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J&J: How A Dealmaker Nurtures Newcomers

Johnson & Johnson () is a highly acquisitive company. The drug giant has completed $30 billion worth of deals in the past 10 years. So when J&J bought Malvern (Pa.)-based Centocor Inc. in 1999, it was business as usual. At the time, the smaller company had a promising rheumatoid arthritis drug called Remicade. That product has turned out to be a blockbuster for J&J -- as have many of the executives who came with the deal. Among them is Dr. Harlan Weisman, 53, now group chairman of pharmaceutical research and development at J&J, who had shown exceptional skill as a manager.

It's often hard to hold on to managers like Harlan in the aftermath of a takeover, but New Brunswick (N.J.)-based J&J has a good track record. That's a tribute to the company's broadly decentralized structure, which gives managers great leeway -- no small thing for execs used to running their own shows.

J&J is also very good at providing ambitious managers with new challenges. At Centocor, for instance, Weisman specialized in so-called biotechnology protein therapies. They are typically administered by injection and known as "large-molecule" drugs. It's a far cry from J&J's bailiwick of small-molecule drug development, the traditional arena of pillmakers. But J&J didn't just leave Weisman in place. Soon after the merger, he began a two-year transition in which he learned the small-molecule business. Weisman now oversees more than 5,500 people and controls about $2 billion in R&D spending.

It's a system that's supposed to keep giving. As an executive, Weisman is rated not only on how well he develops talent but also on how well he does at exporting it to other J&J businesses. The second part is crucial. While many companies advocate job changes in order to develop talented execs, it's hard to convince managers that they should let their good people go.

Today, Harlan says the company's overall reputation for R&D has improved, and the number of molecules in the late stages of human testing has climbed from two in 2001 to 17, with Weisman's group supervising the development of many of them. "There is no better place to be," he says of J&J.

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