Q&A with Rowan Chapman, Ph.D.,
Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, California
As the new head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, California, Rowan Chapman, Ph.D., is already at work to shape the future of health care. She’s using her sharp eye for transformational ideas and a track record of productive deal-making to drive new offerings in all three sectors of Johnson & Johnson: Pharmaceutical, Medical Device and Consumer.
A native of the U.K., Dr. Chapman realized early in her career that data analytics and health care must go hand-in-hand. It sparked a passion that carries through today as she evaluates innovative business models that make sense of the vast quantity of data our bodies produce. Notably, Dr. Chapman also brings a mission to normalize diversity in the life science field, with the ultimate goal of creating better solutions for patients.
You’ve had a remarkable career path, with many twists and turns. When did you realize that you didn’t want to be a bench scientist, as you originally planned?
As a young woman in the U.K., I started off thinking I wanted to be a scientific professor because science had been my passion for as long as I could remember. So I went to University of Cambridge, earned my Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology, and was working on my post-doc research at University of California, San Francisco. Around this time, in the late 1990s, I began to realize that being a scientist might not be an ideal match for my personality. I would have to devote my career to going very deep on just one topic, when I’d rather be exploring many areas of science and listening to what people in other fields have to say. I’m a social person. I like talking to and learning from diverse people and interacting with new ideas. As a postdoc I found myself at a career crossroads, trying to decide what was next
What led you into the investment side of health care?
Before I entered the venture capital world, I held roles in sales support and business development for start ups. I found that I really enjoyed using my scientific skills to speak about technology with customers and figure out how I could help them solve their problems. During this time, I became fascinated with data analytics and computer programming. I saw the link to health care. Human biology is one big, complicated data system. I moved from that into venture capital investing where I was able to leverage my science background and interest in data analytics while also getting the opportunity to take deep dives into and learn from many different types of companies.
Most recently you led healthcare investing for GE Ventures. What did you take away from your five years at GE?
GE awakened my appreciation for the power of diversity, which I had never fully experienced before. I grew up in a very, very sexist environment, with very few female role models in science. I got used to being the only woman in the room and I just didn’t think anything of it.
That changed when I joined GE. I was amazed by the diversity around me. It wasn’t another all-male environment — although it’s important to note that I’m not just talking about gender diversity; it’s also diversity of personality and opinion and expertise and skin color. When it came time to make my next career transition, I knew I could find a similar level of diversity here at J&J. At this point in my career, I have no interest in being in a non-diverse environment.
Today is International Women’s Day. Given your experience, what do you think that leaders in the life science field can do today to bring more women into management roles?
Most importantly, we need to normalize diversity. I want all of us to take notice of when the room is not diverse. We need have a heightened sense, as I do now, of when we don’t have the right mix of opinions and backgrounds at the table. And when we don’t have the right mix, we need to create it.
Role models are also a factor. Young people, both men and women, need a variety of diverse role models and peers.
In addition to the diversity factor, what convinced you to join J&J?
I love the mission of the company and our J&J credo, which carries a strong message about treating everyone with respect. The credo establishes that our first responsibility is to the patients and families who depend on us and our products. I’ve already been able to see during my time here that our credo is not just an afterthought; it’s a unifying force for decision making and doing the right thing. People here really are driven by the patient impact.
But I was also excited about my role leading Johnson & Johnson Innovation, California. It’s a meaningful role that combines many of my passions, enables innovation at the intersections of consumer, device and therapeutics. Hard to get bored with that mission! I work with a team of people from diverse backgrounds, interacting with entrepreneurs who are shaping the future of health care. Every day is interesting.
When you’re not hard at work, how do you spend your free time?
I live here in the Bay Area and keep very busy with my three children — I have a teen, a tween and a toddler. You can imagine that we have a very active household with a set of diverse opinions. When I was younger, I questioned whether it would ever be possible to have a family and a career. It wasn’t so obvious to me back then, as I didn’t have female role models. But now I know it’s absolutely possible, and it’s something I want younger people to see. I also have five chickens, who provide us all with fresh eggs and entertain with their different personalities..