Sam Johnson: Leading by Example

Sam Johnson

Samuel Curtis Johnson AB '50 (1928-2004)

Following decades of service and generosity to Cornell University and Johnson, and after a long and difficult battle with cancer, Samuel Curtis Johnson passed away at his home in Racine, Wisconsin, on Saturday, May 22, 2004.

While Johnson is named after Sam’s great grandfather and the founder of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc., Sam himself epitomized the type of leader Johnson aspires to produce: a truly transformational leader who leaves his mark on the world of business. When Sam Johnson took over the helm of family-owned S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. in 1966, the company had annual sales of about $171 million; today, the Johnson Family Enterprises generate annual sales of more than $11 billion.

A legendary leader, Sam Johnson was widely recognized for making the business world a better place. He was a founding member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and was appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. President’s Council on Sustainable Development in 1993. He received a Lifetime Environmental Award from the United Nations Environmental Programme and was inducted into the U.S. National Business Hall of Fame.

At Johnson, Sam’s legacy endures. He and the Johnson family are an integral part of our identity; their values and ideas shaped many of the programs and initiatives that helped transform the school – from three endowed professorships, to the $7.5 million to support Johnson’s program in sustainable business.

Sam’s spirit also lives on in Sage Hall, the beautiful building that he helped transform as the new home for Johnson, and we remember Sam’s generosity not only in terms of financial support, but also his many visits, thoughtful guidance, and deep and abiding friendship. As emeritus Johnson Dean Robert Swieringa put it, “As the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, we are linked with Sam not only by his name, but also by his aspirations. We carry his legacy with pride.”