J&J CEO’s West Point lesson: Great leaders know how to listen
One thing most people don’t know about Johnson & Johnson is that its CEO is a military veteran. Alex Gorsky is a graduate of The United States Military Academy, also known as West Point. He went on to serve in the army for six years rising to the rank of captain. Gorsky, who began his career in sales at the health products giant, rose up the ranks of J&J to become CEO in 2012. He credits his business success to those years of military training, adding that it had a “profound effect” on the way he leads.
“In the military you’re frequently given really challenging missions. And I think what’s really important is to look at things realistically,” Gorsky says. “You assess them, but then frankly, it’s up to you to motivate the team, to figure out a solution, to keep going ahead.”
Gorsky adds that he developed a “huge appreciation for diversity” while serving in the Army and years later it would have an impact on his business leadership style. “When I entered the Academy, so many of the soldiers that I worked with didn’t look like me. They came from very different backgrounds,” he explains. “When you’re making a decision, when you’re bringing people together, having different points of view, having different perspectives, is very very important.”
At 132-years old, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is a vast $76 billion organization with more than 130,000 employees and operations around the globe. It is also ranked number 37 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest companies in America. Gorsky dispels the notion that as a military guy he runs the New Brunswick, New Jersey giant with a heavy, authoritarian hand.
“Well, I think you’re right, a lot of people have that stereotype about the military. That was not my experience at all. What I found is that working with soldiers, getting a lot of different opinions, people with a tremendous amount of experience, the most important thing you can do as a leader is to listen,” he says. “And make sure that you are accessible, that people felt comfortable and confident coming up to you providing you with the right kind of information.” Gorsky adds that he brings those same skills to J&J every day, because “ultimately, that’s when you’re going to be able to complete your mission.”
By Susie Gharib