Growing up in Honduras, Guillermo Ardon couldn’t even imagine a future as a technology leader for iconic, American companies, but his life-long passion for solving problems through innovation paved that inevitable path for him.
As group chief innovation officer for supply chain and vice president at Johnson & Johnson, Ardon is responsible for critical support functions for some of the most well-known brands in the world. The position is the result of a two-decade journey across continents, industries, and a level of technology and management expertise that matches the sophistication of the company’s worldwide supply chain operations.
An admitted “self-taught tech geek,” he worked as an engineering and IT specialist in the mining industry before landing at Ford Motor Company. He rose to global director of IT operations and gained extensive experience into managing complex infrastructures and operating teams around the globe.
Innovation from the Inside Out
Although hired by Johnson & Johnson as CTO in 2011, Ardon jumped at the opportunity to transition to the supply chain organization and become more closely aligned with the company’s business units and strategic initiatives.
“Even though I’m not a supply chain specialist, I’m an IT guy with a lot of supply chain experience. That gives me the ability to bring fresh perspectives to solving new sets of challenges,” he explains.
For example, when addressing the company’s efforts to unify and optimize its many ERP resources, Ardon characterizes his approach as being “from the inside out, rather than the outside in.” Instead of focusing exclusively on the desired outcome, he routinely examines numerous options to develop innovations that can include capabilities from other seemingly unrelated IT areas.
“The real challenge is finding the solution while not disrupting operations. But we have such tremendous resources at our disposal, if you can capture the right people with the right expertise at the right time, great things can happen,” he says.
Balancing Processes …
Ardon believes that extensive process refinement is critical to successful supply chain management. This led to the two-year development of a comprehensive project methodology initiative that now helps manage the 700 to 750 projects he can have underway at any given time, ranging from $200,000 to $200 million.
The project protocol emphasizes three priorities: defining “what success looks like” before execution, developing detailed plans for implementation and execution (including resource availability), and performance engineering to ensure solutions deliver as promised and scale appropriately for the desired results.
Ardon characterizes the approach as being “very clearly structured, regimented and effective at reducing project variability.”
… And People
Even though he is rooted in technology, Ardon is keenly aware of the importance of morale and personal relationships. So while focusing on processes and engineering to support operational excellence, he has also created an environment where his teams have license to be creative—and
“You have to experiment to find what works and what doesn’t, so I’m mindful of changing the culture of risk aversion. I work hard to make people feel they have a safe place where no matter how many times it takes—within reason—the greatest innovations can come out of going back to the drawing board,” he says.
Ardon travels extensively to Johnson & Johnson’s more than 100 manufacturing facilities. This is part of his effort to build strong personal relationships with the business partners his organization serves.
“They’re the ones closest to the work and most intimately connected to the challenges and possible solutions,” he explains. To illustrate, he points to one instance in which the staff on the plant floor of a facility in Mexico came up with the idea for a real time mobile app that helps better manage material handling.
Ardon is also very involved in mentoring through Johnson & Johnson’s employee resource groups. He is the executive sponsor for both the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement (HOLA) within the IT organization and the Black Data Processors Association. His involvement with such groups takes him back to when he was starting his own career.
“I left home when I was eighteen to come to the US on a college scholarship, didn’t speak any English, and faced academic and professional situations that were very intimidating. I wish I’d had someone to advise me on how to handle all that when I was coming up,” he remembers. “Even so, I’ve never met anyone who made it in life by playing it safe. What I try to instill in the people I mentor is that if they want to realize their ambitions, they have to take some risks.”
An Evolving Map with the Same Destination
When asked how his leadership differs from his supply chain predecessors, Ardon answers, “It’s not really different so much as it is an evolution. I might change how we do what we do, but no matter who’s in charge, the priority never changes—to bring innovative solutions that support our business goals. You develop clear strategies for doing that, deliver excellence, establish trust and great working relationships.”