Tony's Journey From China to the US—and Back Again

The story of how one recent MBA is taking on new challenges, being challenged to grow and making real-world impact on the front lines of human health.

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Breakthrough innovation takes place every day at Johnson & Johnson, made possible by dynamic teams and people coming together to collaborate, share diverse perspectives and push boundaries within a supportive environment. But there's no one path to breakthroughs at Johnson & Johnson—as Tony Li's journey, from China to the U.S. and back again, exemplifies.

Today, Tony leads a commercial sales team in Beijing that's bringing life-saving products to doctors, and enabling them to more effectively treat cardiac arrhythmia, every single day. Let's take an inside look at his remarkable career journey at Johnson & Johnson so far.

"I Don’t Have to be Worried About Trying New Things"

Though Tony grew up in China, he went on to attend the University of Virginia as an undergrad—the beginning of a nine-year stint in the U.S. After beginning his career as a consultant, he decided to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his MBA in 2018.

At that point, however, Tony was at a crossroads in his career. "I knew I wanted to come back to work in China, the place where I'd grown up but never worked in my adult life." Enter the International Recruitment and Development Program (IRDP) at Johnson & Johnson, a rotational program for recent MBAs, which helped Tony bring that vision to life.

"At first, there were definitely challenges—coming in with no prior healthcare background, going into a sales role for the first time, and so on," he recalled, "and those challenges certainly pushed my personal boundaries. But overall, the experience has been great. The welcoming culture of Johnson & Johnson, as well as the design of IRDP itself, have all helped me succeed. I've gotten a lot of leadership support and had access to great mentors. People here are truly supportive of my growth and development."

And for Tony, that's meant not only having room to grow, but being in a dynamic, collaborative environment where new ideas are always welcome—even if they don't always play out as hoped. In fact, that's something he picked up on from day one.

When I was onboarding as a district sales manager, my supervisor told me, 'For three months, I'm not going to hold you accountable for the numbers. I want you to learn, spend time with the team, know your clients and get your bearings.' That was phenomenal, because if she had told me I was 100% accountable right from the start, I'm not sure I would've known what to do. But her attitude convinced me that I had room to experiment and grow in a safe environment.

He added: "The ability to tolerate failure—that's an important mindset for us to have. We want to encourage innovation and experimentation. Here, I know I don’t have to be worried about trying new things: As long as the effort and the thinking behind them are sound, they will be pluses in the story of my own development."

"Spiral Rotation—With Upward Momentum"

Going forward, Tony will rotate between three or four different positions, gaining exposure to a wide range of business areas in the process. He calls it a "spiral rotation with upward momentum. It's already given me a lot of confidence and clarity."

Part of that confidence has to do with the independence that the program fosters. Tony explained, "While we're very results oriented—we care about KPIs—at the same time, how you get there is equally important, and we have a lot of autonomy in that arena."

It's an approach he believes is key to the culture of innovation at Johnson & Johnson: "Here, we tell people what we want them to achieve, then give them flexibility to innovate when it comes to how."

For Tony, that kind of autonomy has been one of the defining characteristics of his experience at Johnson & Johnson. "Very little is dictated to me by my supervisor," he said. "Supervisors trust that you know how to get to the goal you have set out. But who you want to meet, how you want to manage your team—you get to own all of that."

A good example of that freedom is the fact that Tony was entrusted to map out his district’s end-to-end growth plan for the year ahead. And all throughout that process, he recalled, "My manager was deeply supportive of my ideas. I was given the freedom to develop my own path, and now I'm executing on the plan that I put in place."

Apply Your MBA to Real-World Impact Today

Leading a large and interdisciplinary team, making measurable impact in the lives of patients through innovative treatments for health conditions like heart arrhythmias—Tony says that these count among the most meaningful aspects of his experience so far.

And in fact, one of the accounts that Tony oversees is the largest hospital in Beijing, where he frequently makes the rounds, collaborating with his team of clinical specialists to ensure that doctors and other healthcare professionals are properly supported as they perform procedures with our medical devices. In that capacity, best of all, he’s gotten to see firsthand the difference that Johnson & Johnson products have made in the lives of over 4,000 patients so far.

"Our products are helping to save patients’ lives,” Tony said. “At the same time, we're working to enhance the capabilities of doctors. The core strategy of my business unit is to help doctors develop their operating skills, and I know that more physicians can cure patients because of the work that my team does."

He added: "I’ve seen how warm the culture of Johnson & Johnson is, and how much Our Credo contributes in talent development. It's about recognizing the potential of each employee and helping them become better individuals. All the leaders I’ve come into contact with seem to live and breath this talent philosophy. That gives me a lot of drive and certainly helps me feel my impact."

Want to see that talent philosophy for yourself, while accelerating your personal and professional growth? Check out all of the opportunities to join the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies today. Plus, you should explore our leadership development programs (LDPs), many of which were created specifically for MBAs like you.

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