Resilience: The key ingredient to exec’s success

By Gianluca D’Elia

Choosing to get back up in the face of adversity may seem impossible, but Johnson & Johnson executive Denice Torres says her story proves otherwise. Torres shared her advice for being successful in her presentation, “Strategies for Success,” in North Hall on Sept. 10.

Torres, co-lead of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, North America, and the president of McNeil Consumer Healthcare, has risen to prominence in the healthcare industry despite several career “turnarounds,” personal struggles and the pressure that comes with being both female and openly gay while trying to establish herself as a business leader.

“Don’t expect to fall,” Torres said. “Expect that you will get back up. When people ask me what sets me apart, I tell them it’s my ability to get back up.”

In 2013, Torres won the Healthcare Businesswomen Association’s Woman of the Year award. In her acceptance speech, she told the audience, “I want you to be badass.”

Through personal stories, Torres explained how that could be attained: getting back up, being honest with yourself, choosing the best way to react to situations and taking control.

While working for a law firm, Torres realized law was not her passion. Eventually, she began working for an advertising agency and fell in love with it. Her passion led her to pursue a master’s in business administration.

“It gave me confidence,” Torres said. “If something makes you miserable, you have to get out. There’s not enough money in the world to have something absolutely drain your spirit.”

Getting out is not to be confused with failure — careers will have their ups and downs, but the key to getting through is taking control, said Torres.

“Change is not pretty at all,” Torres said. “You can make a career transition and think, ‘It won’t happen, I’ll get stuck’ — if you tell yourself that, you will. But you can also say, ‘This sucks, but I’ll get through it.’ If you don’t do that, you’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Getting through challenges also requires authenticity and self-awareness.

“I grew up in a Christian family and went to Catholic school, and I didn’t know anyone who was gay,” Torres admitted. “One reason I was so miserable was because I couldn’t be myself with anyone.”

Coming out to her family, friends and coworkers was a journey from self-acceptance to eventual self-celebration.

The most important factor in overcoming personal struggles to become successful is one’s approach. Torres’ daughter, Sierra, has cerebral palsy. When Torres first knew her daughter would have this obstacle to overcome, she found herself at a crossroads.

“How do I approach this?” she asked herself. “I could either think ‘Why me? This sucks,’ or I could think, ‘Wow, I am so blessed because I get to be this girl’s mom and take care of her.’”

Many in the audience found the speech helpful.

“Denice answered a question I had on leadership by saying that when leading different types of people, you have to alter your approach to them to achieve results,” said accounting graduate student Frank Kellogg. “She was very charismatic as well — she was thoughtful enough to give me a hug after the event.”

Torres stressed to the group in front of her that it’s OK to be a “turnaround” person.

“It’s OK to change your mind and take risks,” she said. “Going through change often feels lonely. It requires you to walk through a dark tunnel and tell yourself, ‘I will put one foot in front of me, and I will do this.’ Sometimes it feels like a journey, and other times it feels like a circus, but that is what it takes to be a badass.”

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