Karen Licitra - J&J

Strategic growth under pressure

Name: Karen Licitra
Title: Chairman, Medical Solutions Group, Johnson & Johnson

With several plates spinning, Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Karen Licitra ended up playing a crucial role in boosting the company's devices and diagnostics arm, keeping the outfit standing--and profitable--despite a few crumbling walls.

For Licitra, chairman of the company's global medical solutions group, trimming the fat at J&J meant managing a strategic divestiture of its underachieving clinical diagnostics arm, a move that enabled her to place the company's attention elsewhere. That paid off in 2013 with the approval of a new sedation system that's likely to restore her unit to growth, despite its hefty legal woes.

Named one of Fortune's most powerful women in business two years running, Licitra was helming the clinical diagnostics unit when it became a hot takeover target. And as the head of the global medical solutions group, Licitra played a pivotal role in making Ortho Clinical Diagnostics ready for a $4 billion sale to the Carlyle Group in the beginning of this year, even as the unit's revenue was slipping. Licitra was an important part of what CEO Alex Gorsky called "our disciplined approach to portfolio management."

One of Licitra's biggest wins in 2013 was the FDA approval of an automated anesthesiology system developed by Sedasys, a division of J&J's Ethicon arm. The low-cost procedure could be used on as many as 15 million patients in the U.S. alone, according to the company, and the approval marks an advance for Ethicon that promises to pay off down the road. For Licitra, it was a feather in her cap during a year that had a few more deep valleys on the devices and diagnostics side.

A few divisions under Licitra's management did bear some bad fruit. DePuy Synthes' slate of metal hip lawsuits came down hard, leaving J&J proposing to settle 8,000 lawsuits with more than $2.5 billion in tow. And the vaginal mesh saga with yet more thousands of suits against the company continues to take its toll.

As much as Licitra has had on her plate, sales are still growing: J&J's med tech revenue jumped almost 4% year over year in 2013, booking $28.5 billion globally.

And like many devicemakers, J&J has held its breath waiting for news of the medical device tax to come crashing down this year with the Affordable Care Act. "Being as large as we are we have the benefit of having talent that can be close to this from the regulatory perspective," Licitra said during an AdvaMed panel in the fall. "We stand for greater safety and transparency, but we also want to be sure patients get access to new technology."

-- Michael Gibney (email | Twitter)

For more:
Carlyle Group bids $4.15B for J&J's Ortho Clinical Diagnostics arm
J&J's Gorsky looks to unload $2B diagnostics unit in biz reshuffle
J&J gains pivotal PMA for computer-aided surgical sedation device
At AdvaMed, European regulations are on many CEOs' minds

Karen Licitra - J&J