Ebony Interview with Linda Johnson Rice: President of Johnson Publishing Co. Prepares for Challenge of Steering Company through the Next Half Century

Article excerpt

LINDA Johnson Rice has a tall order to fill. Indeed, the 34-year-old daughter of CEO and publisher John H. Johnson and his wife, Eunice W. Johnson, is in an enviable position as president of a thriving enterprise. On the other hand, there is much speculation concerning what impact she will have as heir of the $250 million company her father founded 50 years ago with $500. But the personable, vivacious, hands-on manager is not daunted by the mission or the legacy. With genuine enthusiasm and creative vision, she performs her duties not as one who reluctantly takes on the family business, but as one who eagerly seeks new challenges. In fact, she practically grew up in the business. During high school and while studying for a journalism degree at the University of Southern California, she worked at JPC as a gofer during the summers. Upon college graduation, Rice began working as vice president and assistant to the publisher, and soon after enrolled in an MBA program at Northwestern University. In 1987, with MBA in hand, she was appointed president.

Regardless of her upbringing and academic qualifications, Linda Johnson Rice is a working woman. And like millions of others, she must balance the responsibilities of her job with those of marriage and motherhood. She and her husband of eight years, Andre Rice, president of Rice Group Ltd., a private investment company in Chicago, are parents of 4-year-old Alexa Christina. An avid horseback rider since a child, Rice has won awards in equestrian hunter and jumper events and still enjoys riding. She also swims and plays tennis, and seldom misses a Chicago Bulls home game. Like her parents, she is an art lover and collector, and devotes considerable time to charitable concerns, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and the United Negro College Fund. She also is a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Based on the questions often put to EBONY staffers and other company employes, it has become clear that many want to know more about President Rice. What is her management style? What are her goals and aspirations? What impact is she having on Johnson Publishing Co. and what kind of relationship does she have with the publisher? On these pages, Linda Johnson Rice, in an interview with EBONY senior staff editor Lynn Norment, answers these and other questions. EBONY: Johnson Publishing Co. is celebrating its 50th anniversary; EBONY magazine is 47 years old. Last year the company had $252 million in revenues. There are more than 2,000 employes. Yours is an awesome position for a young woman to be in. Do you find all that intimidating?

Rice: Absolutely not. And the reason I don't find that intimidating is because if I did, I'd probably never be able to make a single decision, and if I can't make a decision, I can't move the company forward for the next 50 years. It's a lot of responsibility, but it's not responsibility I dwell on every day. I just try to do my work and make the best decisions I can during the day, and then I go to bed at night with a good frame of mind and a good conscience.

EBONY: Does working with and for your father, who is the company's founder and literally a living legend, put additional pressure on you?

Rice: I try not to let pressure get to me. He's a great person to work for and a terrific person to work with. And it also helps that I not only love him as a father, but I like him as a person. And I think we have a great deal of respect for one another. Now, we don't always agree; there are a lot of times we don't agree. As I tell people, we agree to disagree. Most people don't do that, and most people in family businesses never do that. Plus, he's such an incredible well of knowledge.

EBONY: How do your management styles differ?

Rice: I think I'm a little bit more patient than my father is. But I think that as I get older, and if I encounter some of the people he has, it might get shorter. …