by Dan Roberts

5 questions with Johnson & Johnson’s Jim Swanson

Oct 14, 2021
CIODiversity and InclusionIT Leadership

Learn how this top CIO is leveraging a platform operating model and focusing on building a diverse, tech-centric culture to accelerate the digital health ecosystem.

Jim Swanson, EVP and Group CIO, Johnson & Johnson
Credit: Johnson & Johnson

Jim Swanson is EVP and enterprise chief information officer at Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest healthcare company. He leads approximately 5,000 IT professionals around the globe, but as he’ll tell you, technology isn’t just the domain of IT at Johnson & Johnson.

Because technology plays a critical role in the company’s mission of transforming the trajectory of human health, Jim is also focused on making sure all 135,000 employees worldwide have the digital acumen to combine their business area expertise with technology understanding and data science to create more value for patients and customers.

When I spoke with Jim for the CIO Whisperers podcast, we spent a good deal of time talking about what Johnson & Johnson is doing to accelerate the digital health ecosystem. But one of the things that stood out was his emphasis on people and the culture. He firmly believes that you can’t innovate in a customer-centric way without fostering a diverse, inclusive, tech-centric culture where everyone has the opportunity to shape their own paths.

After the show, Jim offered some more specifics about how he has shifted Johnson & Johnson to a platform operating model, why he’s committed to 100% inclusion, and why he’s challenging boards and business leaders to prioritize technology and embed it into their business strategy. What follows is that off-air conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: One of the things a lot of organizations are struggling with right now is making the shift from a project to a product or platform operating model. Can you talk about how you’ve done that?

Jim Swanson: I believe that in order to make really big changes, you have to get the heart and minds of your people behind it. In my organization, we are in the midst of several programs designed to evolve our organization and enable a product-based model. We recruited the best minds across Johnson & Johnson Technology to lead the work and develop practical solutions that could actually work.

These teams are empowered to drive change and new ways of working, including an accelerated spotlight on talent, deeper customer focus, and redefining business value to create real and measurable outcomes.

When all these things come together, we will have a streamlined, focused technology organization ready to shape the future of human health.

How do you communicate your vision around all of this and get everyone on board with it?

I think you have to show people what it means for them. They also need to see themselves reflected in that vision. You have to ask for feedback and value their expertise. Make sure you listen and then evolve your strategy to address their needs and include their input.

Furthermore, they need to feel inspired. Luckily, Johnson & Johnson is a very purpose-driven company. We believe in “Tech for Good,” a concept that’s deeply embedded in our Technology organization. Through investments in technology, we are developing digital tools to accelerate and deliver better, higher quality care for doctors, nurses, patients, and millions of customers around the world.

You focus a lot on the culture and the people aspects of the technology organization. Can you talk a bit about your passion around and your commitment to inclusion and diversity?

Our goal is 100% inclusion. We have very good engagement scores, but we must strive for inclusion of all types of people—whether that be gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, veteran status, or something else. We must create an environment where everyone can bring their best selves to work every day.

We need diverse minds to ensure our business reflects the communities we serve—and that’s all aspects of diversity, including work experiences or geographic diversity, for example—to provide a different perspective. If I’m going to try to roll out a capability for a community in a certain part of the world, I need to have representation from that community to best serve their needs.

I meet with our employee resource groups and ask them, ‘How can we serve you better? What are the roadblocks for you?’ Even if it’s not what I want to hear, I need them to tell me, because I’ve learned of microinequities that I wasn’t aware of. And those learnings make me a better listener, better empathizer, and, hopefully, a better leader.

As a leader, you must understand and address microinequities to enable the full capability of your organization and drive business outcomes. It is absolutely critical to our future to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

One of our previous guests was Ted Colbert, who was CIO and is now CEO of Boeing Global Services and also serves on the board of ADM. Do you think we’re going to see a trend of more CIOs-turned-CEOs and more CIOs joining corporate boards?

Over time, I think you’re going to see more CIOs on boards. I don’t know what the numbers are right now, but I don’t think there are many deep technologists sitting on boards. It’s gotten better, but I think that’s one area that still has to evolve.

As for the CEO role, CIOs today need to be leaders of both technology and business. They have to be given some P&L responsibility. So, if you’re hiring the right people and developing their skills, then we will see more CIOs who have both the deep technology domain expertise and the business domain expertise. That’s a powerful one-two punch.

As a CIO, what’s your challenge to business leaders and board members?

We know cybersecurity is high on the list of topics that matter to board members. I don’t think that’s going to go away, nor should it, especially in today’s climate. But go beyond cybersecurity. Look at how technology, data, and data science are evolving for your company. Challenge your executive committees to really embed it into the business strategy. Measure progress, just like you do with your P&L statement and your revenue. And technology leaders should help educate executives and board members. Because no matter what company you’re in, technology is going to play a role in your company’s future.