Photo credit: Matt Greenslade

You don’t have to try too hard to make a human case for mentoring. Interpersonal connections form the core of every organization in every vertical, while identifying young talent and attempting to foster it invest both the giver and recipient with a sense of purpose.

Presenting a business case for devoting extensive time and resources to mentoring is a trickier task — but one that Joaquin Duato, this year’s Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Honorable Mentor honoree and EVP, worldwide chairman, pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson, accomplishes with uncanny ease.

“For a global organization like ours, it’s essential to be a diverse company — in gender, ethnicity, geographic origin, educational background, and more. That diversity gets us closer to our customer base,” Duato points out.

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“Diversity is the backbone of our overall approach and [mentoring] is a big part of encouraging that diversity,” he continues. “It’s very important both in talent recruitment and in retention.”

Duato doesn’t overtly attribute Johnson & Johnson’s enduring success to its organizational makeup, but he doesn’t downplay its importance the same way many other pharma higher-ups do, either. The pharma unit Duato leads generated $33.5 billion in sales last year, growing 7.5% (compared with 4% growth for Johnson & Johnson overall).

If Johnson & Johnson’s pharma group were a stand-alone company, it would likely rank as either the fifth- or sixth-largest pharma organization in the world. Duato notes with some justifiable pride that the pharma group’s leadership team includes six women, with two of its three commercial regions led by women.

“We don’t just talk about it,” he says. “We walk the walk.”

Not surprisingly, Duato stresses the Honorable Mentor honoree by the role that mentoring played in his rise up the Johnson & Johnson corporate hierarchy. He started at the company in 1989, working in sales in his home country of Spain. He worked his way through a host of regional leadership roles — in Spain, Italy, and elsewhere — and logged some time leading the company’s diagnostic division. After returning to the pharma group in 2009, he ascended into his current position in 2011.

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While Duato doesn’t share specific experiences or anecdotes, he notes that being mentored was hugely important to his development as both a professional and a person — and that every one of his mentors along the way happened to be women.

“I can trace the most important turning points in my career — like moving from Europe to the U.S., or moving from pharma into medical devices — to having a strong female mentor who supported me,” he says.

“They opened my mind and made me think about higher goals. They created a strong foundation of trust and collaboration and mutual respect.”

Just as important was what Duato’s mentors didn’t do: push mentorship as a vehicle through which he might advance his career. “It was solely about personal and professional growth, not about getting the next job. Whenever [mentorship is used] that way, it can lead to misunderstandings and frustration,” he admits.

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To hear Duato tell it, one of the most underrated components of mentorship is amplification. “I try to understand the individual and what strengths they have, the ones that make the person special and different,” he says. “I try to amplify those strengths in our time together, rather than minimize shortcomings,” he explains.

And while Duato isn’t the type of leader who preaches from a soapbox, he believes that pharma needs to prioritize mentoring — especially of top-flight women scientists — far more than other industries do.

“Pharma relies on people who come from a scientific background, but historically within STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], you’ve seen more men,” he says. “We have to make specific outreach to women on the STEM side. We have to mentor and encourage the people who are here.”