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John J. Heldrich: 1926-2014

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Oct 29, 2014

John J. Heldrich
John J. Heldrich
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.]
The former Permacel building in North Brunswick, from our archives.
The former Permacel building in North Brunswick, 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.
Letter to Johnson & Johnson Chairman Richard Sellars from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1975, detailing a story about John Heldrich's lifelong commitment to public service. From our archives.
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.
John Heldrich (second from left) and Richard Sellars (center) in a meeting during the early stages of New Brunswick's revitalization, 1976.  From our archives.
John Heldrich (second from left) and Richard Sellars (center) in a meeting during the early stages of New Brunswick's revitalization, 1976. From our archives.
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.
Public domain photo of the restored State Theatre, courtesy of Wikimedia commons, at this link:
Public domain photo of the restored State Theatre, courtesy of Wikimedia commons, at this link:
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.

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Kit Schumaker
OCTOBER 30, 2014 09:19 AM

Like being raised by wonderful parents, Johnson & Johnson has been "raised" by people like John Heldrich- we are the extended family of leaders like Mr. Heldrich who helped us grow into the best company in healthcare. His life was truly well lived and his legacy lives on in all of us here at JNJ.

Laura Zimmermann
OCTOBER 30, 2014 10:14 AM

I'll miss Mr. Heldrich tremendously! I worked with him and Jean on and off during my 29 career here at Johnson & Johnson. He has taught me so many valuable lessons, too many to mention but there is one that he lived and breathed daily and that is how to treat people with respect and it didn't matter what level they were in the organization. "People" everyone mattered to Mr. Heldrich. I'll miss his smiling face and upbeat personality! His legacy will live on in so many people! I'm blessed to be one of those people... he was so much more than a boss...he was Family!

Abigail M. Kjeldsen
OCTOBER 30, 2014 01:35 PM


Allen Rose
MARCH 25, 2015 11:43 AM

One of the generation that walked the walk of the Credo.

When the new Headquarters opened, rather than take an office in the tower with the other senior executives, John took an office in Atrium 7, literally as far from the Tower as possible. Every day he would travel back and forth for meeting always stopping to talk to people in his organization as he varied his route to cover different areas each trip.

When my group was established at Corporate we were temporarily house in some vacant offices just passed his office. Most days he would stick his head in to say a few words even though we were not in his organization.