Business in Focus: SC Johnson

A closer look at companies executing leadership excellence

scjohnsonOn the shore of Lake Michigan halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago sits the city of Racine.  Although you may not be familiar with the city, there is a very good chance that you are familiar with products that are manufactured there.  Pledge, Windex, Raid, Drano, and even Ziplock Bags are just a few of the dozens of products that come from a single company in Racine — SC Johnson.

scjohnson2Since 1886, SC Johnson has grown from a small parquet flooring company to a thriving global enterprise with products in virtually every country around the world.  Founder Samuel Curtis (SC) Johnson was a parquet floor salesman in Racine when he realized that there were more floors than there were products to keep them clean.

He mixed his first batch of Johnson’s Wax in his bathtub, abandoned the flooring business and started selling wax as fast as he could make it. Since then, five generations of Johnsons have led the now $10 billion company, making it one of the oldest family-owned businesses in America.

SC Johnson Headquarters

SC Johnson Headquarters Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

This year marks the company’s 100th anniversary. Not only can the Johnson family take pride in that, but also in 12 decades of employee-centric leadership practices.

Paid vacations have been offered since 1900. Profit sharing was instituted in 1917.  The company established a pension plan for employees in 1934 despite the Great Depression. In 1939, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the company’s Racine headquarters. During WWII, jobs were held for roughly 200 employees while they served in the war. One of the first corporate childcare centers in the U.S. was opened at SC Johnson in 1985.

Today, plans are being finalized for the company’s annual holiday party. It’s an elaborate event that will include much more than Christmas music and plates of turkey and dressing. It’s an opportunity for the Johnson’s to say “thank you” to their employees by passing out bonus checks.

The holiday party, the benefits, and the inspiring design are all part of the Johnson’s leadership philosophy as summarized by Samuel Johnson’s son and the company’s second president, Herbert F. Johnson, Sr. “The goodwill of the people is the only enduring thing in any business,” he said. “It is the sole substance. The rest is shadow.”




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