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How Lori Johnston, Amgen’s HR SVP, Manages the Company’s Most Important Asset

Lori Johnston, Amgen’s SVP of Human Resources, talks about the changing nature of the workforce and what Amgen is doing to stay ahead of the curve.


Are there any broad trends influencing Amgen’s approach to its workforce?

The way people interact with their employers is changing. The challenge is to find a way to provide offerings that may be more appealing from one person to the next, whether it’s time off, a commitment to the community, or the ability to save for the future. In a few short years, over 50 percent of the Amgen workforce will likely be Millennials, and Generation Z is not far behind. As we’ve seen through history, each generation grows up experiencing some very different life-shaping events such as 9/11 or the Great Financial Crisis. So they value different things – e.g. a solid career, opportunity for progression, skills building, particular benefits. We need to approach our staff with some flexibility to align with what is meaningful to them at various stages in their life and we are experimenting with how we can do that.

What career advice can you offer?

Find out where your true passion lies. Not specifically, but generally. I’m passionate about the intersection of business and people. I love it. Give your manager that direction. It’s almost like a GPS. You don’t really get anywhere if you don’t stick an address in. Tell you manager what really drives and motivates you. Then you need to perform. Push yourself. Gather feedback and make course corrections. Then “rinse and repeat.” You also have to “show up.” You either add energy to a team or take it away. Add it. Be a problem solver, not just a problem identifier. Raise your hand for tough assignments. Your career is about what you put into it. Those who get the most out of it know themselves really well. They know their passion and what gives them energy. They practice their skill, make refinements and work every day to be solving the big issues at hand.

What do you want to accomplish while you are here at Amgen?

I personally want to help Amgen through this next phase of the industry. I don’t know when, but we are probably going to see a new business model emerge in our space. I want to be a part of shaping how we add value to patients as things evolve. On a more individual level, I get no greater thrill than when someone that I have coached or mentored goes on to do something great. I love seeing people achieve great things and I want to be a part of enabling that.

Research suggests that social responsibility is becoming an increasingly important factor for Millennials in choosing a company. How does Amgen stack up?

I’m a board member of the Amgen Foundation , which is the philanthropic arm of Amgen, and one of the things we’ve done recently is to begin a series of conversations about how we engage our broad base of employees to help us achieve what we want to achieve around advancing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, particularly in communities that don’t have a great deal of resources. We have a number of programs focused on science education. LabXchange is one good example. We’re teaming up with Harvard University to develop a free virtual lab experience for students to gain these much-needed skills regardless of geography or income level.

What makes Amgen different from other companies?

One unique thing about Amgen is that we have what’s called the Social Architecture, which helps define our culture. It consists of our Mission to serve patients, our Aspiration to be the world’s best human therapeutics company, the Strategy that results from that, our Values, and the Attributes we look for in our leaders. Many companies have not gone as far as we have to build that out. Some have built it out on paper, but you don’t feel it inside. At Amgen you’ll hear the people who work here say things like, “Wow, you guys really do live this stuff.” That makes a huge difference.