Q&A with Colleen Goggins, formerly of Johnson & Johnson

Colleen Goggins was the Worldwide Chairman of the Consumer Group at Johnson & Johnson from 2001 to 2011. Under Colleen’s leadership, the Consumer Group generated approximately $16 billion in annual revenue and sold widely recognized products such as Aveeno®, Listerine®, Motrin®, Neutrogena®, Splenda®, and Tylenol®. Prior to that role, Colleen held a number of commercial marketing and sales positions at Johnson & Johnson. She is now a member of the Board of Directors at TD Bank Group and at Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and a member of the advisory board of SIG Combibloc, a Swiss packaging concern. She formerly served as a member of the supervisory board of KraussMaffei Group, a Munich-based global supplier of machinery and systems for processing plastics and rubber. Colleen is also involved in a number of non-profit endeavors, including the University of Wisconsin Foundation and Center for Brand and Product Management and New York City Meals-on-Wheels.

I recently chatted with Colleen about her professional experiences and the challenges she faced in rising to the top of her profession. This interview has been condensed from its original form.

Q: What has motivated you in your career?

Generally speaking, I really like problem-solving. I’m always asking myself, “What’s the next problem to solve?” I enjoy the strategic creativity that comes with business. I’m good at diagnosing what ails a business and coming up with solutions.

I was specifically attracted to the consumer products business because I’m fascinated by the motives behind consumer behavior and how to influence that behavior. For example, how can I effectively persuade someone to do something that’s good for their health? How can I persuade you to exercise more, or to change your contact lenses as often as you should? I enjoy that intellectual challenge. And I am very results-driven.

Q: To what extent has mentorship been important in your career?

I’m fairly independent. Looking back, I wish I had taken more advantage of mentors. I’ve seen lesser lights move forward because I didn’t nurture relationships as effectively as I could have. In my experience, women are not always very good at fostering relationships with mentors. Women tend to think that if they work hard, everyone will recognize their talents. But it’s really important to network. Since I retired, I’ve developed a network of very smart, worldly people who help when I have questions. It’s invaluable to have a cadre of people both inside and outside your area of expertise who can provide counsel and perspective, and push you to consider things that you may not have considered. I now encourage people to seek mentors and to network, and I myself now mentor a number of individuals and entrepreneurs.

Q: Have you encountered obstacles or challenges in your career that you felt were attributable to your gender?

Actually, that has been pretty rare. One principle I have tried to follow is to be fact-based and prepared in my work. Facts are really important for women because they’re gender-neutral. The only way to counter opinions is with facts. It’s hard to argue with facts.

Q: What is the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

Don’t compromise on your team members. Make sure you have smart, results-oriented people who share your values and model appropriate behaviors. I think in some cases I became so familiar with people I had worked with for a long time that I lost objectivity. People management is hard and objectivity is important. It is always a question whether to continue to hope that someone can be developed or to recognize that an individual is in the wrong situation and try to find an elegant solution for everyone, assuming the issue is not behavioral or values-based.

Q: What techniques did you develop to ensure an appropriate work-life balance? 

I always took a couple of 7–10 day vacations each year. I tried to go somewhere with a dramatic change of scenery or do something that involved a new skill set, such as learning to ski. It’s so important to refresh and recharge. You come back with a better perspective and you’re more creative. As I’ve gotten older, I have realized more and more how important it is to learn new things, to always be learning.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring women professionals?
When I was in graduate school, someone said something that I didn’t pay much attention to at the time, but which I came to realize is very true: “It’s not the votes for you that count, it’s the votes against you.” I think it’s important to choose your battles and to exercise judgment. If you engage in too many arguments or challenges, you won’t move forward. I would also tell young women professionals to follow through on your promises. Don’t expect to be promoted if you don’t do what you say you’ll do. Also, network more and be a good listener. Make sure you’re learning and having fun. And avoid toxic people.

Q: What advice would you give to someone undergoing a challenging time at work?

Don’t go through it on your own. Get help. Talk to people if you’re struggling or having trouble balancing work with your personal life. It’s important to have trusted advisors and people you can talk to. During one particularly challenging time, J&J had a spate of product quality issues. The company was under intense scrutiny by the media, regulators, and the government. I was concerned about the millions of people who used the company’s products every day. I remember one occasion when I called my attorney (a senior attorney at Debevoise) from China and gushed at length about all of my worries. She silently heard me out and then said, “Get some sleep, Colleen.” It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment.

Q:  If you were starting over in your career, would you do anything differently?

I would have liked to work in different types of businesses, which I’ve had the opportunity to do since I retired. I’ve become involved with new industries that I initially was unfamiliar with, but I’ve found that I have a unique perspective and experience to offer that is valued and can help people look at things in a new way.

I would also network more. And I would be a better listener. People want to show how much they know, but listening is important.

Q: Describe one professional accomplishment that you’re especially proud of. 

A lot of people who worked for me are now in positions of great responsibility. I tried to push hard for the people I believe in, and it’s personally rewarding to see them succeed and to know that I had some part in that success. I’m also proud of what I accomplished for women in the workplace. For example, during my tenure as Worldwide Chairman of the Consumer Group, we increased the number of female Managing Directors world-wide by more than 50 percent.

Q: Did you make sacrifices in order to be as successful as you are?

I made trade-offs, not sacrifices. And I was willing to make those trade-offs. I really like how my life has ended up. I have family and friends; a strong sense of accomplishment; my health; and economic independence. However, I do regret not having seen Prince perform live.

Q: Do you have professional goals that you’d still like to achieve?

I’d like to own a business. I have an idea for a non-profit that promotes food sufficiency. And I might go back to school. I’m a food chemist by training. I find that as your career progresses and you free up more time, you go back to your early interests.

Kristin Kiehn is a counsel in Debevoise’s New York office.

Comments? Suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at women@debevoise.com.