Remarks by Kathy Wengel
EVP & Chief Global Supply Chain Officer, Johnson & Johnson
Recipient of 2019 Distinguished Service Award
I am deeply humbled to receive the Distinguished Service Award this year. It’s a true honor to join the list of men and women who’ve earned this before me. I am incredibly proud of the work all of us in CSCMP do to elevate this exciting, rewarding – and rapidly changing! – profession that we share.
As I’ve reflected on what this recognition means, I am reminded that I’ve had what feels like several careers-worth of experiences in my 31 years at Johnson & Johnson. I remember my first day – June 27th, 1988 – like it was yesterday, and I’m humbled by the impact you can have when you find the beautiful intersection of what inspires you, matched with a company whose mission and values enhance your own, and over time shape you as a leader and human being. Thousands of people have taught, guided, challenged and influenced me through the years. J&J is 133 years old, and in fact what drives and inspires me also starts a few generations back as well. In 1897 my maternal grandmother was born in Illinois as the middle child of 13 children (!), and to make her way in the world through World War 1, she became a nurse, arriving eventually as a Visiting Nurse in NYC.
There she met my maternal grandfather, born in 1899 who became a patent attorney, and actually authored the patent application for color TV for RCA. They married when they were a bit “older”, and my grandmother gave birth to my mom at age 40 in 1937!! Women can do anything, anytime, anywhere!! On the other side of the family, in 1909 my paternal grandmother was born on a farm in Nebraska. She was one of three girls, and in the height of the Depression, for reasons we will never truly know, my great-grandparents decided to send all three of their girls to the University of Nebraska. To be honest, they were laughed at – why spend precious money to send three GIRLS to University. My two great-aunts became teachers, and my grandmother followed her own path and found a love for SCIENCE, taking organic chemistry and other courses, and became a Biomedical Technician and worked in laboratories for many years.
Also in 1909 my paternal grandfather was born, also in Nebraska. He met my grandmother at the University of Nebraska. He went on to work for IBM in the early 1930s as a sales rep for many years, before starting his own business. What are the odds of that? Two couples – Science and Technology – one hundred years ago!!
Both couples ended up living in central New Jersey. My mom and dad met in grammar school, were friends growing up. They both were also fortunate enough to go to University – but thought they wanted nothing to do with STEM. My Dad majored in Psych, my Mom in French and Russian. But- lo and- behold- some years later, whatever it is about our family I guess the pull was too strong, and my Dad ended up running his own Data Processing firm, and my Mom became an accountant!!!
I share all of this, because every one of us has a history and path that launches us, but it is up to us to find what we love to do and build our careers around that. I have loved to make things – to bring them to life – since I was a little girl and chose Legos and blocks as my preferred toys.
My parents encouraged me, and my younger sister and brother, to find what we loved to do and build our careers around that, and I haven’t looked back since. After an engineering degree, I came to Johnson & Johnson – a company that was $9B in sales at the time and this year we will be $81 billion, and is one of the Top-Ten market-cap companies in the world. But most importantly, it is a company with a value system and a pioneering spirit that matches mine and has challenged, excited and motivated me to have impact beyond anything I could imagine.
Over these years, by following Our Credo, putting patients, consumers and customers first, and through working with incredibly talented people, I’ve learned the most important lesson of all. That lesson – That every single person makes a difference. That success is made possible by the work and contribution of teams of many people, not any one person.
As leaders, our role is to point our teams to the future – to build the Strategies, to lead Execution, but most important to put in place the Leadership and Capabilities we need to meet those challenges. To find the way to bring out the best of everyone to innovate and deliver solutions that make real impact. That is why I spend about a third my time identifying the top talent in my organization and working with my leaders to ensure we are building the organization and capabilities we need for the future,
In my 30 years at J&J, I’ve spent half in the US and half in other places around the world. That journey broadened me into a global leader, and changed my life – sitting here in the audience is my husband, born and raised in Italy, professional soccer player – so no third generation STEM couple here – but now such an amazing part of my life.
Through the years I’ve had 13 different official jobs at J&J – and only 3 existed before I went into them…That Nebraska pioneer spirit!! The breadth and depth of these roles culminated in the last decade in ones with very large impact.
And for the past five years, leading a team of more than 50,000 amazing people helping Johnson & Johnson deliver solutions that solve some of the biggest healthcare challenges on earth – tackling HIV, Ebola, cancer, with more than 300,000 SKUs impacting one billion patients and consumers every day – solutions that truly enable people to live longer, healthier and happier lives from birth through old age. Our teams are identifying and investing in the most promising technologies that will enable us to innovate faster to meet changing needs. Technologies just incubating when I started out are now here – artificial intelligence, ever more sophisticated automation, seemingly unlimited connectivity – all are opening new possibilities. More and more, we’re looking outside our own industry for innovations – to electronics, aerospace, and food, and expanding important relationships with universities around the world. We’ve fully embraced the idea that we can’t expect our own company to know and do everything. Great ideas and breakthrough solutions can come through strategic collaborations. And as we all work within the ever-accelerating march of technology and faster social changes, the role of CSCMP and AWESOME becomes more critical. We look to each other to lead the way across industries, offering venues for us to stay current, stay connected, and to facilitate the sharing of idea. For me it’s the excitement that comes with this change, and the knowledge that we are capable of improving lives – to truly change the trajectory of healthcare around the world – that keeps me motivated. And it’s our J&J value system – Our Credo – 75 years old this year – that guides us every step of the way. Through the magic of air transport, tomorrow morning I will join our CEO and my colleagues on the J&J Executive Committee to celebrate the 75th anniversary of J&J going public by ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.
There’s no way my great-grandparents could ever imagine the trajectory they launched for our family. Nor is there any way we can know what will happen in the world for our generations to come. But what we can do is empower and motivate people to think big, to follow their passion, and to lead with values that make a difference to humankind.
I can’t think of a more exciting career field than this one. I’m so humbled and honored to be a part of it, and I thank you again for the recognition. I look forward to seeing the future generations of women and men on this stage, and what they will do for humanity.