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Leadership Columbus: Rick Johnson

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Date of birth: Oct. 26, 1959

Place of birth: Columbus

Lives in: Bartholomew County

Title: President and chief executive officer of Johnson Ventures.

Job duties: The company invests capital in the market and buys and runs small- to midsized existing businesses. For example, it owns Stone Center of Indiana, which sells stone and masonry products. I primarily evaluate opportunities either through markets or by analyzing companies.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship and marketing from Indiana University

Family: Wife, Alice; daughter, Annie, a senior at Columbus East High School; son, Ricky, a student at Central Middle School

Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, gardening (mainly vegetables, particularly fruits and berries), reading (a broad spectrum of books, but especially those related to business)

Community involvement: IU Center for Art + Design, Heritage Fund (former chairman), Volunteers in Medicine, Community Education Coalition, Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, Sycamore Land Trust; serves on boards of Nature Conservancy of Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art, IUPUC, IU Foundation, Kelley School of Business and Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship

Q: What was your first job?

A: Mowing yards for my neighbors at Harrison Lake, and hiring myself out to neighbors to do yard work and gardening.

Q: What was the main lesson you learned from that job?

A: Hard work is fun, and I like being outside.

Q: What is the biggest leadership lesson that you’ve learned?

A: It’s important to be able to look at issues from a lot of other people’s viewpoints and to try to make choices that include a lot of other people’s viewpoints. When you look at an issue from a single viewpoint, you can probably come up with an acceptable answer — but it’s never the best answer. I think of it as “servant leadership.” I think strong leaders often dampen their own personal point of view in favor of finding common elements within a mix of viewpoints, which brings people together and leads to paths forward that all can successfully embrace. That’s how a team works. A team brings points of view that always improve upon a decision made from a single viewpoint.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I’ve always liked business. It’s fun, it’s a hobby, it’s intellectually stimulating and challenging. I like digging into and understanding new businesses and seeing the fruits of that understanding. Making some mistakes is fine. That’s part of it. You back up. You improve. And ultimately you improve the value for the customers and employees.

Q: What do you like least?

A: Occasionally you realize that somebody is not the right person for the job, and you have to make a change and let them go. In any company, even when it’s the right decision, that’s tough to do.

Q: What was your first  leadership role?

A: I had grown up in the family business, Johnson Oil Co., doing all kinds of stuff from painting curbs as a kid to delivering oil as a summer job. When I joined the business after college, I became supervisor of a couple of gas stations.

Q: How are you different as a leader today than when you first took a supervisory position?

A: As you gain experience you develop more confidence. A lot of times, even when you’re a beginning leader, you’re probably intuitively more right than you think you are, but it takes experience to be more sure of yourself. That also means you’re less threatened by others’ viewpoints and more apt to consider those viewpoints as opportunities to improve your decisions.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are just now entering the business world?

A: Do something you like, so you consider it fun — not work. But also pick something challenging that will push your capabilities. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because that’s part of moving forward. Mistakes are learning opportunities.

Q: What’s your favorite city to visit and why?

A: New York City. Whatever your field of interest, you can find a group of people in New York City that excels at it.

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