1988 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Valuable time is lost in aimlessness. As an objective, shape goals as early as you can."
An only child, Tom Johnson was born in Macon, Georgia. His father, plagued by ill health, was an 'odd-jobs man.' His mother worked in a grocery store. As a child, Johnson helped his parents by selling watermelons in the summer and wood in the winter. Johnson's mother was a major influence on his life. 'She instilled in me at an early age a sense of confidence, and a feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to do if I worked hard and applied myself,' he says.
In the ninth grade, Johnson got a part-time job with the Macon Telegraph-News, where he worked throughout high school. An outstanding young journalist, the publisher of the paper, Peyton Anderson, set up a college scholarship for him provided he would continue to work for the paper, which he did each weekend during his four years of college. When he was ready to graduate in 1959, Peyton Anderson, knowing Johnson aspired to be a newspaper publisher, told him that he should get a master's in business administration. He then paid for Johnson to attend Harvard Business School.
After graduation from Harvard, Johnson became an intern in the White House Fellows program. He served under Bill Moyers, then as press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson until 1969. He later helped President Johnson set up his presidential library in Texas.
Johnson served as executive vice president of a television station and the Texas Broadcasting Corporation. When the station was purchased by the Times Mirror Company, Johnson became editor of the Dallas Times Herald, a Times Mirror property. In 1977, he left Dallas to become president of the Los Angeles Times. He was named publisher and CEO three years later.
In 1990, Johnson became chairman, president, and CEO of the CNN News Group. He began his new position the day before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. 'It was a spectacular initiation,' he says. At that time, CNN claimed 200 million views. For the next 10 years, Johnson presided over a dramatic expansion of CNN's newsgathering operations and led the network into the age of digital interactivity. CNN's viewership has grown to more than 800 million viewers around the world in 208 nations and territories. Johnson once said of his position at CNN, 'It was a lifetime dream come true for me.'
Tom Johnson has advised young people to 'work hard and do right. We need people who are compassionately committed to their work and who do it with high standards of quality and integrity,' he says.
Johnson is especially happy with the commitment of the Horatio Alger Association and its members to help the next generation of leaders. 'I am impressed with the commitment of the members to give back to their communities and serve as role models—trying to improve the next generation of leadership. That's what this program is all about.'