Janelle Heslop: Leading industry toward sustainability and equity
Combining her drive for sustainability, innovation, and diversity, Janelle Heslop MBA ’19, SM ’19 leads a $1B project to drive impact in operations.
Rusul Alrubail | Leaders for Global Operations Publication, MIT News. March 23, 2022.
Just a year after graduating from the MIT Leaders for Global Operations program (LGO), Switzer Fellow Janelle Heslop SM ’19, MBA ’19 found herself entrusted by Amgen to lead a team determining where the company would put its next $1 billion manufacturing facilities. With her passion for sustainability, Heslop relished the chance to take on what she called “a mini-crash course on how to make an important executive decision for a Fortune 150 company” while keeping the environmental impact front and center for Amgen's newest and most technologically-advanced manufacturing facilities.
Bringing together leaders from all different domains of the company, Heslop ultimately identified sites in North Carolina and Ohio for what will become the flagship next-generation manufacturing locations in the company’s network.
“Through Janelle’s work, we were able to advance the project on time and on budget and, more importantly, establish capabilities that will be needed for the future,” says Arleen C. Paulino, senior vice president of global manufacturing and operations at Amgen.
A native of Yonkers, New York, Heslop nurtured her commitments to sustainability, innovation, and advancing diversity in STEM as an engineering undergraduate at Columbia University, and later as an environmental consultant to Fortune 100 companies and public environmental agencies like the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Currently the senior manager of strategic planning and operations at Amgen, Heslop’s broader view of how to drive impact started at the LGO program.
According to Heslop, the program has been fundamental in shaping her professional and career growth by providing practical and skill-based level knowledge, as well as advanced concepts in operations, strategy, analytics, and people management.
“These are skills that I use daily today,” says Heslop. “When I was working on the location strategy project, I often visited my notes on location strategy frameworks from my Operations Strategy class that I took with the executive director of LGO!”
“Also, I often reflect on the 'L' in LGO — the leadership! Through our classwork and practical work, LGO required us to think so much about the types of leaders we are and want to be,” Heslop explains. As a result, she often asks herself, “How can I best serve my team as a servant leader? How can I best motivate my team through coaching? And how do I help others understand the end goal through visionary leadership?”
“Janelle was an outstanding student, undeniable in her presence, yet very humble,” says Renée Richardson Gosline, senior lecturer and research scientist at MIT Sloan School of Management. “I first met her when she took the Exploring the Next Economic Frontier course I was teaching that culminated in a tour of southern Africa. Janelle was new to the area of behavioral science, but was keen on applying the learnings to help people abroad and at home. It was during this time that I learned of Janelle’s passion for sustainability,” Gosline says.
According to Gosline, the trip to South Africa allowed Heslop to explore South Africa’s history of apartheid, draw inspiration from leaders like Nelson Mandela, and reflect on how racism and sustainability intersect as environmental racism. “As a Black woman, it was a privilege to take the journey with her and share a wonderful and inspiring experience, however complex and challenging,” says Gosline.
Heslop developed her leadership signature through many different courses, team projects, trips, and other experiences of the LGO dual-degree program. “Janelle represents a new breed of leadership with the passion and drive to bring the environment and sustainability to the center of business decisions,” says Heidi Nepf, Donald and Martha Harleman Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT, who co-advised Heslop’s master’s thesis based on her LGO research internship at Amgen.
Heslop also co-founded LGO's Underrepresented Minority (URM) Alumni Group as a student and young alumna. The aim of the group was to look at the critical need to increase underrepresented students’ presence within the LGO program.
“I was the only Black woman in my LGO class. The last time that we had a Black woman in the program before me was not even in the class above me, but the class two years ahead of me,” says Heslop.
In founding the LGO URM Alumni Group, Heslop and her peers were hoping to increase the numbers of underestimated talents to enroll in the LGO program by building visibility of the program, and creating a pipeline of diverse talent through forums and networking. “We are just starting on this journey, but have an amazing group of LGO URM alumni executives who are acting as advisors to us and helping us build pipelines into organizations such as NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers], SHPE [Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers], and more,” says Heslop.
Heslop’s connection to the community has been a constant in her academic and professional success. “I have a vast and totally supportive community,” she says. “I'm super close with my family, who are probably my main inspiration”. Heslop’s parents were low-income immigrants from Jamaica, who, according to her, "made something out of nothing when they came here.”
While Heslop was presented with pandemic challenges, the past two years also reminded her that she is more than her accomplishments or her productivity. “I want to accomplish lots of things, but I want to be healthy and full of joy doing them, and that requires more than just trying to achieve — it means investing in the fullness of ourselves, including our mental, physical, and spiritual health, and so much more,” says Heslop.
“I want this for myself and the people around me, my loved ones, my community, and for the other women who look like me — Black women who are trying to do great things out here,” says Heslop.
Heslop is combining her drive toward sustainability and also personal passion around diversity and representation in STEM in her current work at Amgen.
“I don't dream about jobs. I dream about impact,” Heslop says. “I want to manage, run, lead projects that are having a meaningful impact in the world, making it prepared for future challenges like climate change, leveraging emerging ideas and innovation to create a healthier, more equitable society.”
In early 2021, Heslop got a note from a Black woman engineering undergraduate who had interned at Amgen that past summer, which read: “I just wanted to reach out to you and thank you for the huge impact that you had on me in regards to successful women in leadership during my summer internship at Amgen".
Heslop doesn’t remember having done anything special to earn such praise, other than grabbing a coffee with the intern and sharing her experience and career journey. But this evidently left an impression on the intern, which highlighted for Heslop the importance of representation in the workplace, especially in the STEM sector.
“For a long time, I thought being the ‘only’ was something to more or less suffer through,” Heslop says. “But I think it's really in LGO that I found that this is something that I am blessed enough to lead in.”
Reprinted with permission of MIT News.