STRATEGY

Straight to the Top: John Johnson

How one entrepreneur at the beginning of his career got in to see powerful businessmen to ask their advice.
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FROM THE TRENCHES

Got the start-up blues? Check out Succeeding Against the Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman, by John H. Johnson (Amistad Press, New York City, $12.95 in paperback). Johnson, the founder of Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co., which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines, has a story that could inspire any entrepreneur: he's a former welfare recipient whose company-building success has made him one of the 400 richest Americans. Succeeding Against the Odds is full of insightful and entertaining stories about the ways Johnson tackled classic entrepreneurial problems. Here's a sample:

"In organizing the staff [of my first magazine], I reached out to everybody, for I knew nothing about magazine publishing and editing....When all else failed, I looked in the phone book and called an expert. Since I had nothing to lose, I always started at the top. I received valuable advice from Henry Luce of Time-Life and Gardner Cowles of Look.

"It was hard to get through to Luce, but....I used a simple approach that almost always worked. I simply told the secretary or aide that I was the president -- I stressed the word president -- of my company.

"'It is,' I said, 'a small company but I am the president, and I want to talk to your president....If the president of the smallest country in the world comes to Washington, our president, as a matter of public policy and protocol, will see him. So it seems to me that your president, in the American tradition, will see me for a few minutes if you pass this request on and tell him that I don't want a donation or a job.'

"I used that on Henry Luce's secretary, and I got in to see him."

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Last updated: Oct 1, 1993




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