Distinguished Service Award Honoree engenders awe and inspiration

July 10, 20195 minute read

Since the day Johnson & Johnson’s Kathy Wengel began speaking on a panel of supply chain leaders at AWESOME’s first symposium in 2013, she has been an inspiring model of what a leader with courage and competence can do. For the many accomplishments of her 30-year career at Johnson & Johnson and her impact beyond the J&J business, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) has selected Kathy to receive the 2019 Distinguished Service Award.

About that first meeting in 2013, AWESOME founder Ann Drake said, “I was immediately impressed by Kathy as a high performance and high impact supply chain leader. So much about Kathy was extraordinary – her grasp of all aspects of the supply chain, her obvious passion for the profession, her strong commitment to developing the talent and potential of up-and-coming professionals, and her eagerness to reach out to, speak to, collaborate with, and educate other current and future supply chain leaders.”

The next year, when AWESOME presented its first ever AWESOME Legendary Leadership (ALL) Awards, Kathy was one of the two recipients – the other recipient being Heather Sheehan who was then VP, Indirect Sourcing and Logistics, Danaher Corp., and who now serves as Executive Director of AWESOME.

Kathy became a member of AWESOME’s Advisory Board and has continued to help AWESOME advance women’s supply chain leadership. Some of her memorable lessons in leadership include encouraging women to say yes to doors that open, to learn all they can from assignments outside of the U.S., and to bring out the best in others. Read the announcement of Kathy’s award in Supply Chain Quarterly

At Johnson & Johnson, Kathy’s responsibilities have expanded. She now serves as Executive Vice President & Chief Global Supply Chain Officer for Johnson & Johnson, and a member of the company’s Executive Committee. With a supply chain organization that brings more than 350,000 healthcare products to consumers and patients around the world, and fulfills more than 100,000 customer orders every day, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Kathy and her teams to J&J’s business.

Kathy is the third woman to receive the Distinguished Service Award since it was first presented in 1965. The first was Ann Drake, AWESOME founder and CEO of DSC Logistics from 1994 through 2018. The second was Dr. Nancy Nix, AWESOME’s Executive Director Emeritus.

We have some special insights into what made – and makes- Kathy the leader she is from stories and comments she has shared at AWESOME events.

“The famous saying is that change takes time but I’m a big believer that change is about decisions that we make as leaders and that we make as individuals every day.”

“My great grandfather was a farmer in southeast Nebraska at the turn of the century and he had three daughters. And in the height of the depression in America he sent his three daughters to the University of Nebraska. Two became teachers. My grandmother got a biochemistry degree and in fact, he was the laughingstock – literally – of his neighbors. They could not understand why he would take the precious money and choose to send three girls to university. And so you talk about one person, one decision that shaped then three and four generations later.”

“I chose to go to a university that was 230 years old and had only been co-ed for about 13 years when I went there. So in the engineering building, you had to walk a long way to find a ladies room. Ten or twelve percent of class members were female but I’d grown up liking many of the things boys liked and so it didn’t particularly bother me.”

“When I graduated, I interviewed with a company called Janssen, which was a tiny company in the U.S. and part of Johnson & Johnson. I had been doing computers and engineering and everyone I interviewed with said ‘Well, wow, we’ve never hired somebody right out of school.’ And ‘Wow, you’re an engineer and female.’ ‘We really don’t know what exactly you’re going to do but we have one other engineer and we’re going to grow, so come join us and we’ll do great things.’”

“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life because I’d been set to join Procter & Gamble in a really structured training program. But I made the choice to go with Janssen and it’s been the best decision of my life.”

During those early years, Kathy took on assignments in Europe. She became the first female plant manager for the company in Europe and went to Italy even though she didn’t speak any Italian. She has said, “The experience living outside the U.S. really transformed my life and career. You think about your job and your role in a totally different way.”

Kathy was single, moving around by herself and she learned to make new relationships and to decide what was really important and find time to do it because “it isn’t all about work.” She has said, “Balance is never, in fact, perfectly in balance. There are times when your family needs you a lot more; there are times when your work needs you more – so it’s finding a way to do both of those things.”

In Europe, the concept of “balance” and just about everything else was different from U.S. ways of doing things, and Kathy has said, “Those experiences, in addition to being about professional development, were part of learning to be more of a global citizen. Every culture – while it’s different – has something special. How do we as leaders take the best from a diversity of those cultures and not impose our way but really learn to bring out the best in people and make it something better than it would be if it was just one homogenous group?”

“It’s important to do what you love – and to find out what you love to do, you’ve got to try new things and you’ve got to experiment. If you do what you love, it will show through and you’ll do it a thousand times better than if you’re in a job you don’t like.”

“It’s a key part of my philosophy that every single person in the organization makes a difference. If it’s that third shift operator in a distribution center somewhere or a vice president somewhere. If there’s one thing we can do as leaders, it’s asking how we can enable each person to do their best. Sometimes it’s about process and systems and structure – but often it about making that personal connection and making sure each individual understands why what they’re doing is important to the total supply chain.”

Learn more about Kathy’s career and activities on LinkedIn.

Story about Kathy in DC Velocity