On Dec. 8, Dick Johnson will be inducted into the FN Hall of Fame at the first virtual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 7 print issue about the retail executive’s illustrious career.
For the past several years, Foot Locker Inc. chairman, CEO and president Dick Johnson has directed the company during an era of tremendous sales growth, while also upholding its dedication to charitable efforts that help advance the next generation.
He told FN the latter is his greatest achievement. “What I’m most proud of is Foot Locker’s positioning around our current purpose statement of inspiring and empowering youth culture,” said Johnson.
This year, following the death of George Floyd in May and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Johnson announced that Foot Locker would commit $200 million over the next five years to support Black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs and communities. Then ahead of the November elections, the company partnered with Rock the Vote to encourage youth turnout, transforming stores under the Foot Locker, Champs, Footaction and Eastbay banners into voter registration sites.
Despite unprecedented times, Johnson continues to lead with a sense of compassion and his signature Midwestern work ethic.
“Dick has always been a true partner who prioritized teamwork and collaboration between our brands,” said Jim Davis, chairman of New Balance Athletics, who has known Johnson since his start in the industry at Eastbay. “His long and successful career has been guided by his strong Midwestern values, broad perspective and impeccable integrity.”
Born in southern Minnesota, Johnson spent his childhood and early adulthood in Wisconsin. Throughout high school and college, the young athlete ran cross-country as well as track and field. His love of running took him to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied business and accounting.
In the following years, Johnson worked at companies such as Graebel Van Lines, General Motors and Electronic Data Systems, and coached high school students in track and cross-country, while his wife, Mary, was a teacher.
“We eventually moved to Wausau, Wis., where Eastbay was based, and I wanted to meet the owners,” said Johnson, who responded to a newspaper ad from the company, looking for an assistant controller. Johnson had no interest in the position but appreciated the innovative business model of the company, which was catalog-driven. He was hired as the VP of merchandising in 1993.
“Right on, I knew coaching, product and sports, but I also had a good business background. They needed somebody who added some discipline to their purchasing department, and that was me,” said Johnson.
After Eastbay was acquired by F.W. Woolworth Company in 1997, he remained with the organization, and from 2003 to 2007 served as president and CEO of Footlocker.com and Eastbay, before assuming leadership in Foot Locker Europe.
Johnson continued to move up, and in 2010 was elected to also preside over the Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker and Footaction banners. Then in 2014, he took over as president and CEO of Foot Locker Inc. and in 2016 added the chairman role.
Those within the footwear industry describe Johnson as a genuine figure who goes above and beyond what is asked of him. “He’s truly the kind of leader we need more of in the industry,” said Ann Hebert, VP and GM of Nike North America, adding that after meetings between Foot Locker and the athletic brand, Johnson would often follow up with hand-written thank-you notes.
D’Wayne Edwards, the founder of Pensole Footwear Academy, recalled that he met Johnson a few years ago at an industry summit, and together they forged a partnership to foster young sneaker designers. “He has been the same guy every time we had the opportunity to connect,” said Edwards, noting that Johnson has the ability to lead with compassion.
“I reached out to him to see if he would consider sending my nephew a graduation message because COVID-19 took traditional graduations from kids,” said Edwards. “He returned my email within an hour, did the video within a day and followed up to make sure it was good enough. That told me all I needed to know about him.”
For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs will air online on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. ET and are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.
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