Interview Segments on Topic: Counselor/Counseling Advisor
Ray Jordan is senior vice president of corporate affairs at Amgen, the world’s largest independent biotech firm. A pharma veteran, he previously was vice president of communications and information at Johnson & Johnson, and brought 27 years of experience in global health care to his position at Amgen, having spent 17 years at Pfizer before joining J&J.
INTERVIEWER: It is March 22, 2012, (this interview is for) the oral history project of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State. We are at the Grand Hyatt in New York and speaking with Ray Jordan, vice president for public relations and corporate communications for Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Ray, students always like to know how successful people got where they are, could you give us a thumbnail of your career trajectory?
JORDAN: Career trajectory, okay. I was afraid you were going to ask that question because I have a colorful trajectory. In the sense that I’ve had both—during my career both a fascination with numbers and with words. And it was only over time that I actually started bringing those together in the public relations, public affairs area and found that kind of the analytical work on the business side was actually helpful for being able to frame messages on behalf of an enterprise, and to be able to focus on the messages. And also to some extent, being able to drive the messages with senior leadership. So my root, given that, was that I had begun some work as a math major. Didn’t want to pursue finally a degree in mathematics. Took a break, and went back to a passion that I had, which was journalism. Spent a couple of years as a journalist, finished off my undergraduate degree, and began work back more in the operations side of businesses, where I spent about half a dozen or 8 years in operations work. Worked for Pfizer in operations and increasingly missed the engagement with the media, with the press, with all the things that I had experienced earlier that were more on the language than let’s say the analytical side of the equation. So in a big company, I was able to gravitate my way into the pubic affairs organization. I did some policy research work, and then migrated in to more responsibilities in the classic communication area. So it took me a good 20 years to make my way over to the work that would then form the back half now, of my career, which has been in public affairs. My move from Pfizer to Johnson & Johnson was quite a consistent move in terms of the responsibilities and the role I was playing. Just in a very different type of organization.
INTERVIEWER: The aim of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State and of the Arthur W. Page Society is to help individuals become counselors to leadership. How can individuals best prepare themselves for that role?
JORDAN: That’s a wonderful question; I don’t think there’s a single answer to that. I actually struggled in thinking about that question—what is the right trajectory to counseling. I do believe it comes first from getting to a perspective on issues that are so critical to the organization that you can defend your perspective on those issues, right up to and including, betting your job on it. Because it’s the point where, if you’re convinced enough about a matter that you’re prepared to do that, then you really can boldly counsel a senior leader, often in ways that are going to be uncomfortable. If the counseling is simply to support or encourage, it’s probably not the most valuable counseling. The most valuable counseling is going to be the counseling that challenges the leader. It’s never an easy place to be, but I would say that it’s a place that as you build to that, for any given issue, you need to get yourself to such a solid foundation that you’re prepared to take that on. So, I would encourage in any activity that you’re operating in, get to a perspective. Get to an informed opinion about a topic that you feel so strongly about, that you’re prepared to take on the challenges of that.
INTERVIEWER: And what do you think is the status of the counseling role of public relations in the corporate world today—is it growing in importance or diminishing? I think I know you’re answer.
JORDAN: It’s growing. In fact, organizationally for us over the last few years, we’ve seen that the strongest model for us in terms of organizing the function is to be sure that, at all of the senior levels of the function, we have a very tight alignment between the communication leader and the business leader who has a similar portfolio of audiences and issues. You establish a close link between the communicator and the individual with a comparable remid.
So for me in my role, it’s the CEO, chairman—same or different person—and the same portfolio that makes up their day, the same portfolio that keeps them restless, is the portfolio that I’m dealing with. For somebody working with our pharmaceutical group leader, that’s a one-to-one linkage with the same portfolio, and that’s fairly new to us—a few years old – but it cements the link between each of these business leaders at each level of the organization and the communication leader. That puts extra prominence on the counseling role. The personal interaction in those situations matter.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any other things that we should cover, any points that you’d like to make? Any things that we haven’t talked about that we should?
JORDAN: Just a reminder to folks about what an exhilarating field this is that we’re operating in. I’ve had a couple of conversations with people, and I told the story about my career trajectory earlier, folks who have found their way into the profession from other fields have been stunned by the view we can get of the business operating from this profession. By the impact we can make, by the relationships we can build with senior leaders. So that would be my one final thought is just to remind people of what a thrill, and what a responsibility it is to be in this field we’re working in, so thanks.