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Diane Gomez-Thinnes is worldwide president at Mentor, one of the world’s biggest makers of breast implants for aesthetic and post-surgical breast reconstruction. Diane has been with the Johnson & Johnson company since 2016 and held the title of vice president for US marketing and global strategic marketing prior.
The daughter of immigrants, Diane grew up in a largely Spanish-speaking community in New Jersey. She was a champion of diversity and empowering women very early on in her career and continues to pioneer such efforts.
Before Mentor, Diane was a marketing executive for medical device makers Ethicon and Cordis. She began her career as an engineer in the oil business and has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Princeton as well as an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Diane joins us today to share her thoughts on mentorship, service-based leadership, and authentically championing diversity. She also shares her thoughts on the changing face of advertising in a post-pandemic world and how companies can use transparency to develop trust with consumers.
Feel free to read the edited interview below or listen to the entire conversation on the Lippe Taylor DAMN GOOD BRANDS podcast.
Paul Dyer: Diane, thank you very much for joining us here today.Diane Gomez Thinnes: Of course. Happy to be here, Paul.PD: You’ve mentioned you have a real appreciation for mentorship. Can you talk about your personal experience and what mentorship means to you today?DGT: Yeah. Thanks, Paul, for the question. It is something I’m passionate about and it is a little bit of my personal story. Maybe I can characterize it this way: I think about mentorship as advancement and service. My parents are both immigrants, from Mexico and from Ecuador. And early on, they really valued education. And so many immigrants think about coming to this country, leaving everything that they know, and raising their family for better opportunities.
I’m a bit of a product, I would say, of non-profit organizations focused on education–particularly for disadvantaged youth or those who were not brought up with any privilege. I am the product of coaches in the sports community. My parents kept me really busy. It was really important, in the environment where I grew up, to keep us busy and off the streets. Community service was really important. And, I would say, church, in particular as well. That’s probably where I saw my parents as leaders in the community. And they modeled what it was to be mentors to other families, and to other immigrants just like themselves.
And so for me, this is a lot about humility and relationship building. And advancement, because mentorship has helped me through my life. But at the same time, I always feel the obligation to give back. And that’s not something that I’ve done just now, as a leader. I remember when I started my career, as a professional just having graduated from college, I served as a mentor to college students. When I advanced my career a little bit further, then it was for young professionals.
And so it’s always been a part of my life. Just yesterday, I had someone I connected with within the company who asked me if I could be a mentor for her. And I’ve never said no. Sometimes folks come around and they take it seriously. And others may come in once in a while, or pop in for one moment. And that’s fine as well. If I can be of help to folks, I will do that.
I do want to just take this one quick moment to recognize one of my great mentors in life, Colonel Ray Garcia. He was actually a pilot in World War II, and he and his wife are still thriving. The reason why he meant a lot to me early in my career, was because I was a very shy individual. Didn’t have a lot of mentors in life. He really pushed me to get uncomfortable. And that’s something that has stuck with me throughout my life. He had the opportunity to become a fighter pilot when they dropped the requirement for college education because of the war. And so that gave him a lot of opportunities, and he’s since gone on to model a lot of the mentorship behaviors that I hope to continue to do for those that I mentor as well.PD: That’s really an incredible story. And obviously, one of the things that I think holds back a lot of young people from finding their mentor is, as you mentioned, sometimes it’s intimidating to go up to somebody much more senior than you, and you don’t even know what to ask.
And so it’s great that you’ve been so open and making yourself accessible to people. I want to bring one of the other words you mentioned back up before we move on, because I don’t hear many business leaders or marketers use the word “service.” But when we spoke to, Raja Rajamannar (CMO of Mastercard) he said, “There’s a time to sell and a time to serve.” And it’s the only time I’ve heard it really used in this context. So I was wondering if you could maybe just say a little more about your thoughts on service in the context of what we do every day.
DGT: I think it’s great. I have thought about my leadership style very much as one of service. And we can talk about this in a couple of ways. But I’ll start with something that stuck with me from the founder of Kind Bars, Daniel Lubetsky. He had made a comment that at one point in our history, if we think about medieval times, the organizing institution was the church. Well, today the organizing institution really is business, right? And so in that way, it is our responsibility as business leaders, as part of this global connected institution, if you will, that we are providing solutions beyond just selling products. It is about addressing what society needs. And in this past year, boy, have we talked a lot about that, whether it is around social injustice, or healthcare and the pandemic disparities in healthcare. I enjoyed hearing that, because I think we have to reflect, as business leaders, that there is a bigger role for us to play, because we do connect the world in business.
The other way I think about it is, I remember growing through my career, and not necessarily always thinking about my style as being the style I saw from the top. And maybe that brings us to a little bit on women’s leadership, because it matters to me that women have done an incredible job, at this point, in making inroads into more senior leadership positions. But I’m also incredibly concerned–I’m sure you’ve seen the report come out of McKinsey with the results of the pandemic, that now one in four women are either exiting the workforce or downshifting. So we’re kind of going back to the ‘80s. But what I would also say, is that the last year actually highlighted those women who have a support system like I do at home, that we can actually thrive in these environments.
And it comes back to this point of service and how I think about my role as a leader as one of service leadership. And there’s been a lot of research–whether it’s authentic leadership or servant leadership or transformational leadership–that really starts to speak to some maybe newer characteristics of leaders for today’s times that are quite distinct from the leaders that we all saw growing up.
And so what we know, as an example, is that EQ is the same for both men and women. We just lean on different competencies of EQ. And when it comes to women, those EQ competencies are actually ones that speak to social responsibility and empathy and interpersonal skills. And the competencies associated with men, from an EQ perspective, are confidence, assertiveness and stress tolerance. Both are great. And they’re all great.
It’s not like women have the monopoly on these competencies, but we all have to kind of stretch into each of these. And in some ways, I feel that type of leadership is how I’ve always thought about leadership and giving back to others, whether it’s developing my team or how we address our patients and consumers and so forth. So maybe I’ll stop there. But I think about service in that way.PD: Championing women in communications and marketing is something that’s near and dear to your heart. We’ve known that about you for awhile. But you’ve also discussed the PIE concept in regard to that: Perform, Image, Exposure. So can you break this down for us and explain the significance of it?DGT: Sure. I remember starting out my career in marketing and someone talked about PIE. So I didn’t come up with that. I don’t know exactly where it’s sourced from, but I’ve heard it here and there over the years. And it made so much sense to me. And it’s not to say there’s only one way of thinking about career advancement and networking–I think it worked for me, given my own personality.
As I mentioned, I grew up pretty shy, not a lot of knowledge, right? Not a lot of mentors in the workplace. And for me, I knew when I got to work, I had to perform. So performance, for me, was like, results. And I was that kind of person: put your head down and deliver. And once you deliver, or perform, then your brand develops, and that’s the whole concept of image. A lot of work now goes into how to brand yourself and so forth. But for me, it was results that then led to what I’m known for as my personal brand.
And it is when that brand is developed that others start to tap you on the shoulder. For me, that exposure became advocacy. And so it worked for me. I remember early in my career seeing other young professionals and feeling like, “Wow, they’re great at networking. They’re setting up lunches with senior executives.” I would never have done that because I wasn’t comfortable.
And so this was something that worked for me. And I tell this to a lot of young professionals. Because oftentimes, yes, networking is great. If they have the confidence and they have the ability and they have the know-how to do that, it’s great. But if you don’t, or you’re just trying, understanding your performance is a place to start. Because that work is something you can talk about and stand behind. So that’s why it worked for me and I love to talk about it, I love sharing that with young professionals: first perform. That’s really important.PD: It’s an important reminder. Do a quick Google search and you find lots of people telling you to build your social media brand and all these other things, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t perform, so…DGT: Right.PD: I want to go back to your mentor, Ray Garcia. He was an air force pilot in World War II. And it’s interesting when you think about the number of military analogies in marketing, right? Targeting our customers, and acquiring them, and putting boots on the ground, with the tip of the spear. We could probably go all day. And yet, when you’ve spoken about healthcare marketers, you’ve talked about how their role is actually to be the voice of the customer.
To put themselves in the customer’s shoes and help through the process of developing innovation, which is a different perspective than trying to target and acquire them. Can you talk about this perception and how it manifests itself in your day-to-day operations?
DGT: Yes. Remember, by the way, I’m an engineer first in my career, and I worked in the oil industry before I shifted to marketing. And I remember when I made that shift, everyone thought I was going to the dark side. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s so old-school thinking.” Right? I mean, the kind of marketing where we’re just thinking about the next widget we create and how do we tell a story to charge more money for it. And so I do subscribe to a more modern approach of marketing, and it is around how we think about innovation for the betterment of patients, or healthcare, or society as a whole. And there is this aspect of voice of customer throughout the innovation roadmap. And I want to say “voice” maybe, with quotation marks around it. Because it’s not necessarily what customers tell you, because I think it’s very limiting to think about it from a market research perspective alone. So it’s non-traditional voice.
There is this expectation, at this point, for the real innovators to know that we are looking beyond the category we play in. We have to think about the work environment of our stakeholders, and this customer, maybe healthcare professional, who we sell to, but then also the patient or the consumer. And so it’s by holistically looking at, you could call it the journey, or the workflows (in both work and life), that we’re able to find some unique areas for innovation. And I think that’s when you make a real impact and are able to articulate a different value proposition about what you have to offer. It’s not about the thing, it’s about the partnership. So I think a little bit more broadly when it comes to innovation.PD: It’s interesting you brought up your different stakeholder groups there. So you’ve got your customer groups, healthcare professionals, but also consumers who will exert influence over the choice when it comes to the new product category. But this is something that’s happening for all companies, where at a corporate level, consumers were oftentimes not a very important voice in corporate boardrooms; and yet, that’s all been changing pretty rapidly.
New expectations of patients and consumers have been influencing companies when it comes to things like social justice and sustainable and lasting diversity initiatives. So I’m curious what your thoughts are in terms of how those new expectations of companies are actually translating into corporate decision-making? What is your position on how agencies can best help somebody like you in that area of sustainability and diversity initiatives?
DGT: I’ll break it down in a couple of ways. But just in terms of how I’ve worked with agencies in the past, and maybe before we jump into the diversity, I think that strategic counseling is earned. I will tell you that I, personally, throughout my entire marketing career, have always first believed that I’m hiring marketers who are the strategists. And I do that because I think that just taking something to an outside agency, right away, doesn’t allow us to do the work and be disciplined to do the work of strategy. So for me, that’s always been very important. And so sometimes I start with small projects with agencies. I think it’s a little bit more tactical. And through that relationship building through that engagement on the tactic, that’s where teams come together on brainstorming and thinking things through together. And then, with that earned opportunity, we can really have some bigger strategic efforts and the agencies can play a role with that.
So tying that to diversity, that’s where it starts. So you may start a project, but then you start to understand the culture of an organization. And I think we’re a little bit luckier in healthcare because we’ve always had this higher purpose, which is to save or enhance lives. Because of that, we often put the patient or the consumer front and center. Maybe not always, when we think about how we approach healthcare professionals, necessarily. We’ve thought about them separately. I think now we have to think about it together. But because of that, we’re able to now talk diversity together.
So with regards to that, when I look at the agency, representation matters. When I look at my own organization, I look at the need to have a diverse workforce. And it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s necessary for business and growth and for really driving some meaningful innovation for the future. And some trust with our stakeholders, especially as demographics continue to change. It’s a business necessity. And so the right agency partner would also have to have that representation in the room. Look, we’re all competing for innovation at the end of the day.
And if we have that need for innovation, then we need a bunch of new ideas in the room, right? I heard this from Carla Harris: If you need a lot of ideas, then you need a lot of new perspectives. If you need a lot of new perspectives, you need a lot of new experiences. And if you need a lot of new experiences, then you need a lot of different people in the room. So for me, that’s the opportunity for agencies to build a relationship with their clients. Your organizations build that trust, and then really talk about diversity initiatives around that innovation goal together.PD: So you mentioned quite a few times there, the importance of being in the room. I would give that same advice to young people when I’m either mentoring or interviewing them to find a job where you’re going to be able to be in the room.
Of course, here we are. It’s been almost a year where nobody’s been in the room together. It’s been a very difficult time for everyone, including brands, agencies, business leaders like yourself. I’m curious how has this inability to be in the room has impacted your leadership ability. And are there any major insights or lessons learned?
DGT: I think you can thrive in this environment because it goes back to being an empathetic leader and being someone who can show that you don’t have all the answers, that everything is very uncertain. And sometimes that’s what customers need to hear. Sometimes that’s what your teams need to hear. Taking a break, having a child pop in, that does happen often. I have three young children and it’s okay. So I think to model that behavior really allows us, as leaders, to get to know our teams better and get to know our customer base better.
It has been a challenge, I will say, because we have occupied every minute of our day since we are now in that work/life environment 24/7. But when I look at this, even pre-pandemic, the world in some ways was preparing us for this shift in leadership style. First, we’re interconnected as a global business community, just as people were more globally interconnected. We are directly talking to our customers all the time. With social media and digital, we’re talking to them directly. There’s new technology available, and this creates all kinds of webs of relationships. We have this 24/7 intensity, and we had it before the pandemic.
And what does that result in? We have to build and manage relationships differently. That’s part of transformational leadership. We have to lead from the center, not from the top, not in the hierarchical way that we used to think about leadership or run our organizations. We have to have comfort with and not just tolerance of diversity. And we have to have this work-life integration and we’ve been practicing that for a long time. So in some ways we’re prepared for it, but I just think that we have to stretch ourselves to exhibit that more with our people. I think the pandemic has done that.PD: It all makes so much sense when you say it. DGT: I don’t take all the credit. Some of that time, over the last year, for myself, has been in reading and participating and hearing other leaders speak. And I’ve invested that time over the past year. And so a lot of credit goes to hearing other speakers, seeing what resonates with me, seeing what I can share with others, reading a bit more on the research. I think that that’s just a responsibility that all leaders need to take, to continue to invest in themselves so that they’re investing for not only their business and their own results and their own people, but for customers, and in the end consumers, to choose our products.
PD: What’s your opinion on what’s happening with advertising? Is it dead? Is it dying? What are your thoughts on this evolving landscape with advertising communications and the overall marketing mix?DGT: Sure. I think you said it right. We’re all consumers at the end of the day. And so in some ways we have to look to our own behaviors. And I think it, again, shows that this goes beyond products as well. It has a lot to do with how we’re receiving our information, the experience we have with the company or the brand. It’s the influencers in our own lives and in our own world and how they either reinforce or dissuade us from buying a product or a service. And I think that just highlights the need for us, seeing how communications plays a stronger and stronger role. There really is no separate marketing and communications function in my mind.
And maybe I’ll highlight like a couple of examples of what this means. One of my favorite brands is Real Simple magazine. I feel it resonates with me. I’m a working mom, but I still love to cook, and I love fashion. And I get my book recommendations…beauty…which is the best oatmeal to buy. I mean, you name it…makeup. It provides me exactly what I need across a lot of subjects. Now, Real Simple, all of a sudden, started to come out with recommendations on apps, or recommendations on products that they sell. I love this brand so much, and in my experience, their content has resonated with me. So therefore, I start to pick up on that.
The opposite example, there’s this great little gift shop in town that I used to go to, supporting small business. And then I ended up seeing a couple of reviews that just reinforced some of the political conversations of last year, some crazy things. And next, there were a lot of people who were no longer supporting this organization. I’m like, “Wow, how quickly some communication or some experience just changes your desire to purchase or not purchase from a certain brand.” So I think that advertising is not dead. It’s just different today.PD: Can you discuss your perspective on how the role of communications has changed in the context of everything that’s happened over the past year?DGT: Yes. I mean, I think it’s an incredibly important role, even within a company like Johnson & Johnson, that really prides itself on a historically tremendous job in having some of the most important conversations. Diversity, it’s not new. This is in our DNA. We talk about people and service very often. That’s maybe why I’ve been with the company for so long. But even there, it’s difficult, because once you start going into the organization, you start to realize that clearly everyone sits in on a different part of the conversation on a lot of the topics that have come up over the past year. And communications can’t do this alone. I feel very strongly that it starts with the senior leadership setting the tone and the opportunity for those conversations. And so I think it’s a strong partnership with communications to make that impact.
And that’s internally, like within organizations. I believe externally, it’s even more critical, because communications and leaders and our people all represent the brand. And it is extremely important for communications to play a role in that. And we’re stretching the role of communications. I’ll speak specifically to the breast implant space. Communications is not about just marketing or digital and social strategies. There is an expectation for patients and consumers to better understand the risks along with the benefits of breast implants. And while we’ve always prided ourselves in believing that we make a lot of information transparent, it’s not necessarily in a way that a consumer or patient can interpret it. And so I find that the communications role now plays a role with my regulatory teams, with my technical teams, with so many other teams to drive a different conversation. So I just wanted to express that as well, because I think there’s a conversation about communications, given what’s happened over the last year, but I also think it’s been evolving as consumers and patients expect more from brands.PD: How do you think communications should be measuring itself and what role should data be playing in some of these more amorphous topics?
DGT: It’s a great question. And you’re right. I do like data. And what gets measured gets done, but it’s so hard when you think about these topics, as you call them, amorphous. But I think there’s a way to pulse check. And I think that pulse checking happens in a variety of ways and they can be measured. In other words, within an employee base, you can do sentiment surveys over time. How do people feel, right? And this isn’t something that you have to wait a whole year and say, where was my baseline? Where’s my next baseline? There are opportunities to do this after every interaction that we have. And so we try to do that with global town halls and things, just to get a sense of that sentiment within the organization on some of these topics.
And then, trust me, we get our feedback. People are not shy about that. Most of the time, obviously, anonymously. But whether you do it anonymously or not, you get that feedback. I think on the external side, one of the things that we’ve started to employ is this tracker technology, which we are able to follow key opinion leaders or social media influencers to really start having metrics around how we’re talked about, what language is being used with regards to our products and our brand. And so I think there are ways to do that. You have to start somewhere and those are the types of ways that we can measure sentiment and what seems to resonate or not resonate. And we’ll get that feedback.PD: So the COVID world has been difficult, no doubt, for business. So how are you, now that the end is near, preparing for the post-COVID world?
DGT: Yes. You’d be surprised. I think we never would have predicted at the start of the pandemic how well the aesthetics industry as a whole would do. So I will tell you that this has been a tremendously resilient industry, and it’s shocked all of us. I think everyone was wrong. Even in talking to our customers, we’ve been surprised. Now that’s only one part of our business, because we also have patients that are breast cancer patients, and unfortunately did not get diagnosed in a timely fashion. And we’re certainly following to see how much we can do for these patients as they get their mammograms and support them more quickly and move them along their journey to being cancer-free and then taking the option, if they choose, for breast reconstruction. So that part of our business, I do believe, has suffered a little bit more, and we see the data because of the need to prioritize some other procedures or hospital beds and so forth.
But as we prepare for where our business is coming out of the pandemic, I think that we’ve learned that we can touch more patients. I mentioned a little bit earlier that things have been changing with regards to the breast implant space. The traditional way was to talk to the healthcare professional. That’s how we were required to market with respect to our health care compliance expectations, etc. But there has been a demand for information. There has been a demand for more transparency. And so for us, it’s really starting to think about what we’ve learned through the pandemic and how we can reach more people in new ways and continue to expand on that. Because it is about building trust. It’s not just purely about transparency, it’s about building trust. More transparency doesn’t necessarily mean more trust. I mean, this is about intentions, and intentions matter in this. And so I think for us, that’s what we’re preparing for. How do we get back out and ensure we’re going back to doing the great work of educating and talking to consumers and patients?PD: Well, I think that’s a really powerful thought to end on there, about intentionality and trust. So let me just say, thank you, Diane. This has been a fantastic conversation. We appreciate you sharing all of your insights with us.
DGT: Thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed the conversation.
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