Servant leader: J&J’s Duato details how upbringing shaped his commitment to health care, customers

CEO opens up about childhood influences during fireside chat at ReNew Jersey Business Summit

Being responsible to patients, medical professionals, company employees and all the communities you serve has been a hallmark of Johnson & Johnson’s famed credo for 80 years — something every employee learns from their first day with the company.

That certainly was true for J&J CEO Joaquin Duato, who started at the company 35 years ago.

But Duato’s training on such a philosophy long precedes his time with the company. He traces it back to his boyhood home in Valencia, Spain — and the pharmacy that his grandmother owned and operated.

Duato, who would go to his grandmother’s shop after school, said he learned his first life lessons there, as he observed his grandmother have lengthy in-depth conversations with customers — about not only their ailments, but their life in general.

“I would see my grandmother servicing the patients that were coming there for the scripts, talking to them endlessly,” he said.

“I would say, ‘Grandma, why don’t we close the pharmacy and go home?’ And she would tell me, ‘Joaquin, the important thing is not the medicine, the important thing is the person.’”

Duato said he never forgot those moments.

“Seeing that spirit of service is what made me think about a career in health care,” he said.

Duato shared his recollection during a very personnel fireside chat conversation he had at the ReNew Jersey Business Summit & Expo last week in Atlantic City.

Yes, Duato talked about his role in the company, its enormous economic impact in New Jersey (and eagerness to do more) and the challenges and opportunities that come from doing business in the state (he talked taxes) — all while offering a bit of advice for the state’s political leaders.

But some of the biggest takeaways were his most personal observations — including other revelations about his family’s connection to health care (his mother was a nurse, and his grandfather was a pediatrician).

The manner of his delivery had an impact, too.

Duato impressed an audience of approximately 900 key business leaders and elected officials with his genuineness and humility. He traced that back to his upbringing, too.

“I was born into a large family,” he said. “I had 16 uncles and aunts and 40 cousins. So, from very early on, I knew that I was in the middle of the family — and that I was not the most important person in the room. That’s something that stayed true when I became CEO.”

Duato became CEO in January 2022, adding the chairman title a year later. They are just two of the more than a dozen jobs Duato has had at the company — roles that have taken him through different departments and around the world.

It’s an internal job journey he is thrilled to have accomplished — and one, he said, that helps set J&J apart.

“I love working at Johnson & Johnson, as you can tell,” he said. ‘I think that it’s a company in which, from the very beginning when I joined, I felt it could be myself. I felt at ease with the values of the company.

“It’s clearly a values-driven company. Our credo, that guides our behaviors, was written 80 years ago – and it clearly states that we put the patient first, then the employees, then the community. And if we do a good job for the employees, the communities and the patients, then we’re going to do a good job for our investors.

“I always have identified with the values of the company.”

Duato said J&J is run on the principles of “Servant Leadership.”

“I think we’re a humble company,” he said. “I want to come across that way.”

His grandmother certainly would have agreed. The lessons he learned watching her have never been forgotten, Duato said.

“That’s something that I carried over with me,” he said.