Meet 2007 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient . . .
John Johnson, vice president, finance and enterprise services and chief information officer of Intel Corp.
By KRIS FALZONE
Kris Falzone is a former journalist and corporate communications executive who now heads her own communications firm.
John Johnson sailed through college at Purdue University Calumet.
Not in the figurative sense. By his own recollection, he wasn’t a remarkable student. He even dropped out of school for a semester when money was tight and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life.
He sailed – literally – as a licensed tankerman on the Great Lakes. He pumped diesel fuel and loaded and unloaded barges up and down Lake Michigan. It was dirty, hard work that paid well and was certainly interesting.
And it motivated him to finish college. He decided he didn’t want to work physically that hard for the rest of his life, as his sailor father had to support a family of eight children.
‘. . . it was what you made for yourself
“I learned life’s lessons,” said Johnson, 54, a 1976 interdisciplinary engineering graduate of Purdue Calumet and now vice president of finance and enterprise services and chief information officer of Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif.
“I learned that nothing was given to you. You had to work for everything. At the end of the day, it was what you made for yourself.”
Those are core values he attributes to his teen and college years in Hammond, where he graduated from Gavit High School. Like many families in the area whose financial resources were limited, he took advantage of earning a Purdue degree right in his backyard, with plenty of job opportunities nearby to help pay the tuition.
‘ . . . You had to be self-sufficient.’
“You went to class and you passed your class, or you didn’t. You had to be self-sufficient. Many of us worked part-time and went to school full-time,” he recalled of his college years.
That’s a dynamic that holds true of the campus today. A recent university study showed that about 77 percent of Purdue Calumet students work more than 20 hours per week. Approximately 35 percent work full-time.
Johnson recalled that in his large family, it was “absolutely a given” that he would go to college, but he had to figure out how to pay his tuition while his parents continued to feed and house him. He worked long hours in addition to going to school.
“You could never let yourself think, ‘Well, this is too much.’ You could not give up,” he said. “I’ve used that (lesson) my whole career. If you put that effort in, good things happen.”
World wide responsibilities
Today, Johnson leads more than 6,700 Information Technology professionals spanning more than 50 countries. He is responsible for a $1.2 billion budget to support, develop and deliver all IT services and solutions to Intel’s 90,000 employees around the world. He has driven major initiatives at Intel that include data center consolidation and virtualization, an 85 percent mobile enabled workforce and initiatives that have returned 20 percent productivity improvements to the workforce.
And as CIO of the company that pioneered the microprocessor, he is frequently invited to speak globally at technology conferences and to media.
“It’s exhilarating to meet people all over the world and to see different places,” Johnson said. “I enjoy meeting with the companies we work with, small and large, and talking with government folks in different places.”
Johnson and his wife, Kristine – a 1978 Purdue Calumet interdisciplinary engineering alumnus – have traveled the world, but still get back to Northwest Indiana often to visit family. The couple has two daughters, Valerie, 24, and Katherine, 19.
Started as a management trainee
Johnson began his career with U.S. Steel at Gary Works as a management trainee, where he served on a small team that was using microprocessors for the first time in the steel mills. In the late 1970s, when the steel industry was struggling through competitive pressures, he moved to Minneapolis to take a job performing automation and product quality testing with Honeywell’s residential group.
Honeywell, like U.S. Steel, was an early customer of Intel, and Johnson was “fairly aggressive” in using Intel’s microprocessor technology to perform process control functions on the factory floor.
Johnson was recruited to Intel’s sales office in Minneapolis in 1981. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he said.
His PUC education: a key to his success
At Intel, Johnson held technical positions in sales, marketing and business development. In 1992, he became the director of Worldwide Technical Marketing. He joined the IT organization in 1999 and in 2003 became a vice president responsible for the IT Customer Services organization. He was appointed to the co-CIO position in February 2005 and became sole CIO in July 2006.
Johnson believes his Purdue engineering education has been a key to his success.
“That engineering training teaches you that problems can be solved,” he said. “It’s basic training in methodically solving technical challenges.
“To be successful in a large company like Intel, you also have to develop really solid people skills,” he added. “You have to be able to work in a team and to manage people. . . But the engineering background helps you look at just about anything that’s going on, and to think about what you are trying to accomplish and the systematic approach to solving the problem.”
Challenges of his job
Johnson recalled a Purdue Calumet professor, Daniel Goodman, who inspired him to stick with engineering.
“He had a knack for explaining things in a very crisp, concise way, and it got me hooked on the idea of process control,” Johnson said. “Some of the work I did with him benefited me at U.S. Steel and Honeywell.”
The challenge for Johnson as an engineer, he said, has been to round out his business skills as he has progressed in his career. As CIO of Intel, he says he is continually striving to find the right balance of using the latest technology and tailoring it to the needs of the company, without spending too much money.
“We don’t just try technology for the sake of technology,” he said. “I’m managing other people’s money . . . and I have to make sure it’s spent to the best interest of our shareholders. I take that responsibility very seriously. You have to make good decisions, long-term decisions, and support the business’s goals in the right way.”
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