John J. Heldrich, retired vice president of administration and retired member of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors at Johnson & Johnson, passed away this week at age 88. Born in New Brunswick, N.J., during the Great Depression, Mr. Heldrich would later lead the transformation of the city based on a commitment to the community as outlined in the Johnson & Johnson Credo.
John Heldrich was born January 15, 1926, in New Brunswick and was raised in Highland Park, across the Raritan River from Johnson & Johnson. The youngest of five boys, he recalled playing baseball as a child near the company’s campus. [Interview with John Heldrich, “John J. Heldrich Banks on Leadership to Maintain the Momentum of New Brunswick’s Turnaround,” Business News, October 11, 1999, page 15, from our archives.]
Upon his graduation from Rutgers University, Mr. Heldrich began his Johnson & Johnson career in 1950, starting at the Company’s’ Permacel division (home of Duct Tape) in North Brunswick, N.J. When Mr. Heldrich arrived at Johnson & Johnson, General Robert Wood Johnson was Chairman of the Board. Also on the board at that time were future Chairman Philip Hofmann and Earle Dickson, the inventor of BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages and vice president of the Company’s Hospital Division. During that same period, the classic children’s book, Doctor Dan the Bandage Man, featuring Earle Dickson’s invention, had just hit store shelves, the new Johnson & Johnson Research Center had opened in North Brunswick and the Company was expanding globally and developing new products.
After progressing through positions of increasing responsibility at Johnson & Johnson operating companies, Mr. Heldrich was promoted to vice president of operations planning and control in 1964, and became corporate vice president of administration in 1970. He was elected to the Johnson & Johnson Board of Directors in 1971 and became a Corporate Officer that same year.
Mr. Heldrich was dedicated to public service. As a teenager, he earned recognition from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for having the fourth highest total sales of War Savings Stamps among newsboys across the U.S. He is best known for his legacy in the revitalization of New Brunswick, the hometown of Johnson & Johnson since the company began in 1886. Mr. Heldrich was the founding chairman (from 1975 to 1995) of New Brunswick Tomorrow, the private, non-profit organization that has spearheaded the economic, social and cultural revitalization of the city. He was instrumental in seeing that a restored cultural center could serve as an economic engine for revitalization, and he volunteered his time and resources to help restore the historic State Theatre, one of the cornerstones of the city’s renaissance.
Hand-in-hand with the revitalization effort, Mr. Heldrich focused on workforce development in the region. He was the founding chairman of the New Jersey State and Employment Training Commission, the state agency responsible for preparing the state’s workforce to meet the needs of employers, employees and the economy.
John J. Heldrich retired from Johnson & Johnson in February of 1991 after a career spanning nearly 41 years with the company. He remained active in community organizations and in workforce development, continuing to volunteer his time, energy and considerable expertise. Throughout his retirement, he continued to visit the company to catch up with colleagues, meet new people and stay up to date on events at the company he loved.
Mr. Heldrich’s legacy – and his name – live on in the beautifully restored landmark State Theatre, one of the cornerstones of New Brunswick’s cultural life and revitalization; in the Heldrich Hotel and Conference Center, designed to bring more visitors to the downtown and to celebrate the city’s history of innovators and artists; and in the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, part of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Equally visible, his legacy continues in the improved quality of life and growing number of resources for the men, women and children who live in New Brunswick and for everyone who continues to make the city their home during the workday.