If you had known Denice Torres early in her life, you might not have chosen her as a future leader in life sciences. She grew up in the very blue-collar atmosphere of Gary, Indiana, where steel mills and farms dominated the landscape. She has had a number of careers, and came to this industry only after testing out a few others. But her Polish mother and Hispanic father were achievers at a time when their ethnicity didn’t work in their favor, which is probably where Denice got her grit and determination, not to mention her intelligence and confidence.
Her career and education have been those of a seeker, someone looking for the right fit. Denice has Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Ball State University; a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Indiana University; and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Michigan. She worked at law for a while, but then decided that she liked marketing and spent some time at an advertising agency. In the midst of that career, she decided to get her MBA. Then she took another turn and ultimately started a successful stint at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, where she spent 15 years as executive director of Global Marketing for Mental Health, director of U.S. Women’s Health, and head of U.S. Market Research. She also spent time in sales, business development, and disease management. From there she came to Johnson & Johnson in 2004 as Vice President of Marketing for Ortho McNeil Neurologics, and later became Vice President of U.S. Sales and Marketing for biosurgery, and president of CNS for Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Today, she’s president of McNeil Consumer Healthcare. Denice has been a true change agent, leading the company through an unprecedented time in Johnson & Johnson’s history. She is credited as a key player in turning around Tylenol’s fortunes. Under her exceptional leadership McNeil has seen sales grow at a double-digit rate, reclaiming leadership in several over-the-counter categories as well as #1 healthcare professional recommendation for many of those products.
“Leaders are, of course, people too, no different than anyone else. The sooner in their career women can relate to other leaders, the more quickly they feel comfortable bringing their true self to work. When that happens, we all win.”
Denice Torres in her Working Mother Magazine interview
Seeing a need for greater communication among her nearly 1,000 directors, managers and staff, she started a twice-weekly group meeting called Fireside Chats, and a biweekly Town Hall meeting open to all employees. She visits manufacturing plants regularly and asks managers about their “points of pain.” “Denice has been a friend, a colleague and an inspiration to me, and all of us at Johnson & Johnson for many years,” says Alex Gorsky, chairman of the board and CEO of J&J. “Her business acumen, bold leadership style and her experience working across a diverse portfolio of businesses make her a true stand-out in the healthcare industry.“
And yet more challenges
Denice’s career arc would be enough of an accomplishment for most people, but it’s only a part of her story. Along this road to success, Denice was conducting a parallel search, looking for a way to be true to herself. On an Outward Bound mountain climb she came to the realization that the 60-pound backpack she was carrying was not just a physical burden, but a metaphor for the emotional baggage she was carrying – a sign that there was a part of her she had never dealt with honestly.
And, later on, when she and her spouse, Kim, decided they wanted a child, life would ask even more of her as the mother of a daughter with cerebral palsy. But she tells the story best, as you can see in this video of her acceptance speech for this year’s Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Woman Of The Year Award. We guarantee that watching it will be the highlight of your week: Denice has been honored along the way for her career achievements, her amazing ability to balance personal and professional life, and many other qualities. In 2013, she was named Johnson & Johnson’s Working Mother of the Year. She has been featured in Latina Style Top 50 Companies, Working Mother, WomenWorking, Siempre Mujer and many other publications. She is a volunteer for American Corporate Partners Veteran Mentoring Program. Today she lives in Clinton, New Jersey with her partner, Kim, and their 14 year old daughter, Sierra.
“My competitive advantage is me.”
Is there a secret to living the kind of life that is a beacon to others, to having the energy, time and dedication to do all that Denice has done? Especially if you come from a blue-collar town, show up as a woman in more than one male-dominated industry, and have to deal with a few other daunting situations that life has handed you? If there is, it’s probably all about perspective.
About her first shopping trip for diapers for her newborn daughter, who at first was not expected to live, Denice says “I tell you I heard John Travolta music. And I was like, ‘I’m getting diapers,’ because I wanted to be that mom.” That’s perspective.
About her mentoring of others, she says “I am so excited and committed to ensuring our female leaders are able to shine incredibly brightly in our industry. Together we are changing the world by improving healthcare for consumers and patients.” That’s perspective.
About a workplace reflective of society, she says “Diversity is ideas, ideas are innovation, and innovation is what makes a company successful.” That’s perspective.
About all of the mountains she has had to climb, she says “I will be grateful for what I have. I will be grateful.” That’s perspective.
How do you get that kind of drive, optimism and love for life? Ask Denice. She says “Attitude is a choice.” •