Igniting the Spark

Denice Torres brings an incendiary reputation to Johnson & Johnson for empowering her team

In Denice Torres’s office hang the words, “Success is not a matter of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” Spend five minutes with Torres, and it’s easy to see that her flame is a self-lit blaze that ignites each person with whom she works. “To give someone the gift of self-confidence is priceless,” says Torres. The pursuit of that goal has been the universal driver of Torres’s leadership, strategy, and turnaround efforts at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a Johnson & Johnson (J&J) company.

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Long before she was president of McNeil, J&J’s over-the-counter medicine division, Torres was an up-and-comer with an innate tenacity to stoke the spark she brought to each endeavor. Her parents, who valued education above all, instilled in her the understanding that her achievements would have to be earned, never handed out.

At Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company where Torres got her start in health care, she demonstrated the skills for which J&J would recruit her years later. She finessed what her mentors and teammates have always recognized in her: a unique ability to inspire a thirst for success in others.

Perhaps her biggest strength is her ability to identify and value the strengths in each of her team members and instill in them the pride and motivation to achieve even far-reaching goals. “The concept of being ‘all-in’ has really resonated with me at Johnson & Johnson,” she says. “It’s easy to be critical in challenging times, but I have experienced time and time again that results are better achieved by supporting and empowering my team. I trust, care about, push, and appreciate them. Achieving success is all about the team that surrounds you.”

It’s no wonder, then, that in the midst of a consent decree with the FDA—a historically debilitating agreement for manufacturers—McNeil Consumer Healthcare is not lying down. On Torres’s watch, the organization is, instead, reinventing itself.

“We’ve used our challenges to create a burning platform for transforming and strengthening our values from within,” says Torres. “We are focused on quality in all aspects of our business. We are taking a step back to realize our mission to deliver premium health care solutions with an unparalleled experience to those we have the privilege to serve.” Since the consent decree, the company has already returned 75 percent of its consumer brands back to the shelf and grown sales at a double-digit rate, reclaiming leadership in several over-the-counter categories.