Samuel C. Johnson believed business should serve a higher purpose and be managed for the next generation. The man known by all as simply “Sam” leaves a legacy of visionary leadership, remarkable success and great humanitarianism.
When Sam Johnson joined Johnson Wax in 1954, all the company’s products were wax-based. With a passion for innovation and a willingness to take calculated risks, Sam expanded the family business to new products in new markets, turning a small wax company into a multi-billion-dollar family of international companies.
As part of that growth, Sam established Johnson Outdoors in 1970—and soon created the plastic boat industry through Old Town Canoe®. Though the world economy was in disarray, Sam knew there were always consumers looking for higher price value. He knew more affordable, more convenient plastic boats would be just what they wanted. Today plastic boats are a half-billion dollar market, and Johnson Outdoors is the number one seller.
In the 35 years since our founding, Johnson Outdoors has grown into a leading provider of innovative, top-quality recreation products that make it easy for people to have fun in the great outdoors. We continue to employ the quintessential new product development model Sam created. We take to heart his innovation-driven business strategy: “New products, new geographies, and every few years, an acquisition.” We pursue his commitment to serving employees, customers, the environment and the communities where we do business.
“I believe that making a better place goes beyond providing jobs,” Sam once said. “It means being a worthy neighbor who cares about the neighborhood. It means adding an unspoken dimension of decency and consideration to the community.”
Though Sam’s consideration may have been unspoken, it did not go unrecognized. Fortune called him “corporate America’s leading environmentalist” when he was inducted into the U.S. National Business Hall of Fame. He held seven honorary doctoral degrees and received numerous international awards recognizing his business, environmental and philanthropic contributions, including the Charles A. Lindbergh Award for balancing technological advancement and environmental preservation; the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Freedom of Flight Award for his contributions to aviation; and the Lifetime Environmental Award from the United Nations Environment Programme.
Sam was a founding member of the World Business council for Sustainable Development, and was named in 1993 to the U.S. President’s Council on Sustainable Development. From 1990 to 2000, he served on the Board of Governors for The Nature Conservancy, acting the last two years as Chairman of the Board of Governors. Most recently, he was a director of the World Resources Institute.
In his book The Essence of a Family Enterprise, Sam wrote, “A good leader builds an organization infused with sound principles and values, indelibly locked into the intellect and soul of all.” His focus on innovation continues to guide Johnson Outdoors toward leadership in the global outdoor recreation industry. His strategic vision continues to fuel our drive toward sustainable, long-term growth and profitability. And his overriding principle — “Do the right thing” — is indelibly locked into the soul of our enterprise.