Johnson started her career as a lawyer and has worked in a variety of fields, including finance in the private and public sectors. In 2006, Forbes named her in its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.
Most notably, Johnson worked as Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs as Head of Global Marketing, from which she retired in 2007 to work on solving international problems. She now is Chairman of The Global Council on Financial Risk and on the boards of many large institutions including Pfizer, the Broad Foundation, and the Carnegie Institute.
Johnson grew up in Chicago and had a large family with many first cousins. She went to USC and from there applied to law school. She clerked for a judge in the South to broaden her perspective and went on to practice law in New York for a couple years. She knew her goal longer term was to eventually work at the World Bank, so she applied to three investment banks to gain experience. That's what brought her to Goldman Sachs, where she eventually led the team to restructure emerging market debt.
Compare and Contrast
Johnson structured her talk by contrasting similar and often confused concepts.
- Achievement vs. success: focus on long-term results
- Strategic vs. tactical: long- vs. short-term
- Drive vs. ambition: drive is about doing goals to advance self and others; ambition is mostly for self. The founder of Matsushita Electric was a factory worker who started by creating a bike light for factory workers in his garage. His employer didn't want to sell it, so he went off on his own and produced it himself. He cared deeply about helping other factory workers, and during the depression, he didn't lay anyone off.
- Courage vs. risk-taking: strength to venture and withstand danger vs. simply bearing danger. May Chidiac was a journalist in the Lebanese broadcasting company; after terrorists exploded half her body, she still went back on the air to continue providing independent reporting.
- Innovation vs. adaptation: something new vs. adjustment to environmental conditions. Marie Curie found new elements because she was looking for something new.
- Inclusiveness vs. tolerance: worldliness, involving actively other perspectives vs. simply allowing something different or sympathizing. Sir Ratan Tata, founder of the Tata Group, endowed chairs in English universities to study poor people; his company is innovating in emerging markets way before others -- that's inclusiveness.
- Generosity vs. charity: liberality in giving, freedom from pettiness vs. relief donations. When Walter Payton, a football player, didn't take the opportunity given to him to skip ahead on the liver transplant list, this was generosity and ethical conduct.
- Fairness vs. disinterest: active treatment of all equally vs. freedom from involvement. Martin Luther King as overt and sought affirmative behavior towards fairness.
- Societal fundamentals: inter-generational equity, global growth and security, functional democracy
- Inter-generational equity: Chris Hitchens, secular atheist, says the future belongs to the next generation
- Live for the next generation
- Passion to achieve results
- Optimism and opportunity in face of challenge
- Engage in innovations that improve the world
- Work with others in common cause
- Absolute importance of integrity
- Commitment to give back
- Proverb: Work for your future as if you're going to live forever; work for your afterlife as if you're going to die tomorrow.
- Sort naysayers and supporters when you're right and wrong
- Understand and trust teammates
- Evaluate the odds and be comfortable with ambiguity
- When all else fails, use Hail Mary pass; just do something uncomfortable and take risk
- Need to throw the ball; can't be frozen