Leveraging Skills, Connections and Diversity to Make a Difference

By: Zecie Smith

I am currently a sr. engineering manager for Ethicon EES, a Johnson & Johnson’s Medical Device business. My job requires me to lead, support, develop, mentor and guide a team of engineers who design, develop, test and deploy surgical instruments globally. On a day-to-day basis, I have what I call my “normal” weekly scheduled meetings but far more “drive by” meetings, particularly on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are usually lighter days. I have over 23 years of experience driving new product development (NPD) and sustaining products to market for four different companies and three industries (heavy machinery, medical device and pharmaceuticals). I’ve spent the last 17 years of my career in the medical device industry. What’s interesting is I didn’t attend college to become an engineer.  
As a middle child, I was always looking for opportunities to carve out a space of my own and prove myself. This would carry into my adult life as I’m always trying to figure out how to make things happen and prove people wrong (when they underestimate me). As a teenager growing up in Brookhaven, MS, I found it important to set goals, do research and track my goals to completion. I wanted to be a photographer, a fashion designer, a dancer and an architect. I was so disappointed when my school counselor recommended I should be a social worker. Luckily for me, fell in love with computers in Ms. Gary’s class my senior year in high school. That was it, I was determined to go to college to get a degree in computer science.

I joined HBA Cincinnati chapter in early fall of 2018 with the intention to connect with other like-minded women as well as to mentor others. Prior to moving to Cincinnati in 2016, I was a member of HBA Chicago and attended several events held at my previous employer. Once I settled into my new role, I decided to re-engage myself with the HBA to expand my knowledge of the healthcare industry outside of the four walls of Ethicon. I was asked to be on a panel with other healthcare leaders to talk about our journey. A few months later, HBA Cincinnati president, Karen Hagerty, approached me about joining the planning committee and just like that, I became an active member of the committee. I value the open communication and the immediate gratification the HBA brings to its members as we strive to give real-time advice during our sessions and women feel and know they’ve really made a connection with something they’ve been dealing with personally or professionally.

I’ve had a unique journey in my childhood, teenage and college years as well into my professional journey. I’ve learned to never be content. I always strive to better myself in everything that I do while bringing others along the way. My passion and drive to helping others has been displayed in my many years of volunteering, mentoring, teaching and driving change for the betterment of all.  I’ve been fortunate to be part of the initiation and creation of two business resource groups (BRG), (e.g. ERG or Affinity groups) within my career while leading several committees focused on recruitment and retention, community outreach and employee engagement under the diversity & inclusion (D&I) effort. These efforts tie closely with my passion of helping others and have allowed me to gain exposure to several areas outside of my day job including lobbying on Capitol Hill, to getting bills passed, providing assistance to our patients who could not afford our treatments. This work has put me in positions I would have never imagined growing up in Mississippi like speaking one-on-one with Senators and Congressmen, to working with initiatives that focus on healthcare disparities within minorities and bringing in well-known industry leaders to discuss sensitive topics related to being a minority in the workplace.

One piece of advice I’d like to share is it’s never too late to make a difference. It’s okay to take risks. We all make mistakes; the key is what we learn from our mistakes. It’s our failures and setbacks that make us stronger.