LEADING BY LISTENING
Mary Jo Johnson leads EO Johnson with a caring eye to the future.
EO Johnson CEO Mary Jo Johnson’s guiding principle is simple: lead as a servant. Since taking over her father’s business in 1999, Johnson has leaned on this core value to help her not only continue her father’s legacy, but also create one of her own by growing EO Johnson and establishing the dealership as one of most forward-thinking businesses in our industry. Through deep listening to the company’s customers, employees, and trusted partners, Johnson has been able to expand her dealership’s business to now include a breadth of products and services to serve everyone the company touches.
After spending most of her 20s working in the commercial insurance industry, Johnson joined EO Johnson in October 1985 to help her father start the company’s inside sales team. Recognizing her limited knowledge of the office technology industry, she spent her first months on the job alongside administrative staff, sales people, and service technicians, learning the intricacies of EO Johnson. She moved on to compiling phone lists and contact info by city and began writing scripts, tailored for different types of customers, products, and services. As she connected with more customers, Johnson strengthened her sales acumen, committing herself to continually learning more about the industry, her company, and her customers.
“One of the best sources of information is your customers,” said Johnson. “Even on the telephone, I’d hear a customer say, I know you do copiers, but do you do… you can fill in anything you want there, fax machines, phone systems. Then, I’d try to pull out the information by saying, tell me about that and tell me what your needs are there.”
If Johnson didn’t have a resource, she connected her customers with local experts who could help, bolstering EO Johnson’s credibility as a trusted partner and resource.
As Johnson grew into her leadership role, she encouraged a team approach in developing the company’s strategy. Monthly huddle calls, a process to funnel up new ideas from employees, and a commitment to consistently soliciting feedback from every level within the EO Johnson organization help draw out details coming from customers and employees alike. In soliciting input from each of her department heads from administration to sales and service, Johnson not only has been able to ensure her employees are being heard, but also that their input is valued, facilitating buy-in from the top to the bottom of the organization.
“With my focus on input, I’m always the individual who asks how the customer is going to feel about this, how is the community going to feel about this,” said Johnson, who continues to run her business in line with the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Through careful listening, Johnson is able to better note the trends of what customers are seeking, problems they are looking to solve, opportunities for EO Johnson to expand. She’s able to circle in with her sales team, ask them if they are hearing similar issues, and augment any leads with more research. Occasionally, that research includes reaching out to other industry leaders through her connections with the BPCA and BTA.
“Being in a rural area, it is great to call someone like Kevin McCarthy from MOM [Modern Office Methods, based in Ohio] and ask if they are seeing the same things,” said Johnson. “Because companies like them are in bigger markets, they often have already dipped a toe in the waters and we’re able to see what they are experiencing in the market. We’re be able to see how different solutions may be able to help our current and potential customers.”
This strategy has allowed Johnson and her team to stay ahead of the curve, anticipating customers’ needs and giving the company the opportunity to evolve by diversifying its revenue stream to offset the shift in print, which has led the company to offer managed print services, production print services, document management, and IT services.
“We have been able to augment our print businesses with these other solutions that customers were either asking for or didn’t know they needed but knew they had these pain points, and we knew we had a solution,” said Johnson.
For example, EO Johnson’s 2012 acquisition of data security provider LockNet, Inc. helped solidify the company’s foothold in the managed network services arena. As EO Johnson had opened its La Crosse location to support its copier business, LockNet’s leadership approached Johnson to gauge interest in a potential acquisition. LockNet was looking for more than a buy-out, the company’s angel investor wanted a partner.
“The culture matched completely,” said Johnson, with a mantra of, “We’re here to serve our customers and our co-workers, and while the bottom line is very important, so is the relationship.”
EO Johnson folded in LockNet and all of its employees, expanding the La Crosse location and sending a message to customers that it was now a print and an IT company.
As Johnson continues to strive to be ahead of the curve in serving her company’s customers, acquisitions certainly remain a part of that strategy. In March, the company completed its acquisition of Office Enterprises, Inc.’s copier/printer division and Cornerstone Technology’s IT services division. According to Johnson, both of these moves are sowing the seeds for more opportunities to better serve the company’s customers.
“Print may shift, but it will still be here,” said Johnson, who cites the growing interest in inkjet and the evolution of industrial print to appeal to customers looking to control costs but maintain quality. However, security has become a primary focus.
“We realize growth is in managing information and data because people don’t want to be bothered with it,” said Johnson. “They want to have access to it and have it secured, but not mess with it. We are bombarded with information every day and we want it to be easy for our customers so they can be productive.”
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