’ve thought a lot about why I was chosen as the winner, and I think—I hope—it’s my sense of purpose. I couldn’t solve the biggest challenge—my husband’s cancer. But I can, hopefully, show my children that rallying our energy around a life we hadn’t asked for is entirely possible.
Sometimes I have moments when I feel like I’m a superhero. Then I have more moments, though, when I think, I missed something at work, or for my kids … I’m not doing anything well. There’s so much to do—both for work and personally—that it can be hard to figure out what to focus on.
I make a conscious decision to let everything bleed together, which enables me to be connected to work even if I’m not physically present. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me, and it’s a mentality that’s very accepted at Johnson & Johnson because the company isn’t focused on face time—it’s focused on work ethic and results.
It’s a relief to feel like my career isn’t a trade-off with the other things I have in my life—allowing me to be authentic to who I want to be. If you can do what you love to do, and find a way to integrate it with the rest of your life, whatever you’re doing doesn’t feel like work.
“How I’m channeling grief into something good”
When Rich was sick, we talked a lot about ‘defying the odds’ because we knew the odds weren’t in our favor; we hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. Colon cancer isn’t really talked about, yet it’s the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men in the U.S.
When you have kids you’re responsible for, you don’t have too many choices as to how you respond. You either curl into a ball, or you get up the next day and take care of things. That has its costs because you have limited opportunities to understand your own grief, but as incredibly difficult as it was to have children in that situation, being a parent grounds you and keeps you on task.
It was important for me to ensure that we could move past being angry that this happened to our family, or wallowing in grief. Our charity, The Richard T. Foley Defy the Odds Fund, was a way to channel that grief.
My husband was a huge basketball fan who coached both of my kids’ teams. So we decided to host a charity basketball tournament to help raise funds for colon cancer research. Thanks to a lot of help from friends and the community, next March will be our fourth year—and we recently donated $15,000 to the Colon Cancer Alliance, specifically directed toward research and treatment for early onset of the disease.
I also make it my mission to harass people to get colonoscopies, which are the only way to detect and prevent colon cancer. I recently heard from someone who had similar issues as my husband, but was able to catch the cancer in time. If we can keep one person safe, one less family has to go through what we did.
“Why I’m proud to be a Working Mother of the Year”
I know lots of amazing moms and dads, so when I heard I was getting this award, I was flabbergasted. It’s humbling … and also uncomfortable because, as extroverted as I can be, I don’t enjoy talking about myself. So I haven’t really been spreading the news. I’ve known since July, but don’t tell my mother that!
I’ve thought a lot about why I was chosen as the winner, and I think—I hope—it’s my sense of purpose and commitment. When my mom went back to work, she continued to do everything she always did around the house. My parents were sticklers for work ethic, no excuses, and the suck-it-up mentality.
I suppose I modeled that: I’ve always been hyperfocused on driving results, solving problems, getting it done. My dad would tell me, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ I still hear that in my head sometimes when I would rather give up.
I couldn’t solve the biggest challenge that faced my family—my husband’s cancer—and that will forever be my greatest sadness in life. But I can, hopefully, show my children that rallying our energy around a life we hadn’t asked for is entirely possible.
Finding our purpose is something we talk about a lot at Johnson & Johnson, and I find intense satisfaction in making a difference in people’s lives through the work I do here.”