In our latest podcast, Ray Cao spoke with Jeff Smith, Company Group Chairman for North America, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies. Smith reflected on his career and shared his best advice for rising sales and marketing leaders.
Here are our top three favorite highlights:
“[I do] simple things like always making sure I scan my full week on a Sunday night and understand [that] what’s in front me still exists. But the ability for it to shift and change during the week is increased by a factor of a hundred-fold from my early days. So you tend to learn that while what might look like something on a Sunday night, by Wednesday it could look very different.”
On work-life balance.
“I tend to walk out whether my boss is still there or not. It doesn’t really matter over the years. You just keep up with whatever works in your different pace, I think. The whole concept of work-life balance doesn’t exist as a macro level; it exists as an individual level. And you need to figure out what works for you individually.”
On his best advice.
“Have more patience. It’s interesting because you look back on it and you think of all the things you sweated that just weren’t sweatable. It just didn’t matter in some ways and yet, at the moment, it was like the most important thing. How did Mary or Fred get promoted before you, or whatever. And that ability to be able to believe just in yourself and what you’re doing and stay focused on that instead of all that’s going on around you. And it’s hard for human beings. We see things, we experience things, we have feelings, etc. But if I could go back in time and say, literally stop sweating it. Be less stressed about it and stay more focused on what you’re doing.”
You’ll find the full interview and transcript below.
Ray: What are the…I don’t know if you remember this, but what did you wanna be growing up at that time?
Jeff: You know, interestingly, I’ve always sort of gone to school thinking I was gonna be an entrepreneur and start my own company. I went to get an economics degree at the University of Saskatchewan. I came out of that at a time when there weren’t a lot of jobs. And so unlike today’s environment, pretty hard to do. So…
Daniel: My name is Daniel Rodic. I’m your host at Connecting the Dots. On this show, we help you connect with some of the most admired leaders and legends in the marketing, media, and advertising industry. Many of the people who we all look up to all started somewhere. And this podcast aims to help connect the dots that got them to where they are today.
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Daniel: That’s www.exactmedia.io. Today’s guest is Jeff Smith, Company Group Chairman North America of Johnson & Johnson. Jeff’s story is quite interesting and honestly, we covered quite a bit here. So I’m just gonna let you get right to it. Here is Exact Media’s CEO, Ray Cao, and his interview with Jeff Smith.
Ray: Jeff, thank you so much for doing this. I just wanna keep it up. You got a pretty fancy title, can you share a little more about your recent role and what it is you now do?
Jeff: I don’t know if I’ll call it a fancy title. But my current title is Company Group Chairman for North America Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies. So I’m responsible for our business and all of our consumer sector, everything from over-the-counter drugs to our personal care products, our beauty division, and our baby products group.
Jeff: Both in the United States and in Canada, I’m responsible for over $6 billion dollars in revenue for Johnson & Johnson and a little more than a billion dollars in profit for our corporation.
Ray: So does the role involve you traveling quite a bit between the two countries?
Jeff: You know, between the two countries, not necessarily. Most of the travel or the bigger part of the travel would be to visit our customers. They are wherever they are located, obviously. For the Canadian customers, that’s relatively easy given the concentration of the Canadian consumer packaged goods industry nowadays in Toronto. But most of the travel is everywhere from Rhode Island to Chicago to beautiful Bentonville, Arkansas and other locations where our customers are today.
Jeff: So that is primarily the driving force, making sure that we are servicing our customers well.
Ray: Got it. Where exactly is home for you?
Jeff: Princeton, New Jersey is where I live during the week. I do have a residence in Toronto in Canada. I’m born and raised in Canada.
Jeff: So as my career progressed in J & J, in 2011, we ended up with sort of dual living arrangements, primarily, as my kids are out of the house. And we kept our house in Toronto but most of the time, we live down in New Jersey. I do maintain a lake home in Northern Ontario which pulls me up there every weekend during the summertime. But most of the time, during the winter, I’m in New Jersey.
Ray: You’re on Facebook, you’re like us better than some most great MD for a lot of people [inaudible 00:05:37]
Jeff: That was a three-year building effort to put down roots in my country and allow myself, at some point, if I ever get to the point to retire, and have a place to spend.
Ray: Awesome. So, I’m gonna dial back a few years. What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up? What are parents like? What do you remember of your childhood?
Jeff: Yeah. You know, I mean, my…it’s an interesting question in the context of…my father was what I would call a salesman. He worked in building materials in forestry. I was born in Brandon, Manitoba. I grew up in Winnipeg, Calgary, Saskatoon, and eventually, Vancouver.
Jeff: So Western Canada through and through. And it was one of those every three or four years, we were packing up and moving again to somewhere else as he took over different branch offices and other aspects of a company at that time called [SP] Magnum Bludel which is now part of Canfor. So my memories were essentially going from one school to another and making new friends and adapting to those environments as I moved.
Jeff: And, you know, sort of packing our family up in a way that when I think back on, it was the era of station wagons and trailers. And we would just head up on the road and we’d end up in a new city and a new school and I would adapt to that situation.
Ray: Mm-hmm. What point in time did that stop?
Ray: Or did you just keep going off the road until [inaudible 00:07:32]
Jeff: [inaudible 00:07:33] The last move happened when I was in I just started my first year of university in University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and my parents got the call to move to Vancouver. And so we were…my brother was in…I got a younger brother, one sibling, who was in Grade 11 and I was in first year university. And we made the crazy decision to finish out the next couple of years of school in Saskatoon while my parents lived in Vancouver.
Jeff: And we obviously spent our summers, and holidays, and vacations, and stuff with the family back in Vancouver. But at Grade 11 and then Grade 12, younger brother, and first year and second year student in university with our own place to live.
Ray: Why did you stick with Saskatoon?
Ray: Why did you guys pick to stay there? [inaudible 00:08:32]
Jeff: It’s sort of started…[inaudible 00:08:34] that’s where he went to work, my father. And because it was part way through November of that year and he was like, “Why don’t you just finish the school year out?” And then, quite frankly, it just went on and on from there and I finished my degree there. My brother graduated from high school and went to his first undergraduate there as well. So, you know, it had been home for five years and for us as a family prior to that.
Jeff: And then, it just became the way we operated. It was our first experience of, if you will, living on our own. But it wasn’t like were completely unsupervised. My mother would show up frequently. So somebody needed to come and help us out and clean and cook. So we sort of leaned into it as finishing out the year and then just for different reasons, we carried on and we kept it going.
Jeff: So essentially, when I moved out of the house, I was in first-year school and he was in Grade 11.
Ray: What are…I don’t know if you can remember this, but what did you wanna be growing up at that time?
Jeff: You know, interestingly, I’ve always sort of gone to school thinking that I was gonna be an entrepreneur and start my own company. I went to get an economics degree at the University of Saskatchewan.
Jeff: I came out of that at a time when there weren’t a lot of jobs and so, unlike today’s environment, pretty hard to do. So I went straight back in and went and completed my MBA at the same school. And then came out of that after six years of schooling, the world of starting your own business, creating a new company, wasn’t at the best time.
Jeff: So I was fortunate to have done an intern, and I’m shifting between my two years of MBA school with Procter & Gamble. And I was hired…was offered an opportunity to work with them post my last year of schooling. And so I took up on that…sorry, I got something caught in my throat. So I took up on that opportunity and went straight into Procter & Gamble starting out of the university.
Ray: Hmm. What role did you have at Procter? Were you in sales or marketing or…?
Jeff: I started my internship with marketing. I went to Toronto between the two years, and I was offered a job both in marketing and in sales. At that time, I accepted the job in sales. I liked the idea of having freedom and being out on my own.
Jeff: And having spent the summer in Toronto in P&G’s offices at that time, I felt like it’ll be great to sort of just get out and be with people and use communication skills and other things to get in the selling side. I was offered a role in Halifax. I accepted that role. And before I even started, I was transferred to Vancouver, which was interesting because that’s obviously where my parents were at that time.
Jeff: And so that was in 1986, in the year of expo in Vancouver. And so I was transferred from Saskatoon to Vancouver. I started my career in sales in P&G there in Vancouver.
Ray: Throughout that period of time, were your parents in any way involved in shaping your decisions or were they surprised in what you ended up to do?
Ray: Or did they sort of let you do what you wanted to do?
Jeff: You know, they sort of let me do what I wanna do. It’s interesting, though, because when I first moved out there I was in P&G while it was still known as a great consumer package goods company. They were clearly the leaders in training and development, and bringing new graduates into both sales and marketing commercial functions. And also, I’d become engaged and I was planning to become married to my current wife in June of that year.
Jeff: And so I went out to Vancouver to start really the week after I graduated from school in April and lived at home. I did that before we got married, for a couple months. And I still remember my father wondering why every night I was practicing different sales techniques and sitting in front of a mirror. It’s per P&G training protocol.
Jeff: And wondered why all those years of schooling, for something like that. Quite simply, he could just have taught me in the backyard.
Jeff: So there was a couple of months there where, for lack of a better word, some questioning of did you really need six years of schooling to figure out what you’re doing right now? But obviously, P&G knows its training and development very well in those early days of effort that went into that.
Jeff: Obviously, they continued to pay dividends for many years beyond that.
Ray: Hmm. What was P&G like during that period of time? I imagine those organizations, I mean, most consumer packaged company, they evolved and changed over the years, but what was your memory of P&G back then?
Jeff: You know. Well, obviously, it was the preeminent brand marketing company, if you will, and it was extremely well known for its training.
Jeff: And while I had a call of other offers coming out of school with primarily banks and insurance companies and stuff at that time, a few other consumer packaged goods companies. But at that time, maybe arguably still in some ways, P&G ranks near the top of most recruiting efforts on campuses than others. When I went to work, it was a unique time in my life in the sense of, coming out of six years of school, I wasn’t what I’d call the most structured and disciplined individual on earth and, P&G was very disciplined in their approach.
Jeff: They had a way that everybody basically learned, followed, and delivered results to great success for the company.
Jeff: It was easy, if you will, to adapt to because it was so regimented. But at the same time, over the years and to some degree why I left, was what constrained one’s longer term desire to work there. And so I was years later, I say it was the best decision I ever made because it’s what I needed coming out of school.
Jeff: But arguably, one of the hardest situations for me to adapt to just the way I am built, if you will, in terms of a more entrepreneurial spirit and a more decentralized type of decision-making situation which is almost the antithesis of P&G style at that time in the late ’80s.
Ray: I’ve been told by several alumni that they sort of go there and your life is planned for you.
Ray: There’s like a playbook for your life in year two, three, four, five, six, and it works for some but not for all. Right?
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, arguably, it’s hard to debate whether it’s been successful because there’s thousands of people who have both succeeded there at P&G and others who have left and obviously, gone on and done great things. So I think it suits very well their culture.
Jeff: If you’re successful in it, it can be highly rewarding. But it takes a certain individual to be, for lack of a better long term lifer, if you will, for that type of style. It just really depends on how you see yourself fit and what you want to do in the long term. If I was to go back over my 31 years of professional experience, and said, “Can I do everything all over again?”
Jeff: The one thing that I’d do all over again was to start my career at P&G.
Ray: What do you remember at that time when you were making that decision to switch out of P&G? Were you exploring a bunch of different things or was you more opportunistic that J&J came knocking on the door?
Jeff: It was actually by accident. So while I was somewhat interested, I wasn’t knocking on any doors at that time. I was approaching the five-year mark at P&G and was getting to a point where I’d done a number of different roles with them.
Jeff: I was getting to the point where, am I going to tip towards really leaning into the long-term despite what I was already seeing as not matching up with my personal expectations and values, if you will, to deliver on my longer term career. And a friend who worked at P&G in a different part of the region had been interviewing with them and another company, J&J and another company, for a role in Vancouver.
Jeff: He currently lived in a different part of Western Canada. And it was taking a while for J&J to make its final decision and he’d been offered a role for this other company in Vancouver and so he accepted it. And upon acceptance, J&J had asked if there were any other people that he could recommend. I reminded him into the pile and it started from that.
Jeff: And it turned into an opportunity and became my career.
Ray: Is he still at J&J?
Jeff: No, he went with Nabob Coffee.
Jeff: So he didn’t accept the J&J role and went to Nabob and he’s no longer in the consumer packaged goods industry.
Ray: Oh, wow.
Jeff: And then I ended up getting the role that he was, essentially, interviewing for. And 26 years later, it became my career.
Ray: What was your first role at J&J?
Jeff: What they call the Western Regional Sales Manager. It doesn’t really exist today, but I was responsible at that time for all the selling functions for the four provinces in Western Canada.
Ray: Got it. Got it. So how did this great Canadian kid end up going all the way to the US, into the mothership?
Jeff: You know, interestingly, I started my career at J&J in 1990. And I worked my way from, at that time, Western Regional Sales Manager to National Sales Manager, responsible for a portion of the business in Canada, and then Vice President of Sales. So at this point, I’d already moved to Toronto from Vancouver in the mid-’90s. And it was in 1999, I had essentially been the Vice President of Sales for four years.
Jeff: J&J was on a decent roll at that time in terms of business results in Canada. And in my mind, I’d already…if I stepped back and my father was sort of a Western Regional Sales Manager for a forest products company, he’d since passed away from cancer, I was in a role of head of sales in the whole of Canada.
Jeff: And arguably, growing up had achieved everything that I’ve ever wanted to achieve, and in some degrees, passing my father’s success. And I was at the ripe age of 36, and my career was over in some ways, from a sales function. The only other role higher, if you will, would have been to become president of the Canadian company.
Jeff: And while in some ways I envisioned that I never had really anticipated myself sort of going to that. I had a conversation with my mentor at that time who was the North American Company Group Chairman, the role that I’m currently in, and talked about becoming the president and she gave me some incredibly good advice at that time, that, arguably, 90% of my career had been in sales.
Jeff: I’d only been a year and a half in marketing at that point and in a broadening assignment, that you need to do something different. You need to, one, get away from an organization you spent almost 10 years involved in various ways and take on a broader general management experience. So in 1999 was the first year I took a role down in the US, where I was…my first role of president at that time we call our Wound Care Division.
Jeff: So brands like Band-Aid, branding disadvantages [SP]. And then I was also what we called the Global Franchise Vice President. So I was responsible for all of wound care around the world, manufacturing and innovation agendas as well as the in-market performance for the business around the world. So that was my first foray, if you will, into general management and a broader marketing role.
Jeff: As well as a time when I got involved in everything from business development, the opening and closing of manufacturing plants in terms of our longer-term strategy and where we wanted to meet demand, as well as developing…working with R&D to develop the innovation pipeline for multiple years. And that was my first role, if you will, out of Canada, but also the best role that led to my longer term goal, which was to become the president of J&J in Canada and Montreal.
Jeff: It was the best advice that, I’d argue, that I ever got from a mentor or any other leader in the context of disassociating yourself of a company that while you grew up in it, and you always had the next step, the next step, the next step, was to take a break. Check out of it and go work in a different part of the organization, and then come back in as a changed leader, if you will, for that company.
Jeff: And as it played out, it worked very well for me. But, in terms of advice, it was probably…it was counter to what I was thinking, and clearly that role came open when I was off doing the global assignment, so I might have missed a step in the context of, maybe I could have been the next president of Canada. But in the long run, I now if I’d gone, now if I look back, if I’d gone into that role straight from VP of Sales role, I would never have had the success I had than by stepping aside and doing something different.
Ray: Interesting. What I need, I know it’s hard to talk about yourself, but there’s only a handful of people who end up getting the roles and opportunities that you’ve had and then the role that you are into today. Maybe just looking at your peers, what would you say is just different in terms of your approach? Clearly, you did something different or your peers have done something different to get to this level.
Ray: What do you think were some of the things that you just did differently?
Jeff: You know, I get this a lot when I go on campuses and stuff and different things for recruiting. But it’s both in my situation, both an easy and a difficult question to answer. Because for every person, arguably, there’s a different outcome.
Jeff: It’s interesting. As I said, I’ve been with J&J for 26 years and this is only my sixth job, so I’ve only been here for a year and a half. So call it that first 25 years, I did five jobs. So on average, the lowest…the least amount of time I was in any one job is almost a little over four years and the longest I was in any one job was seven years.
Jeff: And so, contrary to what I call most new recruits wanna hear is this rapid pace of change and new opportunities and new roles and growth and whatever. I’m not a very good candidate to talk about that. What I do talk about in there, though, was even in all those roles, I had an incredible amount of experiences that changed the flavor of my job in any four or five-year period of time, whether it be certain acquisitions that would come about that require integrations or whatever.
Jeff: So a lot of…when I look at it, I use a couple of words often times when I talk about it, patience. So while I saw others might be moving around me and getting promoted and different things like that, arguably, staying in a role and doing it well over time, actually has more impact than changing jobs every 18 months.
Jeff: And while you might have an impact once or twice, it’s hard to keep that going in 18 months intervention. So I wouldn’t argue, I wouldn’t debate with people that five years is the right amount. But I would argue somewhere between five years and 18 months. At some point in time, doing a job for three years or four years is actually good because you actually…particularly when you’re running a business unit, you get to show success upon success. And, so that’s what I call personality within my 3Ps is passion, patience, and personality.
Jeff: The personality part of it, to be able to build on your success and not just build on somebody else’s failure, is an important part of long-term success in getting ahead. The piece around patience is critically important because you can get caught up in viewing it as a race versus as delivering results and letting a big company look after thousands of employees.
Jeff: There’s more than enough opportunity. Just keeping focused on what you’re doing versus what everybody else is doing.
Ray: Do you think that’s a challenge in this day and age though with this new generation that’s so used to hopping from one place to another in a year or two whichever seems like a hard time?
Jeff: Yep. Absolutely. And that’s why I say there’s no way I can stand there and recommend that what I did would end up working for any other person.
Jeff: But the part that…because people, when you really peel back the onions and say, “Okay. Why did it happen the way that it happened?” Some of it had to do with things that all individuals, regardless of they’re today’s new recruit or they’re probably through with their career after 10 years coming out of the business school are gonna deal with and that is certain things within raising families and other things.
Jeff: And I made personal choice…there were decisions that I made at times not to move forward because of personal choices. I mentioned once before, I had the passing of my father so that required a certain amount of work with my mother and other things like that. Post that, I had children and differing schooling agents when we made different moves. So I made some personal choices not to do things at certain times.
Jeff: And while those can…in some…on one hand, you can view it as it can catch up with you and not help you be successful, there are also principal values that I’ve had growing up after moving six times in, you know, 15 years growing up, that I just wasn’t gonna do that over again. So there’s no one formula or recipe that works for everyone and you need to make the choices that are right for you at the right time and believe in what you’re doing.
Jeff: I think today’s generation, I think early in their career, while they can make lots of those choices, I think they will also deal with some of the same things that we’ve all dealt with along our career path as well.
Ray: Was there any point in time where you made a personal decision and choice that made it difficult for you to be successful in a role professionally?
Ray: Or vice versa?
Jeff: Not so much some…it depends on how you, the definition of “difficulty” in there, right? So there were decisions not to take a promotion, for example, where, arguably, it moves your career forward and you look at it as if it might be the right thing for me to do personally, and it might be good for my career. But if it wasn’t good for everybody in our household.
Jeff: You made that choice as a family. In the short run, you can get caught up with whether it was detrimental to your career. In the long run, I don’t think it is. But it’s very hard to have that perspective at the time. Right? So it’s much easier to step back and say, okay, I made it to this level and this amount of success and say I made it with perfect vision.
Jeff: I didn’t. I made it with a lot of decisions that might not have turned out the way they did. So there’s always a certain amount of hard work and dedication and resolve combined with a certain amount of luck and opportunities that come along with it. It’s worked out in my case, but I can’t say I knew that at the time I made some of those decisions.
Ray: If I looked at your career and everything that you’ve talked about so far, I sort of just see one direction, which is up. And I was like, Jeff has never really screwed up in anything and he has a pretty perfect career up until this certain point in time. But what are some of your memories of your lowest points there? Any low points that you recall that things didn’t work out or you stopped and this is not gonna turn out the way I want it to be? Do you have any stories or memories of any of those things?
Jeff: I wish it had been that easy. While on a long-term perspective, you might be able to have a look at it and say, there were a lot of times during that development of a short-term perspective that weren’t quite so easy. I mean, a couple of easy examples that are easy to turn to are things like where you really went deep on from a champion perspective on an acquisition.
Jeff: Some kind of element [SP] licensing and acquisition-type of situation where you thought for sure was the future. You put your neck out purposefully to do it. And two years later, the business is gone from whatever you acquire, let’s call a $100 million dollars down to nothing and the company was writing if off. So I’ve had at least a handful of those. But at the same time, I’ve had a couple of handfuls of ones that have turned out remarkably well.
Jeff: Neutrogena, Aveeno, and things that we acquired that were ridiculously small and there are massively big brands in our portfolio today. So it’s always good to talk about the ones that worked out really well and not the ones that didn’t. But that is a tough field. The whole M&A game is a high-degree of risk, and part of what’s kept me at J&J is a real entrepreneurial, decentralized management structure that allows you to really become a champion for business ideas.
Jeff: And many of those come in the form of M&A. The other one was a situation where we’d done an acquisition, so a much bigger acquisition, more of the enterprise level of Pfizer’s consumer healthcare business. And it was a time when I was running J&J in Canada. I was based in Montreal. We were merging or we had acquired Pfizer consumer healthcare that was based in Markam in Southern Toronto.
Jeff: And we had a division that was an over-the-counter business primarily brands like Tylenol and Zyrtec and [inaudible 00:34:42] reactant. So brands that have existed in that portfolio that was based in Guelph in Ontario. And while J&J made the acquisition, we needed to figure out where we’re going to locate our business.
Jeff: Prior to the closing, we were the only company within the broader Johnson & Johnson that decided that it would move to a single location, pre-close of the deal. And so the deal was signed off in October and was gonna complete itself in January the following year. Then, we made the decision in November to shut down both of the existing J&J facilities, if you will.
Jeff: But not the operations because both of them were attached to manufacturing plants but had an office portion of it. And moved the business in from Montreal, in Guelph, into Markham where Pfizer was located and who we’d just acquired. So we were basically integrating within J&J while acquiring an external company at the same time, which, as we made the decision, we always knew that a small amount of people would move from Montreal over to Toronto to join the new co.
Jeff: We didn’t make that same assumption for the Guelph-based organization consumer health care. And we were staffing about a 400-person organization in Markham from the three companies. And I was the integration lead at the time and made that decision to move to Markham.
Jeff: And when we went through, we basically did this staffing approach of who is the best person, who is the best candidate of the three companies, for each of the boxes that were gonna be in the new company, regardless of where they came from. By the time we were done and ended up on day one as a staff of 500 or 400, we were supposed to having head off because we really ended up with 162 people in jobs.
Jeff: Because only seven people came from Montreal and 67% of the people in Guelph had chosen not to come to Markham to work, primarily because we miscalculated. I miscalculated on the fact that they had long-standing employees based on where they were located in the small community, and majority of them were over 49 and younger than 55 and they were all gonna take early retirement packages that were offered in the integration.
Jeff: So we had this crazy situation of people doing two and three jobs and had to go into the open market places to staff up the company. The companies at the time were the 24th, 28th, and 32nd largest consumer packaged goods company in Canada.
Jeff: And post merger and acquisition, we were the 6th largest, just slightly bigger than Coca-Col. So, the original decision to staff in a suburb of Toronto allowed us to access schools and competitors and other things and became a short-term pain.
Jeff: We went through six months of pure business hell if you will. But became a competitive advantage because in no other location of the three would we have been able to deal with the amount of change without hiring basically a new company through schools, acquisitions, competitors, and even non-competitors in the marketplace and create a new company that could deal with being the 6th largest instead of the 24th, 28th, and 32nd largest.
Jeff: So it’s one of those where you go through it and there are a lot of moments where you’d wake up in the night for the first six months wondering if you’ve made the wrong decision and for years after you’ve made the right decision based on the outcome.
Ray: How long did it take for things to normalize again?
Jeff: A whole year. I mean, we were fully staffed within six months post that. We put in place a process that three VP levels and I had to approve every single hire. And three years after all hires were in, we’ve only lost six of the people out of the 200 plus people we hired. And so part of that was it was one thing to go out and just hire. It was another thing to go out and hire quality that was gonna be there for a long-term.
Ray: You talked a little about the successes of Neutrogena. How did that unfold? I mean, did they approach you guys? Were you looking at them in your radar? How did that whole transaction happen?
Jeff: Yeah. That one came out of…I mean, J&J in the early ’90s had made a decision that what I call the broader skin care marketplace was an attractive place to be operating in 2000s based on the demographics and the aging population and etc. in the strategic planning process.
Jeff: It had decided that it was going to enter the skin care arena through acquisition, and Neutrogena was a second purchase in that string of five different purchases. And so all those happened within five years.
Jeff: Neutrogena was…I guess if you back it up, J&J as a corporation is based on…its DNA is based on science and clinical results and professional relationships and that type of thing. So for scaling in the market place was very much focused on brands that were very strong with professional endorsements. In this case, dermatology, was based on scientific outcomes. And Neutrogena came to the top of the list.
Jeff: It was family-owned. It was relatively small. It was under $200 million dollars at that time. Today, it’s just shy of $2 billion.
Jeff: And it was an opportunity for an owner to find the path forward to capitalize on early success. But not really capitalize, if you will, from a financial perspective to take it to the long-term.
Jeff: It was a great opportunity for them to cash out and for us to continue it. I still look at it because I was involved in that back in 1994, in the early days. And we acquired a business that was in Los Angeles that had a plant on its facility that made products. And then it was acquired by this big corporation, Fortune 50 company.
Jeff: And today, it still sits in Los Angeles and still has its manufacturing plant. The differences are that it makes products for other parts of our skin care portfolio but the team that’s there still runs all of Neutrogena globally out of Los Angeles.
Ray: Hmm. Fascinating. Jeff, I wanna switch a little bit on the personal side. Do you have any rituals or routines that you follow? I mean, you’re incredibly busy. Right? Are there things that just keep you in-check and a bit more in balance?
Jeff: It’s changed over the years. Obviously, growing up in a selling organization, I was very focused on from the earliest days of who my customers were and a routine of every month making sure you went through a process of seeing your largest to smallest and covering all the bases and everything else to, you know, I’m very focused, to today.
Jeff: My role takes me across to everything from issues of pipelining and innovation development to manufacturing issues to quality and compliance to sales and marketing issues to customer service, etc. It’s become less routine but arguably harder to control as a result, right? So there are times when I look back at my days of training with P & G and see the discipline in planning a week.
Jeff: Simple things like always making sure I scan my full week on a Sunday night and understand what’s in front me, still exists. But the ability for it to shift and change during the week is increased by a factor of, whatever, a hundred fold from my early days. Right? So you tend to learn that while what might look like something on a Sunday night, by Wednesday it could look very different.
Jeff: So you gotta be able to adapt and deal with that as it goes along.
Ray: Do you play golf, meditate, anything else to keep sane and stable in any way?
Jeff: I have tried a lot of golf over my career and I’m no better at it than I was 30 years ago. So I play less now. But my passions are much more around my lake house.
Jeff: So I spent a lot as a kid water skiing and wake boarding and things like that, and continue to do so to this day. And that’s when our family gets together during the summer and weekends, and we snow ski during the winter months. And so golf is less of a priority. But it’s still something I do probably 15 times a summer but it’s not one of those activities that I was able to ever get a mastery over.
Jeff: Other activities are really just around personal hobbies and things like traveling and culture and reading and those types of things. And so we do a lot of it as a couple and maintain that time off is as rewarding as working and is needed to be an effective employee, so we continue to do so.
Ray: What’s the last book that you read that stood up for you that’s been a great read?
Jeff: That’s interesting. I just finished a book. It’s probably not necessarily the one that you’d have to roll off your tongue, but about the Wright brothers. David McCulough’s book on the Wright brothers. You know, fascinating read, hard to find the business, I took [SP] ability to that but I’m not just a reader of business material. But at the same time, when you read through it, I mean, there’s passion and dedication to trial and error and commitment and driving forward.
Jeff: And taking learning from what they’ve accomplished and their ability to think long-term. You can always draw on that and bring it back to work. But at the same time, you bring it back to your own personality more than you bring it back to work. I just finished it on Sunday, I think it was.
Ray: Maybe this sounded like it shifted in the earlier parts of your career, but in your 20s and 30s, what was your schedule like? Were you always on seven days a week or did you force yourself to shut off on certain days? And what is it like today?
Jeff: Much easier to shut off then. So the great thing about P&G is the rigidity and sort of discipline was that it was Monday to Friday.
Jeff: You knew exactly every single day what you were supposed to be doing when you’re supposed to do it. And so you basically followed it like it was gospel, in a way. And you got to shut off on weekends. If you were done at 3:00 in the afternoon, you were done. You didn’t dare go and pick up and get another customer or go to another store tomorrow. I mean, that wasn’t allowed.
Jeff: You were supposed to call on these seven customers on Thursday, and you did it. And so it’s a different world. Obviously, it wasn’t quite as wired as it is today. But even today…you know, it’s funny because you set routines when you’re growing through your career and you’re working in the early days in a two-income household and determining with a young family what part of the day was important and we decided amongst my wife and I that being home for dinner and post-dinner activities with the kids was more important than being there in the morning, for my situation.
Jeff: And so I became an early bird and was always home for supper. And to this day, I’ve got grown kids and don’t live in the house and off on their own routine with families and everything else. I still always leave the office somewhere around 5:30-6:00 and for a couple different reasons.
Jeff: That has been my routine. I’m always in by 6:00 a.m. By that time, I need something on my own to go do and doesn’t…in today’s world, it doesn’t mean I can’t pick up and use my tools and assets of a smartphone and other things to be able to connect. But I still basically take off every day between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. regardless of having family suppers or not or whatever.
Jeff: That’s my time, and it became a part of how I operated and it continues to be to this day. And by the time I get up at 4:30 in the morning, get a little bit of exercise and go to work, by 5:30 – 6:00 at night, I mean, it doesn’t do me any good to sit there and show face.
Jeff: And so I tend to walk out and whether my boss is still there or not. It doesn’t really matter over the years. You just keep up with whatever works in your different pace, I think. The whole concept of work-life balance doesn’t exist as a macro level, it exists as an individual level. And you need to figure out what works for you individually.
Ray: What would you say were some of the biggest lessons that you learned at the stage where your career was incredibly busy, you just started to have a family, and raising young kids, what were some of the things that you learned going through those experiences?
Jeff: Do what feels right. There’s no one rule book or playbook for this to work. Every situation, every family, or whatever, is different and you gotta do what feels right for you and your family and stick to it and be passionate about it.
Jeff: And make it your personal credo that that’s how you’re gonna manage your career. And believing it is one thing, living into it is another. There’s always gonna be pressure, you and your boss, you and the people that work for you aren’t always gonna be on the same schedule or sync in terms of mindset. But if you compromise on the personal part of it, you will ultimately not be successful in the professional part of it.
Ray: On the same note, what advice would you give to your 25 to 30-year old self?
Jeff: Have more patience. It’s interesting because you look back on it and you think of all the things you sweated that just weren’t sweatable. It just didn’t matter in some ways and yet, at the moment, it was like the most important thing.
Jeff: How did Mary or Fred get promoted before you, or whatever. And that ability to be able to believe just in yourself and what you’re doing and stay focused on that instead of all that’s going on around you. And it’s hard for human beings. We see things, we experience things, we have feelings, etc. But if I could go back in time and say like, literally stop sweating it. Be less stressed about it and stay more focused on what you’re doing.
Jeff: It would have been much more enjoyable to go through.
Ray: It sounds like patience is a pretty big key overall in your philosophy and passion. When you look at your top performers in your team today, what would you say are some of the other characteristics that make them stand out and make them successful in what they do?
Jeff: To me, I mean, the critical one is what I call resiliency.
Jeff: Anybody…everybody, not anybody, everybody can be well-thought off when everything is doing great. When all your ideas come to fruition with a customer, when every marketing plan you laid down wins with the consumer, when you just come up with the best ideas and they just work.
Jeff: It’s pretty easy to get higher on yourself and to envision bigger opportunities and bigger businesses and whatever, bigger jobs. The more difficult one is when it doesn’t go your way. When sometimes, macro external events, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s retailer changes, whether brands being sold off, whatever. There’s different activities that happen in one’s career or just ideas that just…I always say, “I’ve never had a bad one, they’ve just always ahead of their time.”
Jeff: It’s just the ability to be able to persevere through that and be resilient to the ups and downs. And the most important part of that is the resiliency to your own doubts. Because if everything was up all the time, you’d be perfectly fine. You might have the issue of being too arrogant or whatever you want as you lose perspective.
Jeff: But things that don’t go well and places where you fail, they add more character than those that go exactly according to plan. That characteristic is regardless of what job you are in. And in an organization from marketing and sales, to supply chain, to quality. The toughest times are when you grow the most and you ultimately learn the most for your long-term career.
Ray: If you look back on your career, you’re still going obviously in what you do today, but do you know, have you figured out what drives you? You know, your family is that just…due to failure? What gets you going and sort of motivates you to what you’re doing?
Jeff: I’m thinking that has changed. If I went back 10 years ago, a lot of it was about, for lack of better word, personal success.
Jeff: It’s like climbing the corporate ladder. As sort of your own job, how far can I go? That kind of mentality. One of the beautiful parts about working for J&J, it’s a well-diversified, broadest health care company in the world. There is so much around health and wellness that I think it can have a bigger impact on the world.
Jeff: So in different parts of our organization, in our pharmaceutical part of the organization, the cure rates on things around Hepatitis C. The things that just, you know, even the Ebola virus and stuff that we’re working on across our businesses and enterprise. But even in the consumer sector. A lot of the…my focus has been on everything from, I call it, we call it, a sort of a health and wellness initiative.
Jeff: And really bring together with our retailers not only how behind the counter but what’s in front of the counter and that intersection between health and beauty that accompanied with scientific credentials and products that live into them, can really deliver on real results. So you get motivated and passionate about not only delivering a better beauty cream or a new mouthwash or whatever, but the real health benefits that the products can provide that have a broader impact on a consumer over a longer period of time.
Ray: Were there any points in your time at J&J where you thought about doing something else?
Jeff: Oh, yeah. I’d be naive to say that there [inaudible 00:56:59]
Jeff: I mean, they always come in different low points in one’s career, right? Different economic times, different cycles within a business, that you look at it and go, “Wow! Do I wanna persevere through this and see if I come out the other end or is this a good time to go do something different?” While early in this conversation, I talked a lot about wanting to come out of school and start my own business and go into more of an entrepreneurial path.
Jeff: There’s different realities at different points. And so when you think about it, there were choices to be made and decisions on what to do. And the only regret I would have, if you will, would be to not have done it early in my career. Because you get to a certain point and you pick a number, about 15 years into your career.
Jeff: It’s not so much that the business idea that you have is risky, it’s more about you got a family, you got things to provide for, you probably picked up some debt in the form of a mortgage, or whatever, and you debate whether or not this is the right time. You always think back and go, if only 10 years later I’d said, a couple of different things. And so it sort of leads into the same things as a regret.
Jeff: And then you get to a certain point in your career and it was like, maybe at 55, one does things that you wanted to do then when you got both the means to do it and that ability from a retirement perspective. There’s different times in one’s life when they can probably lean into that the most, and your probably 20s is best and maybe your late 50s is best. There’s obviously different opportunities that you would lean toward at that time.
Ray: A final question and sort of related to that note, what’s there left for you to accomplish? What’s left in that bucket list of yours?
Jeff: Interesting question. Only in the context of what I just said because I turned 55 this month. From a career perspective at J&J and so assuming one takes that path, there’s still an incredible amount of business that we do.
Jeff: We just made five acquisitions since the middle of December 2015. So bringing those businesses into our portfolio and sort of reinventing the path for growth is probably opportunity number one and challenge number one, at the same time, to accelerate them, to accelerate our business forward. But at the same time, and probably at another one of those crossroads we’re going, we head down a different path and do something different.
Jeff: In the next couple of years, I’ll probably gonna prioritize what it is. I don’t see myself, back to your question earlier, I don’t enjoy golf enough to say I’m gonna retire and go golfing five days a week. So I think that a healthy individual has a lot to do with sort of a healthy mind and challenges are inside J&J or in the next couple of years or stay there for the next five years or not.
Ray: Are there things on the personal side that you still wanna experience or achieve? Do you aspire to diving, jumping off a building or anything?
Jeff: Jump off a building. I hope that goes with skydiving because I have a parachute. Probably, the biggest one is more just travel. I had the fortunate opportunity in global jobs to be able to travel the world for business.
Jeff: But traveling the world on business is almost different from doing it from a vacation perspective. And so there are so many places around the world that we’ve both been to work and different things like that. But we’ve always said, “Gotta come back her, gotta come back here.” So we’ve kept a long list of places that ones we’ve enjoyed for a couple days of work.
Jeff: And now, we have a rule when I travel globally that, no matter what I did, I always went in a full 24 hours before a meeting started. But one day is not a great way to see any city.
Jeff: And/or country. So that is still something that I’m passionate about and I can’t wait to sort of get towards exploring different parts of the world from a different lens. But at the same time, I think there’s so much more. I ‘ve had a business career that’s been, for lack of a better word, for-profit career.
Jeff: My spouse has been 20 years now, heavily involved in a non-profit world and there’s a lot of what drives me to think about how to give back. I’ve been fortunate to be able to be successful and create enough wealth to be able to live in retirement.
Jeff: I always think that my head has been down on driving a business forward. It hasn’t been head down on trying to figure out what impact or legacy one can leave in life. So I gotta figure that out over the next three to five years as well.
Ray: Awesome. Awesome. Jeff, thank you so so much for doing this. A lot of fun.
Jeff: No problem. I appreciate it. I’m really looking forward to hopefully catching up with you in person soon.
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