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The podcast featuring finance leaders driving change within their organizations.

Aug 22, 2021

Joe Wolk was about 5 years into his 23-year career with Johnson & Johnson when he was encouraged to take a manufacturing operations position at a newly acquired J&J company in Vacaville, California.

One hot July day, Wolk recalls, he and his wife drove up to Vacaville to visit the plant, where he ended up taking a seat across from the newly acquired company’s plant manager.

As one of Vacaville’s initial J&J transplants, the young finance executive sensed that his arrival was being viewed less than enthusiastically.  

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“Within the first 90 seconds, he says: ‘Hey, you know what? I don’t think we need you out here,’” Wolk remembers, citing those words as the plant manager’s first remarks.

Thus began one of Wolk’s least favorite but—as he explains—most rewarding career experiences.

“The first 4 months in that job were like going to the dentist every day,” says Wolk, who tells us that ultimately the reward from the experience was a lesson in when and how to stand your ground.

The lesson began at a team meeting where Wolk tried to offer the plant’s management some practical advice with regard to how to prepare for an upcoming visit from senior J&J executives.

At the time, Wolk says, the plant was working to address a number manufacturing issues as it tried to determine how best to meet customer demand.

Wolk recalls the plant manager’s response to his advice: “We’d like to meet your wish list, but we don’t have time for this right now.”

Instead of just accepting the manager’s feedback, Wolk reports, he arranged a private meeting with the manager, where he boldly elucidated the items occupying his “wish list.”

“If they come out here next week and we can’t provide certain answers, we’re going to have a mess on our hands,” were among the words that Wolk says that he used to prod the plant manager’s thinking.

In the end, the visiting J&J executives were satisfied with the plant team’s answers, and Wolk’s reputation grew in the plant manager’s eye.

“From this point on, he didn’t take a meeting without including me,” concludes Wolk, who uses the story to underscore how finance executives must be ready to summon the courage of their convictions. –Jack Sweeney