Marching Order: Johnson & Johnson’s new CIO, LaVerne Council – Part 1

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Less than one year ago, LaVerne Council joined Johnson & Johnson, charged with crafting a new IT strategy to drive the global enterprise. In part one of this two-part podcast, join host John Gallant and Council, who takes audience questions and shares:

  • How she created her initial 90-day strategy
  • Ways in which she bridges the gap between business and IT
  • Strategies for helping Johnson & Johnson leverage information across its diverse, global businesses.

    LaVerne Council Bio

    LaVerne Council is Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Johnson & Johnson. Mrs. Council is responsible for the management of information technology and related systems for Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide enterprise which includes more than 200 operating companies and more than 3,500 information management employees with a budget of $1.6 billion.

    Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson in June 2006, Ms. Council served as global vice president, I/T, for Dell Inc., with responsibility for technology development, global business solutions and development services. Her career also included serving as partner, global leader for supply chain for Capgemini (formerly Ernst and Young LLP), and positions at Mercer Management Consulting, Accenture, Tennessee Valley Authority and State Farm Insurance.

    Ms. Council is a graduate of Illinois State University and holds an M.B.A. in operations management. She also received a bachelor of business, highest honors, in computer science from Western Illinois University.

    Among her many community and professional associations, Ms. Council is a member of the National Board of Trustees for the March of Dimes, the Foundation Board for the Children’s Hospital of Austin, the Board of The Executive Leadership Council, the American Production and Inventory Control Society, Inc., and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

    In January 2006, Ms. Council was featured in Eenadu Newsmagazine. In November/December 2004, she was selected by Profiles in Diversity Journal as one of 45 “Women Worth Watching.” Ms. Council was also in a 2003 Austin Business Journal profile as a “Power Award” winner.

    She resides in Mendham, NJ, with her husband and son.


    John Gallant: Hi, and welcome to Stories from the Trenches: The Change Artists Spotlight. I’m your host, John Gallant, and today we’re joined by LaVerne Council, who is the CIO of Johnson & Johnson. Welcome, LaVerne.

    LaVerne Council: Hi, John, thank you.

    JG: I recently spoke with LaVerne, as well as J&J CEO Bill Weldon in our Change Artists program. And LaVerne, I very much enjoyed that conversation. You’ve got a great new job, having been in the position for about six months now, I believe, and a lot of exciting things on your plate. And I think the folks who listened to the program found it interesting as well, because we’ve gotten a lot of questions to ask you today. LaVerne, I have a question from Sam with Atlas Systems. And Sam asks, ‘Could you give us a sneak preview into a day in the life of a CIO? You have various business entities and so many changes you’re planning to bring into the organization. Can you elaborate on how you’re spending your time each day?’

    LC: Every day is a little different, but if I just sort of thought about the various interfaces that I have during the day and broke it up into a percentage of time, looking at it on average, a big part of my responsibility is leadership and leadership of the team. So, I would say that probably a good 25% of my time is spent talking to people, meeting with them, having one-on-ones with them and assuring them about what’s next and what they should be thinking about, doing mentoring as well as some career guidance. But it’s, frankly, any day, that can range from 25% to 80% of my time, just depending on what day it is. I think the other big part of the day is really working with my direct leadership team, probably another 30% or 25% of the time. And what I’m doing with them is really trying to add that last 5% of value. And as they’re looking at issues with the large teams that they support, how can I bring synergies to them based on what I know of the other sectors and my other direct reports and making sure that we’re communicating properly and leveraging the knowledge that each of us has in what we’re doing in our various areas? And then I would say another 25% of my time is spent working with the leadership and the various business leaders in one way or the other. Tomorrow, just take an example, I will be with the executive committee pretty much the entire day. That’s not the norm, but it is a chunk of the time, and purpose in there is going to be really sharing and communicating on behalf of the entire team, listening and understanding where the business is going and challenges they’re facing, as well as new horizons we might be interested in entering, and really getting an assessment on how we can best utilize our talents in support of those business objectives. And then I think the part that’s left, I spend time learning. I spend time meeting people in other organizations, understanding what they’re doing, understanding what their challenges are, reading. Of course, there’s the dreaded email that comes in from all over the place. But frankly, just making sure that I’m helping other people be effective, answering those questions as I can and keeping the process going. So, it’s a challenging job, but actually is an incredibly fun job because no two days are alike.

    JG: I’m fascinated with how you begin the process of developing the kind of strategic plan that you talked about on our program, a new strategic plan around IT. How did you begin those discussions with your team, as well as with senior business leaders?

    LC: Actually, it was a number of phases to get to a point that we were prepared to even have the dialogue around the strategy. And a lot of people will come up and say, ‘well, we’re going to develop a new strategy.’ My style is really more to learn more about the organization first, and I would say that initially I came in with a set of questions about the organization, about what was driving the organization, and really tried to spend some time getting to know the leaders. Not so much talking about the technology, but also talking with the team, understanding what was important to them as information technologists and where had they seen opportunities and what kinds of things did they like doing? So, it was a lot of learning, listening, but also dialoging, ensuring that the team understood my drivers, understood what was important to me as a leader. What were the kinds of things culturally that I felt excited about? And so it meant that I had to make myself somewhat vulnerable to them, for them to understand who I was, where I’d been. So, I spent time introducing myself and, frankly, I think for some people that was a little odd. I did it on a timeline of technology, and so I put myself on that timeline and my life on that timeline so they would understand what drives me, what was happening in my life at particular times in my life. And sort of how’d I get here. And I think that creates a different kind of connection with people, but also the conversations that I started having with people were much richer. And I sort of asked my team to come back and tell me what they were learning, what they were hearing. And so that process of that open communication was critical. I met IT leaders and business leaders all over the world, and I took it upon myself to go to them and meet with them. And then in about the October timeframe, I said, okay, we’re ready. We’re ready now to start this process of talking to them about our new strategy and getting the input from them. But also the input from the healthcare industry and what the trends were going to be, looking at every single initiative that we were doing in each of our three sectors and dissecting those. Meeting some team members who could work with us, who were directors and VPs in other teams that were willing to share what they had learned, and then bringing that all together. But I think it did require me sort of going out on a limb and giving people understanding of a brief assessment that I had. I called it the 90 days to the future. And I gave them my assessment of what I had picked up in the first 90 days, and really asked for their input on that. And that became a big input into the ultimate strategy.

    JG: LaVerne, I have a question from Leonard Centio, who has a consultancy business, and he’s really talking about one of the core issues.

    [Caller] The question I have for LaVerne is how do you bridge the gap between the IT organization and the business? In other words, how do you create and maintain business intelligence with your own IT department?

    LC: That is a critical factor and, frankly, makes the information technologist’s job a little tougher because it doesn’t just require that you know technology. It does require that you have a good understanding of the businesses and the business direction. That’s not always easy while you’re trying to do your day job. And also ensuring that the business is comfortable where you’re going with that information. So, it does require that you have a level of relationship with the business leaders, that they understand why you need to know what you need to know. Because what will start to happen is, they’ll start to feed you the information. They’ll start to make sure that you’re on that distribution or that you’re included in that meeting when they’re having that dialogue. It becomes an important point that when the business understands the value of having their information technology leader at the table, they won’t have the meeting without them being there. And so it’s critical that as IT technologists and leaders, you really have to verse yourself on the business. You really have to understand what the numbers are saying, what drives the top level, what drives the bottom level? Not just from technology’s point of view, but from an overall point of view. Because then, when the conversations start, you can understand it, but then when the conversation continues, you could be part of it.

    JG: An interesting angle on that is you have access to people at a level within the corporation that most of the team members probably don’t, so how do you encourage people who are at different levels within the IT organization to gain that business intelligence?

    LC: I have to base it on my experience and growing into this job. I would like to say I was born a CIO, (but) I wasn’t. I started out as a programmer analyst many moons ago. And even then, I can remember finding who my peers were in the business that I was supporting. And as peers, ‘what were you doing? Why were you doing that?’ And I started out in insurance, and so they were actuarials and doing different things that, frankly, I didn’t study in school. I studied business, but not that kind of business. And so it’s building those relationships from the very beginning and then, guess what? Those people become managers, and you become managers. And those relationships carry you through. And…

    JG: Because you’re building a network on the way up.

    LC: Yeah, you build your network on it. And I think people forget that, and you also are involved in professional organizations where other people have insights that they’re willing to share. And so, frankly, it’s something you naturally should do as part of your career growth. But if you’re going to be in IT, it starts from the very beginning, and frankly those relationships sort of go along with you. I mean, to share with you a real-life story, I had investor relations send me an email and said, ‘We get calls all the time about somebody that says they know you and here’s the guy’s name and he says he knows you.’ And I looked at the name and I said, ‘I recognize it, but I can’t remember him.’ And then I asked my assistant, I said ‘Would you call and find out who this is?’ So she called — she didn’t get him, but she got his voice mail. At the point that I saw the voice mail and what it was, I knew immediately who he was. I remembered having conversations with him. He’s one – he actually is a CEO of a very premiere gaming area now, and he just probably wants to touch base. But I remembered him finally, but I also remember his good business sense. So, I will follow-up with him and continue that dialogue – probably where we left off. It had to be 15 years ago.

    JG: That’s great.

    LC: So it is real and I think sometimes we forget. You don’t have to talk to the VP. Sometimes it’s just the person sitting across the hall from you.

    JG: That’s makes sense. LaVerne, a question from Philip McCrea, who is Executive Vice President with Exceed Global.

    [Caller] Recognizing that on a major technology initiative, adoption by people is one of the biggest success factors, but also one of the hardest factors to manage consistently, does J&J have an approach or methodology to organizational change management that you can share? Do you have any resources or suggestions in this area for our company?

    LC: We actually do have an approach, and people that actually help to train the team members that I have on my team, as well as help us in engaging change and driving change. But he really hit the nail on the head. Change is the hardest part of what we do. People have an emotional attachment to the way that they do things they do and the tools that they use to get it done. And when I say emotional, it is emotional. It sometimes gets very personal when you tell someone you’re going to retire something they’ve been using for 10 years and move to something new because it will enable the business, but they never quite understand that. And so being able to articulate that and being able to give the person the time and explain to you what’s important to them and why they love this other product, but at the same time being able to give them the training and get them over that emotional hurdle to use the new one is a major effort. And so, yes, we do have methodology for that. We do have people that work with folks that I have on my team, as part of my communications effort, as well in the process methodology and approach that we use. And it’s just viable. And the fact is you really can’t underestimate what it takes to drive change, and I think sometimes we do that and it’s the worst thing we can do.

    JG: I have a question from what appears to be one of your colleagues, Assan Hami, Chief Architect at Information Architecture at J & J.

    [Caller] One of the areas of discussion in the context of enterprise architecture has been that mass customization that has happened in the manufacturing and compute industry is being forecast as a major trend in healthcare to help reduce costs and drive innovation. This would need an infrastructure capable of sustaining the complexity of personalized medicine, similar to how in the auto industry GM has done with the OnStar system. Could you share your thoughts on the same?

    LC: I think it’s quite interesting. In fact, I think it sort of leads itself right into the area of bio-pharm, where we will be developing products to the individual. I really feel that that is inevitable and where we’re going. And from an IT point of view, it’s going to drive us to really having a high-level use of information as we gain it from molecular discovery, information as we gain it from pharmaco-vigilance and how a product works or did not work well for certain types of patients or work for certain types of needs. And bringing that information together and then taking someone else’s gene information and creating the right drug for them – I fundamentally believe that’s the next frontier of pharmaceuticals. I think that’s the next frontier of healthcare. And as the genomics get smarter, as our ability to map the human genome, it’s clear, I really think that’s where it’s going to go, and I think fundamentally that the big driver in helping the scientists to be able to get information faster is going to be using information technology. I do not think it’s going to be different technologies. I do think that the technology is going to have to step to whole ‘nother level of intelligence and learning, and that’s going to require a different kind of learning agent and different kinds of ways that we map information together. I don’t even think at this point we clearly have an understanding of where this is going to go.

    JG: LaVerne, a question from Myron Lascher, who is the President of Common Sense IT.

    [Caller] I can imagine with 200 operating companies, why standardization is a core part of her strategy, and how this could be a major change for both of them. I was wondering if she could elaborate on how she’s executing this strategy? Is she centralizing certain functions? Is she implementing a framework like ITIL?

    LC: I know Myron from my days in my previous employ, and I’m glad he’s doing well. I think that it will require a number of different things. One, we don’t necessarily correlate standardization with centralization. And I think many times centralization fundamentally is an organizational constraint, where standardization is a methodology and really is an alignment view. And from our strategy point of view, we’re going to try and really – what we’re leveraging is an enterprise capability that any of the 200 operating companies could use and should use in order to create a competitive opportunity for themselves. We are actually, at an enterprise level, defining the architecture, defining the security posture, defining the compliance stature. All those things so they don’t have to do it for themselves, in order to allow them to use their time for other things that would be more beneficial. Also in defining our platform for growth. Frankly, by doing that, we’re giving them the computing power and the capability to compete at a whole ‘nother level by having a platform that will allow them to interface with the customer better, and that’s where the customization really should occur. So where we’re looking at it more standardization, where we’re looking at it more as around the various strategies being in our improve and transform and innovate bucket and ensuring that we tie, from an enterprise level, to each of our different sectors, to enable them. So it’s the complexity here when you have 200 operating companies, but it certainly is not – it is something I think we can solve, and it’s important as we execute this strategy that everyone understands where we’re going. And we are using frameworks like ITIL. We are standardizing around our development framework, so of course, those kinds of things help us to get this kind of synergy faster.

    JG: Thank you, listeners, for tuning into this podcast.

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