Johnson & Johnson is the world’s largest health care company, and one of the world’s largest companies of any kind. Vice Chairman Joaquin Duato helps guide this colossus as it navigates a world changing at hyper-speed because of technology. The Spanish-born executive leads the company’s Pharmaceuticals and Consumer businesses, as well as the Health and Wellness, Technology, Supply Chain and Global Services groups. Techonomy talked with him about the role of technology in health care, the importance of data, driving innovation at scale and the firm’s substantial efforts around sustainability.

Here’s an excerpt, edited and condensed for clarity:

What are your top priorities in keeping Johnson & Johnson relevant and vibrant?

Part of the reason we’ve been so successful the past 130-plus years is that we’ve been able to constantly adapt and identify new solutions for our patients and customers. But to stay relevant and vibrant for the next 130 years, we must continue to innovate across our businesses. Part of the way we do so relies on developing and retaining our passionate workforce and identifying the right technologies to apply at scale across our organization.


How much will digital innovation in American health care help bypass the logjam of conflicting interests of providers, payers, doctors, and patients?

People often question whether technology will completely disrupt the pharmaceutical industry, and I tend to be a bit more skeptical about this. The pharmaceutical industry’s capabilities are very specific and will continue to be critical to ensuring new medicines come to market to address urgent unmet needs.

At the same time there’s absolutely a need for disruption in the broader health care ecosystem. Technology has a great opportunity for positive impact, because it has the potential to deliver efficiencies, eliminate friction, reduce costs and help make it easier to measure outcomes. While the role of doctors and patients won’t change–the human component of care is irreplaceable–I view technology as an enabler that may help drive improved care and results.


Unfortunately, the incentives in our health care system don’t always align with the most favorable outcomes for patients. My hope is that technology can break down some of these barriers, as well. I am confident we will get there, but believe this will take a bit longer than people think.

Why is Johnson & Johnson expanding its JLABS innovation hubs around the world—recently in Shanghai, for example?

Nearly a decade ago, we recognized the need to tap into the best innovation – whether it happens inside or outside of our company. This is true in the United States, as well as around the world, which is why we’ve expanded into key markets like Asia Pacific with the opening in June of JLABS@Shanghai, our largest location. We take no ownership in the intellectual property, so there’s no risk to the entrepreneurs and startups interested in working with us.

But with JLABS we can remain close to innovation as it’s happening – both in the health sector and technology – so we can identify new opportunities. 

Today, JLABS has grown into a global network of health care innovation across pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health technology sectors, with 13 incubators and 588 companies–23 publicly traded–and 135 collaborations with the Johnson & Johnson family of companies to date. About 30% of the JLABS portfolio companies are women-led, far above the industry average. In 2020, we look forward to the opening of JLABS@Washington, DC, with our partners at Children’s National and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, to support innovation that helps our babies and children and protects our communities.

We’re in a world of rich data. How is that changing how Johnson & Johnson works?

Data is everywhere. There isn’t a single sector or function at Johnson & Johnson that isn’t using data science in some way – from research and development to supply chain, to finance and beyond. Our ability to generate insights from analyzing data is the engine that powers our innovation-based health care company.

Thanks to the increased use of wearables, mobile and the internet of things, consumers, too, are generating data at an exponential rate, and it’s up to companies like ours to harness that in a trusted way. For instance, we’re working with Apple in our new Heartline Study to assess the impact of wearable technology on earlier detection of atrial fibrillation, improved diagnosis and patient outcomes. We’re excited about the potential of common, wearable technology to aid in detecting and preventing a frequent cause of stroke. 

Johnson & Johnson has set ambitious “Health for Humanity” goals for 2020 that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How’s that going?

We focus our citizenship and sustainability efforts where we believe Johnson & Johnson can achieve the greatest impact by leveraging the power of our people, expertise and global partnerships. Our Health for Humanity 2020 Goals are aligned with our purpose and reflect the areas where our stakeholders expect us to lead. The SDGs are a global framework for progress toward a more sustainable future.

So in determining the unique impact Johnson & Johnson would contribute to the global community to create a healthier, more equitable world, we developed a clear, pragmatic process to create a commitment to accelerate the SDGs that reflects our unique constellation of strengths. Our five commitment areas, many of which are fueled by progress of our Health for Humanity 2020 Goals, are: Health Workforce, Women’s & Children’s Health, Global Disease Challenges, Essential Surgery and Environmental Health.

We’ve made strong progress against our seven overarching Health for Humanity 2020 Goals, underpinned by 17 measurement targets in the areas of people, places and practices. For people, we strive to positively impact lives by advancing health and providing better access and care in more places around the world. For places, we aim to make the communities where we live, work and sell our products healthier by using fewer and smarter resources. And for practices, we team up with partners and employees to further advance sustainability and our culture of health and well-being.

The goals underscore and reflect our long-term commitment to delivering sustainable social, enviromental and economic change across our company and extended value chain. We are pleased with the strong progress over the last year with 14 targets on track, one target achieved, one target in progress and one target transitioned to our Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

How does a giant global company like Johnson & Johnson ensure its work is sustainable? Is scale an asset or a liability in doing that?

Some might say Our Credo is the original sustainability document, as it addresses the priorities of stakeholders, including those we serve, our employees, the communities in which we live and work, plus the world community and our shareholders. We’ve been around for more than 130 years, and when you’ve been around for that long, how you sustain your business over the long-term to continue to meet the needs and expectations of all of those stakeholders is always top of mind.

As the world’s most broadly-based healthcare company, scale is absolutely an asset for us when it comes to sustainability. It not only shapes what happens within our four walls, but also in the communities and broader world around us. We can effectively leverage our “big for good” throughout our value chain, ranging from how we engage with our suppliers on our Supplier Sustainability Program 2020 Goal to how we convene on critical issues such as anti-microbial resistance or multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Additionally, our sustainable procurement program comprises several elements – supplier conformance with our responsibility standards– which outline our expectations for labor, environmental and workplace safety practices–as well as enrolling suppliers in the Carbon Disclosure Project and encouraging them to set their own public sustainability goals.

At Techonomy we’re not only using “Reset + Restore” as our theme to discuss business and society, but we also see it as a challenge to each of us individually. How does that resonate with you?

Yes, I am a firm believer in taking time to reset and restore each day. For me, sticking to a healthy diet, exercising regularly and shutting down early in the evening so I can get a good night’s sleep are integral to me being my best self, both in my professional life and my personal life.