Jim Swanson, EVP and Enterprise CIO, Johnson & Johnson: Fostering a Caring and Inclusive Culture and Working Toward Health Equity for All

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Ten million Americans live in areas that lack physical access to healthcare and do not have access to broadband, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2021 Acceleration in Healthcare Report.   For Jim Swanson, fostering a company’s culture and digital transformation together across the business is key in shaping the future of healthcare.

HMG Strategy caught up with Swanson at the 2021 HMG Live! Greenwich CIO Executive Leadership Summit on June 9 about his role as EVP and Enterprise CIO at Johnson & Johnson and the company’s mission to transform the trajectory of human health.

HMG: How long have you been at J&J? You have a lot on your plate right now, right?

Jim Swanson: When I came back to J&J, it was October of 2019. Certainly, since that time, a series of unplanned things occurred — COVID happened, which created a pretty dynamic environment to work in. However, as devastating as COVID has been, I’ve been so proud of the work our team has been doing, not only with our vaccine, but to advance healthcare overall. It’s been a pivotal moment where technology has played a real leadership role for the company. And I believe that will be sustained, not only during the pandemic, but going forward.

You’re a big proponent of fostering culture within the organization. Talk to us a little bit about the digital culture you have – where you are today and where are you driving your organization.

JS: It’s about taking advantage of digital and technology. You used the word culture – I think that culture is really important to be able to not only embrace it but have a common culture that’s based in Our Credo. Culture needs to be based in caring for our patients and physicians, in caring for our employees and based in the communities we serve. If we do all of those things well, we’ll get a fair return from a shareholder perspective. That’s really embedded in how we think, but our mission of transforming the trajectory of human health really comes through with digital being a great enabler and driver for it.

Talk to us a little bit about the mission and the culture.

JS:  We created a purpose statement for the technology function, which was to ‘shape the future of healthcare by unlocking the power of people, technology, and insights.’ We take that very seriously, because it’s not just reacting and responding to our patient needs, but how do we help transform? How do we use technology, data, and insights to get a better service or get a better capability, or a better understanding of delivering healthcare across the whole globe?

We can use technology for good, that’s really at the heart and cornerstone especially in healthcare and in promoting health equity all around the world. Coupled with great science, with an ethical approach, and with the extensive global reach that J&J has, we can really use technology to maximize the power of healthcare. That’s the mission we wake up to every day.

Let’s talk about your moments of truth. What were the courageous and pivotal points that really shaped you and essentially broke you out into the amazing career you’ve had?

JS: I think about my experiences of moving from science, which is where I started. I started in the lab, then moved to a technology role. Also – switching industries was definitely a leap of faith, because I had never worked in industrial agriculture before. Taking on that experience, I knew I’d grow and develop a lot. I wasn’t sure I was going to be successful, but I knew I wanted to try it. Embracing those experiences coupled with a passion for what I love doing and focused on our mission has really accelerated not only my career, but the interactions with people and being able to do great things with great people has been something I’ve been really proud of – and something I’m going to continue to do well into the future.

When you think about building trusting relationships with your organization, your team, the line of business, with the C-suite – and ultimately, your boss – what comes to mind?

JS: I think humility plays a big role. I know there are a lot of people who are much smarter than me with different experiences, so how do you build the best team, bringing diverse talent together? That’s one way to build trust and to be humble about it. Second, bring your best self every day and that of your team. If you bring it from a team concept, you really emphasize each other’s strengths, each other’s diversity, each other’s passions and commitments and you align for common goals.

Also, you have to deliver to build trust. You’ve got to be accountable to what you say you’re going to do. You’ve got to show up every day being accountable.

You’re not going to get it all right. There’s no person, there’s no experience I’ve had where you get it all right. Yet, you evolve it, you learn it and you’re committed to it. Being open to things that give you new advice or new insights, along with the willingness to pivot and change, is also really important.

When you get excited because you have the same outcome as your business colleagues, or as the customers you’re serving, then you’re all aligned to the same outcome. It’s amazing what a team can do. It really is breathtaking.

 Finally, I’d advise leaders to be ‘pleased but never satisfied.’ I really lean into that, because there’s always more you can bring to the table and that should get you out of bed in the morning and get you excited. Always bringing your best self to always learn and get better. If you do those things, I think you could be very successful.

Any additional career advice that you would offer?

JS: I’ve had a lot of mentors over my career, and I do encourage that. One mentor said to me several years ago, `write your own job description and look for roles that fulfill that.’ So, I have my one-pager that I’ve kept with me. I’ve updated it over the years, but I always look at opportunities, how it fulfills that job that I want to be in and what I want to create. Then you find companies or opportunities where that gets fulfilled.

 Those are really effective ways you can galvanize what truly is important to you and then find opportunities where you can leap into that and make that happen versus just reacting to what you see in the open marketplace.

 In your view, how important is diversity with respect to culture and driving innovation?

JS: I’ve yet to see a company, a leader, or an individual that is successful without embracing not only diversity, but also inclusion.  There’s no one person that has all the answers. You need diverse thinking and diverse people who come together to solve very complex problems. That could be ethnic diversity, gender, and geographic diversity. It could be LGBTQ diversity. It could be diversity of experiences or backgrounds. That melting pot of great thinkers, of great ideas, of different perspectives allows you to bring world-class capabilities together. Without it, you’re never going to be successful.

 It’s actually at the core of being a successful leader and a successful company. It really is ingrained in my DNA and I’m always learning. I’m always trying to improve. There are always ways I can get better. Diversity is really important for our future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Companies need diverse thinking and people from diverse backgrounds to come together to solve complex problems. Different perspectives allow you to bring world-class capabilities together.
  • Building trust starts with being aligned to business outcomes and targeting the same outcomes as your business colleagues and as the customers you’re serving.
  • Technology and data are key enablers and drivers in the journey of transforming human healthcare and health inequalities across the globe. 
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