(Pictured above: Tom Johnson and his wife Jane.)
Over the course of 33 years of Annual Awards & Charities Dinners we have given out a select few Lifetime Achievement Awards. Early on, we decided to offer such recognition required a very thoughtful and careful examination of possible candidates. We concluded an individual receiving such an award must have contributed to the growth and vitality of our industry and demonstrated a unique form of leadership.
We have given out lifetime achievement awards sparingly and the executives that we have honored are indicative of the people who have made a significant contribution to the building and supporting of the copier dealer channel in the United States.
The first recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Cannata Report was Sadahei Sam Kusumoto, Chairman of Minolta Corporation. Sam came to this country in 1955 with a suitcase full of cameras and immediately began building an organization to take the cameras to market. The Minolta dealers who knew Sam celebrated our decision to present an award to him.
A total of three Japanese executives have received lifetime achievement recognition from The Cannata Report. The second was Haruo Murase of Canon and the third was Katsumi Kirk Yoshida of Ricoh. By giving three leaders of offshore manufacturers this honor we were tipping our hats to the Japanese manufacturers who provided the product that fueled the growth of independent copier dealers
Others that have received this award include Ed McLaughlin who led Sharp for 10 years and did an outstanding job, and Bob Goldberg, the dealer channel’s attorney and the best friend they have.
We started our business in January 1979 and began publishing three years later. When we present Tom Johnson with a Lifetime Achievement Award this year at our Annual Awards & Charities Dinner on November 8, we will be just two months short of celebrating our 40th Anniversary. It has been my good fortune to come to know some very special people, many of whom I have been able to call friend, these past 40 years.
Tom has had an enormous impact on the viability of the independent copier dealer channel. Mention the name Tom Johnson to people in the industry and many will remark that he created a business model that became the bible for successful dealers.
Born in 1945, Tom grew up in Florida with a keen awareness that education was the key to success. He is also a man who loves our country and served in the United States Marine Corps from 1966-1968.
When he exited the service, Tom enrolled at the University of Florida and graduated with a BS in administration in 1972. He certainly must have “cracked the books” as he then went on to Harvard Business School and received an MBA in 1976.
After a short stint with the Sun Trust Bank, he was hired by Alco as an assistant to the president. Tom states rather definitively that this is when his education about acquisitions began, and where he learned about buying, building, and selling.
After Alco, he worked for Danka before forming his own consulting firm and began teaching dealers his business model. You can say that at this point he knew something about how to run a successful dealer organization.
In 1995, a gentleman by the name of Carl Thoma approached Tom to do another build up. Tom once shared with me that he learned what not to do when under new leadership at Alco before becoming IKON and going in a different direction. Prior to that Tom held the Alco organization and many of the senior executives in very high esteem.
He also learned a tremendous amount from his experience at Danka and that, as far as I can see, completed his education. When Thoma approached him, Tom was ready. His first acquisition was in San Antonio when he purchased a dealership owned by Art Felcoff. This was followed by the acquisition of Neil Berney’s business in Alabama. Johnson believes the acquisition of Conway’s in New Hampshire, his third, gave him the market acceptance that Global was a serious player in the game of building a copier dealer distribution.
Tom took Global public in 1998 and when the smoke lifted he had acquired 100 companies and was generating $1.3 billion. He sold the company to Xerox in 2006. At that time, Global was spinning off $200 million in cash flow and was very profitable.
One of Tom’s most basic philosophies was don’t offer stock to acquire. He paid cash with one caveat that the buyer take 6% of the purchase price out and buy the stock. When Global was sold, many of the people he purchased dealerships from earned more from the sale of the stock to Xerox than the original purchase price of the business.
Another of Tom’s beliefs on acquiring a business was “the Dinner Test.” He was not going to acquire a business from someone he did not like. To determine if the potential seller was the type of individual he would enjoy doing business with he invited them home to dinner. He also wanted to see how the person lived and asked to be invited to their home. There he would do “a refrigerator test.”
As Tom explained it to me it made so much sense. The ‘refrigerator test’ is a moral and ethical test for life and business. It is “before you do something, would you write it down and put it on your refrigerator and be proud for your family and friends to see it. If not, don’t do it.”
Today the business model developed by Tom is still being employed by Global Imaging – Xerox. The company is now generating $2.5 billion and producing a significant profit for Xerox. You can say Tom built a sustainable business model.
Tom married his lovely wife Jane 52 years ago and in one of the conversations we had about receiving our Lifetime Achievement Award (reluctantly) he admitted Jane talked him into it. Together they raised four boys and have six grandchildren. He is very proud of his sons and I know one of them, Todd. If his brothers are anything like him, we can easily understand the reason for this parental pride.
As we were wrapping up the interview I asked Tom what advice he would give to a dealer today. “My advice is this is still a good business. (However) you have to change with the times. If you handle the customer right, you will be alright. But, you have got to make the changes to increase productivity to counter price decline.”
In telling his story, Tom likes to use downhome sayings that make so much sense, like, “You make changes (to the business) before someone comes home and shoves it down your throat.”
His parting words were, “If you stick to the model and increase your productivity, you can still bring 15 to 18% to the bottom line.”
I consider it a privilege to know Tom Johnson. There are many people out there today who are infinitely better off than when they first met him. He changed our industry for the better by elevating how dealers measured their performance. The “Johnson Model” has been proven time and time again, by use of benchmarks in the critical areas of the business you can reach levels of profitability that was never thought possible. We know this to be a fact as we were there and recorded it.
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