By Jueseppi B.
Born on March 22, 1958, in Chicago, IL; adopted by John H. (owner of Johnson Publishing Company) and Eunice W. Johnson (editor); married S. Andre Rice, 1984 (divorced 1994); children: Alexa Christina.
Education: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, BA, 1980; Northwestern University, MBA, 1987.
Memberships: National Association of Black Journalists; Women’s Board, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago; Board of trustees: Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Southern California; board of directors: Continental Bank Corp, Magazine Publishers of America, Bausch & Lomb, Kimberly-Clark Corp, Omnicom, Viad Corp, Quaker Oats Co., Northwestern Memorial Corp., National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Princess Grace Foundation.
Johnson Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, vice president, 1980-87, president and chief operating officer, 1987-2002, president and chief executive officer, 2002- to present.
Linda Johnson Rice knew from the age of six that she wanted to work with her mother, Eunice W. Johnson, and her father, John H. Johnson, at the eponymously-named publishing company they founded in 1942. Still she had to wait until the mature age of seven to begin training for her chosen career. Since that tender age she has worked herself into the posts of president and chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), the largest black-owned publisher of magazines in the United States. The Chicago-based company has more than 2,000 employees, owns Ebony and Jet magazines in addition to a number of radio stations; syndicates television shows; markets Fashion Fair and Ebone cosmetics and hair-care products, and, beginning in 1993, sells clothing for black women through a joint-venture with the Spiegel Co. under the name E-Style.
Born on March 11, 1958, in Chicago, Illinois, Rice’s childhood playground was the fashion department of Ebony magazine, where she regularly visited her mother, then the secretary-treasurer and fashion editor. William Berry, a journalism professor who was an editor with Ebony for seven years, recalled to theUSC News, “She was always asking you questions, trying to figure out what you were doing.” Rice even attended meetings in which editors were making important decisions such as what photo to put on the magazine’s cover. “We’d struggle over different pictures,” Berry noted, ” and then Linda would say something like, ‘Well, so-and-so’s not frowning in that picture. I like that one better.’ And sometimes you thought, ‘You know, she’s right.’” By the time Rice was in college, she was getting even more involved with the company, helping with the selection of gowns for the Ebony Fashion Fair, the company’s traveling fashion show.
Going into the family business was solely Rice’s decision; John H. Johnson never pushed his daughter into the business, but he “tried to set an example for her that she might want to emulate,” reported Ebony magazine. It was after completing her undergraduate work at the University of California-Los Angeles that she started working closely with her father. “At first I was like a sponge, sitting in all the editorial meetings, watching how he made decisions,” she told Working Woman. Rice was present at every important meeting Johnson had and reviewed every piece of incoming mail, along with her father’s response to those correspondents.
The more Rice learned, the more she wanted to know and become involved with all aspects of the publishing company, including advertising, circulation, and Fashion Fair Cosmetics. Although she was the unchallenged heir to her father’s empire, she gained self-confidence and a more analytical approach to management problems by going to business school. “She didn’t need it [a graduate business degree] for me but for herself,” Johnson told writer Renee Edelman in Working Woman. “It is difficult to establish credibility [in the business world],” he said, and the master’s degree “was a way to answer any possible critics.”
Earned a Business Degree
While taking graduate business courses at night at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, Rice traveled to Europe for the couture showings and helped select models for the show. Rice also helped direct Fashion Fair Fashions, a mail order catalog featuring quality clothing targeted to women who read Ebony. Later she would use her business connections to lure entertainers onto the syndicated television show Ebony/Jet Showcase that her company began producing.
Of her education at Northwestern, Rice told Ebony that although it was difficult juggling her responsibilities at Johnson Publishing and going to school at night, she believed that Northwestern helped prepare her for her position. “We did a lot of case study work, which is really the Harvard Business School method also. It really taught you how to think through a problem. How to recognize what the problem is. How to come up with different strategies to solve the problem. How to look at the competition and the barriers to entry, as they call it. And then how to come up with a conclusion for it. And I think that was very important,” she said.
Rice’s father, John H. Johnson, promoted his daughter to the number two spot with Johnson Publishing after she received her master of business administration in management degree from Northwestern University in 1987. Johnson had founded the business in 1942. Using a $500 loan–his mother’s furniture served as collateral–he sent 20,000 people a letter offering subscriptions to a new black magazine, Negro Digest. From that early base, Johnson built an empire in publishing, broadcasting, cosmetics, and, in a separate company, life insurance.
Rice’s brother, John Jr., two years older than she, was never a rival for a role in the company. According to Working Woman, John Jr. didn’t want to be a publisher like his father. Instead, he chose photography and adventure sports such as racecar driving and skydiving. John Jr., who had suffered since childhood from sickle-cell anemia, died in December of 1981 at age 25.
The senior Johnson, who was 69 when he handed day-to-day responsibility for JPC operations over to Rice, continued to set strategy and policy at the company, in his capacity as chairperson, chief executive, and publisher. Some business experts questioned whether Rice–still in her thirties–was capable of running the multi-million-dollar company; others expressed more confidence in her abilities to Business Week reporter Lois Therrien. “Clearly she is ready,” said Earl G. Graves, editor and publisher of Black Enterprise. “She certainly has the sophistication and training for the job.”
Donated Time and Money to Others
Rice’s single-minded devotion to working in the family business did not mean she does not enjoy her leisure time. An avid horseback rider since childhood, she has won awards in equestrian hunting and jumping events and still enjoys riding. She also swims and plays tennis, and she seldom misses a Chicago Bulls home basketball game. Like her parents, Rice is an avid 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 sits on the board of directors of such companies as Bausch & Lomb, Kimberly-Clark Corp., Viad Corp., Quaker Oats Co., and numerous others. Rice is also the member of the board of trustees for the Museum of Contemporary Art and University of Southern California.
In an extensive interview in Ebony magazine celebrating JPC’s 50th anniversary in 1992, Rice said that being involved with charitable endeavors, whether as a volunteer or a contributor, is important for everyone. “That’s where it starts,” she said. “It has got to start with someone who can give hands-on time to somebody–to a child, to an elderly person, to a handicapped person. To someone who is illiterate, just sit down for an hour and teach them how to read. That’s where it all starts…. You can’t just take, take, take. We’ll never progress as a group of people without giving back.”
In the same interview with Ebony senior staff editor Lynn Norment, Rice talked about her management style, her goals, and her aspirations as the company prepared for its next half-century. “What I learned from [my father] is that you must pay a great deal of attention to details,” she said. “I don’t think you have to oversee every individual blade of grass, but you should know the fundamentals of how to make that grass grow. That’s the only way for you to supervise and know if the person you are giving directions to is doing the right thing. You’ve got to know how to do what they are doing.”
“People have this image about black companies sometimes, that they are not as professional, that they are not as well organized,” Rice continued in the Ebony interview. “I don’t think that’s true at all if you look at us, if you look at Black Enterprise, if you look at Essence, if you look at Soft Sheen, and H.J. Russell & Co. These are first-class companies. People are amazed. And it’s not only white people who are amazed, but black people are amazed, too. … There is something wonderful about working in the environment in this company, looking around and seeing other black people who are your coworkers, whom you have good feelings about, and who are professionals. Johnson Publishing Co. has always had a first-class image. And until the day I die, I want to keep that image.”
Established JPC Goals for the 1990s
Rice, who gets up at six in the morning to be in her office by 7:30 a.m., had ambitious plans for the continued growth and expansion of JPC. She wanted to expand the circulation of the business with direct-mail campaigns and advertising, extend the cosmetics company internationally to reach women of color around the world, and develop television specials and documentaries. One such venture in the broadcast media was the Ebony/Jet “Guide to Black Excellence,”; a videotape series created to motivate and inspire black youth. Actor Charles Dutton, former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, Maxima Corporate chief Joshua Smith, Children’s Defense Fund Founder/President Marian Wright Edelman, and author and poet Maya Angelou are featured in the series, which is narrated by actor Avery Brooks.
The videotape series focused on entrepreneurship, leadership, entertainment and the arts, and includes accompanying guidebooks for parents, educators, and young people. “We feel this series is especially significant for black youth in their formative years because it features black achievers to whom they can relate,” said Rice at a press conference announcing the video guides. “It features black achievers who have overcome many of the same obstacles they may be facing now–black achievers who tell them in a very inspiring way how they made it and indeed how [viewers] can make it too.”
In a 1990 interview with Fortune magazine’s Brian Dumaine, Rice summed up her outlook for African-American business people. “There are more opportunities today for the black entrepreneur than in many years,” she said. “They have learned how to acquire capital, how to put together business plans, and how to start enterprises. There is still some discrimination in lending practices, and certain bank officers will have petty prejudices. A black entrepreneur has to be equally if not more prepared than a white to get his fair share of loan money.”
Rice has been the recipient of several awards. In 1999 she was honored with the From Whence We Came Award from the Allstate Insurance Company. The following year she was recognized for her leadership with a Phenomenal Woman Award. Upon receiving the award, Rice made it a point to recognize her mother and grandmother, as well. “I accept this award not only for that which you have so kindly noted I have achieved in corporate America, but I also accept in honor of the phenomenal women who came before me,” she was quoted as saying in Jet.
Promoted to President and CEO
In the spring of 2002 Rice was named president and chief executive officer of JPC. Health problems had kept her father out of the office for a year, and, after an Ebony editors’ meeting, he gave Rice a letter thanking her for taking the reins in his absence. The letter went on to say, according to the USC News, “In light of all you’ve done, I want you to have the title of CEO.” Rice’s promotion was announced at an Ebony-sponsored luncheon to honor black women in the media on April 12, 2002.
One of the few women to take control of a family publishing empire, Rice introduced a different managerial style to JPC. “My father is the entrepreneur, and I’m more of an operations person,” Rice was quoted as saying in USC News. “When you’re an entrepreneur, you have a vision for the birth and growth of a business. When the business gets to this size, you focus on how to manage the growth.” However, Rice planned few significant changes in the way JPC is run. “It would be a mistake to come in and alter a lot of things,” she commented in the USC News. “We have a tried-and-true formula, but we are always making subtle changes.” In the future, Rice hoped to devote more coverage to such issues as education, economic parity, and drug abuse.
As the publishing industry faced a challenging time–in 2002 advertising revenues were at the lowest the industry had seen in years–such subtle changes would be necessary for success. Yet with more than 2,500 employees, JPC maintained its “family business” atmosphere. Managers keep their office doors open and many employees stay with the company for thirty years or more. “This is more than a business,” Rice told Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, in 1994. “This is my life. This is my family.”
From Whence We Came Award, Allstate Insurance Co., 1999; Phenomenal Woman Award, 2000.
Filed under: Black History, Business, Celebs & Fame, Race, Women's Causes Tagged: | Chicago, Ebony, Eunice W. Johnson, John H. Johnson, Johnson, Johnson Publishing Company, Northwestern University, Viad