“Mr. Johnson felt he had been ‘lucky.’ Those were his words: ‘You know, we’ve been lucky with money.’”
Theodore “Ted” Johnson returned from service as a gunnery officer in World War I and took a job with Merchants Parcel Delivery, a private messenger and delivery service. Johnson would work his way through college and up in the company, obtaining an MBA at night school and, eventually, a Vice President’s position with the company that would become United Parcel Service (UPS). Having bought stock at every opportunity, Johnson and his wife Vivian soon found themselves incredibly wealthy.
Malcolm Macleod, President of the foundation that now bears the Johnson name, says that some might have attributed that wealth to Johnson’s innate talents, or to his education, or to his work ethic, but Johnson was quick to point to other factors: “Mr. Johnson felt he had been ‘lucky.’ Those were his words: ‘You know, we’ve been lucky with money.’” Johnson saw his success as a fortunate collision of all these factors: getting a quality education, having bought stock in a successful company, working hard, and living in a free society that encouraged it all.
The Johnsons created the Theodore R. & Vivian M. Johnson Scholarship Foundation in 1991 to help those who, through no fault of their own, might not have had the opportunities that led to Ted’s success. The foundation’s statement of core values affirms, “We believe that the free market system is the best in the world, but we recognize that some people fail to benefit fully from the system through no fault of their own.” The Foundation would, therefore, “provide financial support to individuals who were qualified to attend college but lacked the financial means to do so.” Macleod relates, “[Ted] chose education because education had always been important to his success, and he believed, rightly I think, that education really was a key to empower people, to get better jobs, to have more choices, to be more independent, to enjoy a better quality of life.”
Today, aided by a 1993 public offering of UPS shares that tripled the foundation’s corpus from 1993 to 1999, the $140-million Johnson Scholarship Foundation has distributed more than $44 million in scholarship support.
The Foundation operates a number of “core” scholarship programs, which include scholarships for students attending Palm Beach Atlantic University, disabled students attending universities within the State University System of Florida, and hearing impaired students at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Other elements of the Foundation’s core programming are scholarships for children of UPS Florida employees, support for Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and support for education of American Indians.
Cleveland Peoples, a student at Florida Atlantic University, speaks to the power of these scholarships to inspire students to success when he contends in the Foundation’s 2006 annual report, “This isn’t a ‘disability’ scholarship. It’s a scholarship based upon their faith that I could move forward and achieve my goals with their help. The [Johnson Scholarship] Foundation not only backed me, but depended upon me – it’s a great motivator.”
Ted Johnson died in 1993 and his son, Theodore R. Johnson, Jr., became the Foundation’s second President. The increase in Foundation assets around this time provided the opportunity for many new grant programs, the Tribal College Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program and the MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship among them.
Macleod, a nephew of Vivian Johnson who joined the board at this time, remembers, “Ted Johnson, Jr. did a lot of site visits to Indian reservations and tribal colleges to find out what the real need was.” The results of his visits were several programs to spur entrepreneurial development, “all driven by the premise that privately owned Native American business represents the best hope for economic betterment on Indian Reservations.” The Foundation’s web site declares, “This is not our idea. We have learned from working with and listening to Native American business leaders and educators.”
In a 2005 survey, First Nations Development Institute found that graduates from the Tribal College Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program have started at least 93 small businesses and created 118.5 full time equivalent jobs. The First Nations Survey found that 100 Johnson scholars are working for tribal governments in jobs that require them to use their business skills. 112 of Johnson graduates are working in higher education. To date, the Foundation has provided more than $8 million to support American Indian education.
The Foundation was established in perpetuity according to the Johnsons’ wishes to assure that educational opportunities would be open to future generations, and the foundation’s board continues to steward the Johnsons’ and the public’s trust. Macleod says, “Johnson wanted this in perpetuity and that was an easy thing for us to accept. We think this is a little jewel that should be nurtured. We feel a responsibility to improve this organization and to hand it down to the next generation in a better state than it was when we found it.” As they continue to support Johnson’s founding core programs and develop new initiatives, such as building endowments at many of the colleges with with whom they work, Foundation board members renew their commitment to public accountability with a rare transparency. Macleod states, “We feel that transparency is really important, and we put it all out there for everybody to see. We’re proud of what we do, and we want people to see it…Foundations enjoy a special place in our legal and tax structure and so we want people to know that we’re doing good. And we want to justify that.”
For more on the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and its work, you can view the foundation’s history, latest annual report, grants, and financial statements at its website.