As part of my series on ‘The Future of Healthcare’, I’ve had the great opportunity to interview Paulette Frank, Worldwide VP – Environmental Health, Safety & Sustainability – Johnson & Johnson
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It started out with my love for animals. When I was young my dream was to become a veterinarian. To fulfill my dream and be around animals every day, I got a summer job working with a veterinarian. To my dismay, I would come home crying nearly every day after seeing animals in pain. I knew that despite my love for animals, this wasn’t how I would be able to help them. Fast forward to five years later and my first job out of college, I accepted a position working for an environmental consulting firm remediating Superfund sites. This experience was invaluable in shaping my world view. I saw firsthand what resulted from the lack of sound environmental policy, and more importantly, who it hurt, due to the fact that all biodiversity depends on a healthy ecosystem to thrive. It was in that moment I knew I had found my way of fulfilling my childhood dream of helping animals.
I went on to receive my Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies and intended to utilize it to eventually become an environmental policymaker in Washington, D.C. I believed that gaining private sector experience first would help me become a more effective policymaker, so I applied for an open role and ultimately received an offer at Johnson & Johnson. What I originally thought would be a two to three-year pitstop on the path to policy has evolved into a 22-year career, and still counting! Along the way, I realized I found my place to fulfill my dream to be a change agent for a healthy world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I first started working in workplace safety early on in my career, I performed an investigation after an employee jumped out a second-floor window and broke their leg. Initially, I was focused on the disciplinary action and consequences of this accident. However, throughout the investigation I discovered the importance of asking questions and uncovering the root cause of the behavior that led to this employee’s decision to jump out the window. The investigation revealed that when this individual jumped out the window, they weren’t authorized to be in that part of the building. Instead of calling someone for help, and revealing their mistake, they thought the best option was to get out on their own.
This experience and others to follow, taught me that creating a safe workplace goes beyond physical safety, it also means creating an environment where people feel safe to make and admit mistakes. It taught me to ask questions, to seek to understand before judging, and to look beyond the surface. If something doesn’t make sense, keep asking questions until you get your answers. In my current role, leading Environmental Health, Safety & Sustainability at Johnson & Johnson, whether it’s for workplace safety or environmental stewardship, most of my time is spent understanding the priorities and motivations of our internal and external stakeholders and finding the common ground upon which positive change can be built.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry?
Now, more than ever, we see the environment being discussed as a human health issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that climate change is one of the greatest threats to public health of this century and estimates that one in four premature deaths are due to environmental factors. Understanding the links between human and environmental health is not necessarily innovative. However, using those links to motivate action, with policymakers and individuals, may unlock change at the pace and scale required to finally turn the corner on curtailing climate change. Health is a universal desire that has the potential to bring people together. And most people understand that poor air quality and polluted water can negatively affect their health. We see more and more children who can’t play outside because of poor air quality. We see more people with more severe allergies because of extended allergy seasons. And elderly people struggling with extreme heat. Human health and environmental health are inextricably linked and we believe we can’t change the trajectory of human health without a healthy planet. This is the theory of change that Johnson and Johnson puts at the center of our environmental advocacy efforts.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s ok to be your whole self at work. During a performance review early in my career, I was told to work on my “poker face” and that showing my emotions would derail my career. From then on, I tried to be stoic in meetings. This was incredibly tough and those who know me well often say I have one of three reactions for nearly everything: I either “love it,” “hate it” or think “it’s stupid.” Nothing could be more unnatural for me than hiding my emotions. This advice wasn’t about working on a skill or leadership behavior, it was about fundamentally changing myself. Doing so, would require me to leave my greatest asset at the door every time I came to work – my authenticity. Today I bring my whole self to the table, including how I feel.
- Embrace the unexpected twists and turns, don’t avoid them.I planned to be a vet, then a doctor, then a policymaker, and now I am a business leader at Johnson & Johnson. Even at J&J, my career took turns that I had not planned. However, these turns stretched me and revealed something new that made me a better change agent. When I took a role outside my comfort zone, I proved to myself that my leadership abilities weren’t limited to one technical discipline, but that they were transferrable to any of my roles. I also learned that the magic is in those unexpected spaces, where two or three seemingly unrelated issues, ideas, worlds intersect and reveal a totally new, even more exciting opportunity.
- Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.Questions are your best friend. They prevent your foot from ending up in your mouth, diffuse conflict and buy you time when you can’t think of something to say. I may have regretted something I said, but rarely regretted a question I asked. When in doubt, channel your inner two-year old and ask “Why?”
- Related to number three – Be ready for the hard questions.
- Take care of and be kind to yourself. It’s like the safety advice on an airplane: put your oxygen mask on first because if you aren’t equipped to help yourself, you can’t help anyone else. This includes taking care of your physical, mental and emotional self. Using human energy (walking, running, riding a bike) to get around is good for you and the planet! Accept and give yourself permission to drop some balls. Even if you miss a concert or a game, your children will still thrive. Take the time to step back and reconnect with your values and purpose. Ask yourself the tough questions to stay true to you.
What are your life philosophies? What are your success mindsets?
- Be kind. Kindness fills the heart.
- Be grateful. Gratitude feeds the soul.
- Be curious. Curiosity expands the mind.
- Know your values. Values keep you grounded.
- Know your purpose. Purpose propels you forward.
What gets you excited about the future?
Over the past two years at Johnson & Johnson, we’ve reflected on our values and purpose, ensuring they are future ready and able to provide us with the foundation and focus that will take us through the next 100+ years of doing good and doing well. In my 20 plus years at the world’s most broadly-based health care company, there has never been a more exciting time to be a change agent here than today, as we work to profoundly change the trajectory of health for humanity.