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Darren Snellgrove, Chief Financial Officer at Johnson & Johnson Innovation

The Silicon Valley-based leader says getting involved in innovation at an early stage can really pay off.


I like to challenge the status quo. My current job as chief financial officer for innovation at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) really started three years ago as a blank piece of paper. I am based in Silicon Valley in California and thrive on the approach here that there is always a way to get something done. There was a lot of scepticism about the innovation centre model, but we now have four outstanding centres in California, Boston, London and Shanghai, more than 200 collaborations, and we’re recognised as the partner of choice for innovators.

I see myself as an enabler for my teams rather than command and control. I manage four different innovation centres across four different timezones so we all have to be flexible; the director on the ground is ultimately responsible for their projects. My main job is to provide leadership and strategic direction and to clear the way for them to get things done. For it to work I have to be sure that they are carefully selected and highly motivated individuals and I look for a broad range of experience. I built up my teams from scratch, looking for people who believed wholeheartedly in our mission: the importance of innovation. They need to be good decision-makers who are not paralysed by too much analysis. I feel we have built an outstanding team. I know they’re good because everyone now wants them to work in their group.

To succeed, you have to be able to take a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. When we started the innovation centres there was a lot of internal scepticism, but I was inspired by the vision of Paul Stoffels, J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer. He recognised that we needed to identify opportunities earlier, and partner with the very best entrepreneurs, academics and early stage companies in order to create a sustainable pipeline of transformational products. Investing our time, money and resources early in the innovation process was risky, but it allowed us to shape the ecosystem and create maximum value for our patients, partners and, ultimately, J&J shareholders. He encouraged me to take risks – calculated ones of course – in order to maximise value. There will be many challenges ahead, but we have already begun to build an exciting portfolio of opportunities.

Find out what’s important – for you and people working with you. Personally, I need to do something that I am passionate about. I love the fact that every day in my job is different, because every collaboration is different. Even when you see it from the financial side, working in healthcare you can have a real impact on people’s lives. Right now, I am very excited about the future role of technology in healthcare. We’ve just done a deal with Google on robotic surgery and that’s just the beginning.

I tell my kids to keep an open mind about their future. I always worried that my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do from a very early age in life. I have always had lots of interests. When I was at school I wanted to be a pilot and flew in the Air Squadron at college. I loved playing sports, especially golf. I enjoyed economics and philosophy. I worked in the high-tech industry for a year after college, but ultimately found a career in finance and healthcare that I absolutely love. My advice is to always keep an open mind, don’t be afraid to explore different opportunities and never settle. Also make sure that you have interests outside of work – it makes you a better employee.