“You can’t lead other people if you can’t lead yourself.” – Len DeCandia
For more than 30 years, Johnson & Johnson Chief Procurement Officer Len DeCandia has worked in the pharmaceutical, health care, and consumer products industries with expertise in engineering, manufacturing, procurement, and end-to-end supply chain management. He began his career at Johnson & Johnson, where he held leadership positions in global engineering, operation, and supply chain management. Len has also held Chief Supply and Procurement Officer positions at companies such as Roche Pharmaceutical, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and Estee Lauder Companies before returning to Johnson & Johnson in 2014. He is a Professional Engineer and a founder and chair of the Rutgers Business School Supply Chain Management Center, a member of Rutgers Business School’s (RBS) advisory board, and an adjunct professor. In 2015, he delivered the RBS New Brunswick Commencement Address and in February, he delivered the 2017 School of Engineering Dean’s Lecture.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hoboken, NJ. It was then a diverse working-class community and a great place to grow up and learn the value of hard work. When I was in Little League, I could stand at home plate and look across to Manhattan. It was like Oz – a place not too far away where things can happen.
Why did you choose Rutgers?
I’m a Rutgers grad who’s both first generation in the U.S. and first generation to go to college.
I grew up in the 60s in the Space Age and wanted to be an engineer. I was good at math and skipped two grades in school.
I was recruited to play football at Brown, but the Ivies don’t give athletic scholarships. But I found an affordable alternative with Rutgers. My longshoreman dad gave me a gift of a longshoreman’s badge. By working as a longshoreman for fantastic pay in the summers in Port Elizabeth, I could pay for college.
While at Rutgers, I made friends with the grease truck guy at the port. I worked there in the mornings during winter breaks and, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to make coffee for the longshoremen.
Why did you decide to go for your MBA?
I started working at Johnson & Johnson right after graduation, at a time of increased globalization, and saw that engineering as a science and the way organizations did business were changing. The MBA complemented engineering by giving me new confidence and skills.
What was it like to return to Johnson & Johnson after working for companies like Roche Pharmaceutical and Estee Lauder?
I look at it this way, I enjoyed my different experiences, but now I’m happy to be back with my family. The Johnson & Johnson credo of putting the people we serve first is part of my DNA. I was always referred to as the “J&J guy” wherever else I worked.
When I first worked here, Johnson & Johnson was decentralized. Today, there’s a greater appreciation of the end-to-end supply chain. I’m happy to contribute to this success and help develop the next generation of leaders.
It’s also nice to be close to Rutgers again and continue to leverage that relationship.
It’s a time of tremendous opportunities for growth for engineers in supply chain management. What would you advise interested SoE students to focus on?
First, I’d tell them to do their work, to understand, embrace, and immerse themselves in the pure science of engineering.
Second, they should consider an advanced degree in supply science. There are things that are important in an advanced practice – from finances to lean process management – they will need to know. Opportunities are better today with that advanced degree.
What lasting lessons did you learn at Rutgers?
Science makes a difference in the world for the future. I took the value of an engineering education, which gives an understanding of how things work, and a passion for solving problems, into supply chain management.
Have you mentored SoE alumni?
A number of Rutgers alumni are in the Johnson & Johnson leadership development program for engineers and procurement and supply chain organizations. My mentoring is informal: I’m always available to the people in program.
What do you most enjoy about teaching innovation management at Rutgers Business School?
The best place to connect is as an adjunct professor at the business school. Young people love science and technology, and have a passion to make a difference.
It takes great thinking to deliver products to places around the world, as J&J does. I enjoy sharing the technologies and innovations – we discuss new and exciting opportunities like using banana leaves’ fiber, to make feminine hygiene pads – with my students.
How did you get involved in establishing the supply chain management program at Rutgers Business School?
Visionary RBS Dean Lei Lei, offered the opportunity to get involved to industry leaders like me who were looking to research and recruit talent in the evolving science of supply chain management. I’m a founder and have served as chair of the RBS Supply Chain Management Center for more than ten years and currently serve on the RBS advisory board.
It ‘s great to see what the university has accomplished. Our supply chain MBA program is ranked 9th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
I’m proud of what I’ve done at Rutgers. It’s been wonderful to be a pioneer in the supply chain space and very rewarding to be a part of it in the university.
Did you learn any early leadership lessons at Rutgers?
I had a rough first year – I was an immature young man. I’d skipped two grades and graduated high school before I could drive. I was asked to leave, but told I could come back after completing a semester away at NJIT. I came back and graduated with honors. You can always have a second chance.
I had to learn about myself more than anything else. I had to find the right balance and learn to manage my interests and myself. You can’t lead other people if you can’t lead yourself.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your student self?
I’d tell myself to commit to doing the work. You can have fun. But it really starts with doing the work.
What do you do for fun now?
I do the same things today that I did in school. I met my wife freshman year at Rutgers – she and my family come first. With my best friend, I always find lots to do.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills religiously on Tuesday nights. My wife thinks I’m off-center. I think it’s hysterical and fun.
If you could take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go and why?
Italy. I have family there and speak the language. The Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful place in the world.