Five Generations of Johnsons

Herbert F. Johnson Sr.

HF Johnson Sr. in white suitHerbert F. Johnson Sr. understood a core truth: It’s the goodwill of people that matters most in business....just like any family. From charming retailers into selling our products, to inspiring the people who made them, Herbert left an indelible mark on the character of this company.

By the Seat of His Pants
Herbert F. Johnson Sr., the second generation leader of SC Johnson, knew his family's products belonged on store shelves around the world. All he needed was the chance to prove it.

And prove it he did, with enthusiasm and charm. Family lore says he was never more persuasive than on a trip to England around 1912, where he called on a little hardware shop in London.

Dressed in his trademark white flannel suit, Herbert offered the busy shopkeeper an irresistible opportunity. “This product will not only clean your floor,” he promised, “it’ll polish it so shiny that you could drag me across the floor and not see any dirt on the seat of my pants.”

The incredulous shopkeeper watched as Herbert rolled up his sleeves, polished the floor and then sat down on it to be dragged about. With the proof of Herbert’s clean backside, the deal was sealed. And by 1914, Herbert had established the first international SC Johnson company in England.

Connecting with People
Australia and Canada were soon to follow, as was a tradition that serves the company well today. On the train to Toronto, where Herbert hoped to explore potential locations, he met a nice chap who happened to be the mayor of Herbert Fisk Johnson SrBrantford, Ontario.

The more they talked, the more similarities Herbert saw between Brantford and Racine: similar size, similar sense of community and more. Next morning when the train stopped in Brantford, Herbert stopped with it...and SC Johnson has been establishing operations in similar towns around the globe ever since.

This willingness to connect with people – to make them feel like part of a larger family – made Herbert a respected leader. It was also echoed in the company’s profit sharing program, started in 1917. Herbert believed all employees should participate in the success of the business.

Built of Human OpinionsAn early profit sharing celebration
In December 1927, just a few months before he died, he explained his underlying philosophy to employees:

“When all is said and done, this business is nothing but a symbol. And when we translate this, we find that it means a great many people think well of its products, and that a great multitude has faith in the integrity of the people who make this product.

“In a very short time, the machines that are now so lively will soon become obsolete. And the big buildings,  all their solidity, must some day be replaced.

“But a business which symbolizes can live so long as there are human beings alive...for it is not built of such flimsy materials as steel and concrete. It is built of human opinions, which may be made to live forever.

“The goodwill of people is the only enduring thing in any business. It is the sole substance. The rest is shadow.”

Herbert not only inspired his audience that day, he made a commitment from which SC Johnson has never wavered. The goodwill of people IS the only enduring thing – in a family or in a business. It always has been, and always will be.
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