Organizations today are constantly searching for new and creative ways to help people to get to know them better. In 1949, General Robert Wood Johnson wrote that “business is people,” and he felt that the best way to get to know Johnson & Johnson was through its values and its people. In 1945, a remarkable employee exemplifying that philosophy joined Johnson & Johnson. Irrepressible, creative and full of personality, he was hired to supervise employee activities. He managed a variety of initiatives to raise enthusiasm and foster team spirit during his career, and he launched two wildly creative projects that helped Johnson & Johnson tell its story to the public. A World War II veteran and a genuine war hero, Vincent Utz left an indelible mark on the company and on all who knew him.
Originally from Connecticut, Vincent Utz, or Vinnie as he was known, came to New Brunswick to attend Rutgers University. He was captain and star fullback of the Rutgers football team in the early 1940s, leading the 1941 team to a winning season and – in testimony to his football talents – earning the nickname “The Wizard of Utz.” Vinnie Utz was inducted into the Rutgers Football Hall of Fame in 1991. Here’s his entry on the Scarlet Knights website:
“Utz captained the 1941 Rutgers squad and was an honorable mention All-American that season, when he led Rutgers in rushing and keyed a 7-2 season. One of the most colorful of Rutgers athletes, “The Wizard of Utz” was also a member of the 7-1-1 team in 1939. A decorated war hero, he remained a flamboyant follower of Rutgers football during his professional career at Johnson & Johnson.” [Scarletknights.com, entry for Vinnie Utz at this link]
According to an article in the August 15, 1945 Johnson & Johnson Bulletin, Vinnie Utz came to Johnson & Johnson directly from the Army, where he served for 35 months as a paratrooper. (Johnson & Johnson has a long tradition of hiring and supporting veterans that goes back to the Spanish American War in 1898.) Utz was a member of the 506th Parachute Regiment Team of the legendary 101st Airborne Division – the group that was celebrated in Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers. Vinnie Utz also was written about – and quoted – in the book D-Day with the Screaming Eagles, by George Koskimaki and in No Victory in Valhalla by Ian Gardner. Corporal Utz parachuted into Normandy on the eve of D-Day, and he was part of the fierce fighting for 30 days as the U.S. Army made its way toward Cherbourg. He participated in a daring daytime parachute jump (far riskier than the ones done at night, since daylight meant the paratroopers were easily seen) which was followed by weeks of grueling combat as part of Operation Market Garden in Holland.
After that, Utz fought in the Battle of the Bulge. On the second day of the battle, he was wounded in action at Bastogne; he woke up in a field hospital three days later, having lost his left arm. Vinnie Utz was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and a Purple Heart during his service. He returned to the United States on board the Queen Mary, the celebrated ocean liner that had been converted to a troop ship during the war, and he spent his rehabilitation at Walter Reed Hospital. Shortly after that, he joined Johnson & Johnson.
Vinnie Utz was hired as part of the Johnson & Johnson Personnel department as Supervisor of Employee Activities, and he quickly put his leadership skills and creativity to use. Here’s what the August 15, 1945 issue of The Bulletin, the Johnson & Johnson employee magazine, said:
“His athletic prowess and his training in business administration make Vin eminently suited to manage the athletic and club activities for the people at J&J. He is already making plans to get teams organized to start the fall bowling season and is anxious to discover what other activities you might be interested in.” [Johnson & Johnson Bulletin, August 15, 1945, from our archives.]
In that era, employee clubs included a Glee Club that regularly performed across the state of New Jersey and on the radio. And the employee sports teams at Johnson & Johnson were not solely for the purpose of improving fitness: they represented company pride by competing in the New Brunswick Industrial Leagues against teams from other companies. It’s a testament to Vinnie Utz’s leadership that the Johnson & Johnson women employees’ basketball team was the league champion for the 1946-1947 season.
Two years after he came to Johnson & Johnson, an idea of Vinnie’s became a program that gained national recognition. The idea behind the program – called “A Day in Modern Industry” – was to show high school students the connection between school and future work, and to get them interested in a potential career at Johnson & Johnson. Participating high schools would send students to Johnson & Johnson for a day, during which they would shadow an employee.
High school girls and boys shadowed scientists, lawyers, accountants, manufacturing employees, and one student got to be Chairman and CEO for a day by shadowing General Robert Wood Johnson!
The program was a huge success, it gained national media attention and it was widely replicated. Johnson & Johnson wrote a how-to manual so that other companies could implement Vinnie Utz’s program.
Another of Vinnie’s responsibilities was a radio program called “Johnson & Johnson Journal” on WCTC, a public radio station in Central New Jersey. Produced by and starring Johnson & Johnson employees, the show had a running time of fifteen minutes and featured news and interviews with employees and with visitors to the company’s New Brunswick campus. With its philosophy of helping the public to get to know Johnson & Johnson through its employees, it was a reflection of General Robert Wood Johnson’s belief that the heart and soul of a company was not its buildings but its employees. Interviewed by the Johnson & Johnson Bulletin about his new role, Vinnie stated “ ‘Our new radio program is designed to make community listeners as thoroughly acquainted with J&J and its employees as we all are now.’ ” [Johnson & Johnson Bulletin, September 1949, p. 6, “J&J On the Air!”]
Vincent Utz remained a hero to the end. Tragically, he lost his life rescuing his father-in-law from a fire during the 1960s. His son Jeff Utz recalls: “He was a daredevil, a favorite of the neighborhood kids and our many cousins, and a man passionate about life. He was down to earth, but he had an intellectual side…” Vincent Utz exemplified the incredible value, skills and leadership that veterans bring to the workplace, and he epitomized the values in Our Credo, the guiding philosophy of Johnson & Johnson. The work he did decades ago paved the way for a growing variety of initiatives to spread ideas, build enthusiasm and find innovative ways to communicate at Johnson & Johnson today. In that respect, during his tenure at Johnson & Johnson, Vincent Utz helped set the stage for the future.
Thank you to the Utz family for sharing Vincent Utz’s story!