Joe Johnson headed to the School of Law knowing he didn’t want to be a lawyer; he wanted to run a company, and the school’s joint J.D./M.B.A. degree was the perfect fit. Soon after graduating with his degree in 2007 and passing the bar exam, he started his business career. He worked on the corporate negotiations team at Target before joining Wireless Zone (one of Verizon’s major national retailers) and becoming president. He led a major overhaul of operations, franchise relations, supply chain and technology, which resulted in restored profitable growth. Johnson said he’s most proud of revitalizing the culture – recruiting and promoting top talent, rewarding innovation and empowering his team.
Now he serves as CEO at Luminara and as executive vice president of strategy and business development at O’Shaughnessy Holding Company, a position he started in March.
He said that to be effective – whether running a multimillion-dollar business, leading a charitable foundation or directing a youth sports league – “When all ideas are treated with respect, innovation flourishes and everyone feels invested in the process and the outcome.”
We sat down with Joe to learn more about how St. Thomas Law started him on his path.
Why did you choose to earn a J.D./M.B.A. degree?
When I realized I wasn’t going to play baseball for the Twins, I decided I wanted to run a company someday. I was blessed to have great mentors and they suggested I get my law degree and M.B.A. to help differentiate me and prepare me to be a successful executive.
[In law school] my plan was to graduate with the joint J.D./ MBA and work for a big firm doing corporate transactional work. So, the law degree decision was following the advice of multiple mentors, realizing that it would train my brain to think differently.
Why did you choose St. Thomas Law?
As an undergrad at St. Thomas, I was blessed to serve as the student liaison to the Board of Trustees. I had the privilege of hearing about their vision for the law school and immediately was drawn to it. The way they described it was: “You will know a St. Thomas lawyer by their character and how they operate; they will stand out from the rest.” That was appealing to me and I wanted to be part of something that changed the industry and focused on doing what is right.
I was so inspired by St. Thomas Law that it was the only law school I considered. I am so grateful for my experience at St. Thomas. It was everything the board had set out to accomplish and more. St. Thomas Law was at the center of my most significant formation, and it is a result of the vision and mission that attracted the faculty, staff and students who brought it to life, carried it forward and established that wonderful community.
Who at St. Thomas Law has inspired you?
I would say the community in general. I look back and there were so many individuals who invested their time in making the world a better place. Being surrounded by such great people has inspired me to strive to do more to make a positive difference.
Tell us about your business development, consulting and leadership experience.
I always wanted to run a company. Coming out of graduate school I had the opportunity to work for Target in the corporate negotiations team. I decided that five years at Target could help me get closer to my career goal than five years at a big firm.
I was eventually recruited to join the senior management team of a large ($800M+ revenue) wireless retailer in Connecticut. The board appointed me to president and I was able to set the strategic vision, build the team, and execute our initiatives and goals. We sold the company at the end of 2016 and we took the opportunity to move back home.
I am working for a holding company in Eden Prairie and am responsible for strategy and business development. I often describe it as three primary responsibilities:
• Help ensure the existing businesses are great,
• Launch new products and business, and
• Be responsible for M&A activities
How have you used your degree in your career?
My law degree has been handy for numerous reasons. First and foremost, it was a wonderful experience and I am so proud to be associated with the school. It taught me a lot about myself and provided great role models to aspire to. The broader message about the common good and how I embraced the concept to treat everyone in the image and likeness of God have stayed with me.
I learned great lifetime skills on time management, communication, analysis, etc. Honing my skills at St. Thomas Law has been a big part of my career in that it has afforded me the opportunity to quickly drive great results, freeing me up to take on additional items for work, family or the community.
In the business world, people are impressed by a law degree and it has provided validation and credibility at initial introduction.
I think the one thing that really solidified while at St. Thomas was that all of us were made in the image and likeness of God. Treat everyone like your brother and sister and with human dignity. We will have to answer to St. Peter one day, and I am pretty sure he will care more about how we treated God’s children than how much profit we delivered.