Third Generation Family Member Shares Perspective on
One doesn’t have to work at Coca-Cola UNITED very long to know that our company is rooted in family, service and community. These are the foundational values that Crawford T. Johnson Sr., the founder of our company, established more than 118 years ago, and we try to live these values each day. Currently, the 5th generation of Johnson family members are working at Coke UNITED. However, there is one third generation family member who still follows our business very closely, and he is the only member of the family who can reflect on our founder personally and remember the company from its earliest days. This person is Allen Johnson Jr.
We had a chance to talk with Allen recently, and he shared his early memories of Coca-Cola UNITED, his view of how the company has changed over the years, and how at the age of 84, he continues to try to make an impact on society – something very much consistent with the values and principles of Coca-Cola UNITED and our founder Crawford Johnson Sr.
Reflections on our Founder, Crawford Johnson Sr.
Allen Johnson Jr. was born in 1935, when Birmingham Coca-Cola was only 33 years old. Allen’s grandfather was Crawford Johnson Sr., who founded Birmingham Coca-Cola in 1902. Allen remembers his grandfather with admiration.
“He was a kind gentleman, with an amazing amount of integrity. He was one of the first employers at that time to pay people when they were sick and on vacation. He was advanced in his caring treatment of people…a culture that continues today at Coca-Cola UNITED.”
In 1959, Allen was drafted into the U.S. army and based in Germany. “That experience really broadened my horizons and made me appreciate all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds.” When he returned home, he received a degree in botany from the University of Miami.
Allen has always had an artistic flare and a love for literature and music. While living in Vermont, he founded the Vermont State Craft Center, studied jazz guitar and produced guitar study material with noted jazz guitarist Barry Galbraith. He also is an author and has been writing children’s books since 1991. Over the years he has published 12 books, including four for adults. See www.allenjohnsonjr.com.
In 1976, Allen was elected to the Board of Directors of Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED and served for forty-one years earning the title “Emeritus.” When asked why he never actually worked in the business, he responds:
“The best thing I ever did for the company was NOT to go into management. I’m not suited for it, as I’m an artistic black sheep in a business-minded family. I have business instincts, and am grateful for my time on the board, but we are fortunate to have had others to run the business.”
However, Allen’s impact on the board should not be minimized.
“Allen’s impact on our company, with his fresh and creative perspective, was significant. He was the longest standing member on UNITED’s board of directors, and he had a more than four decades view of the business and changing trends in the industry. Couple that with his understanding of our family culture, and we have been blessed to have him involved all these years and he’s made a tremendous impact,” said Claude Nielsen, Chairman, Coca-Cola Bottling UNITED Board of Directors.
New Civic Initiative
Recently I talked to Allen about a congressional reform project he and his best friend have started. According to him:
“I believe the American people have been edged out of the political process by the two parties, special interests, professional politicians and big money. My best friend, Steve Bosch, and I have created a foundation, The Serve the People Foundation. Its purpose is to create online tools that voters can use to get back in the game. The first of these tools is The Term Limit Pledge.”
“Our concept is that term limits are extremely popular with the electorate so that by signing a self-limiting term limit pledge, a candidate can get an approximately seven percent advantage in a primary and/or general election. Steve, our Executive Director, has done surveys that create metrics that show this.” (Since 2005, Steve’s company, BrandTruth, has done market surveys for such companies as Apple, Nike, Hewlett Packard, Nintendo and Coca-Cola.)
With the help of an online marketing company, IVC, they’ve created an online presence for TermLimitPledge.org. Their outreach to social media was more successful than any previous project, and they’ve been able to enlist the help of many volunteers who Allen calls Challenger Members. They are charged with presenting pledges to their candidates and challenging them to sign. All candidates who have signed (and those who refuse to sign) a term limit pledge will be shown on the website.
“At 84, I won’t be around forever. I love this country and want to do something for it. This country is a real melting pot of wonderful people. The best way we—especially people younger than me—can make a difference is by getting involved,” Allen said. “The internet has made it possible for us to create a whole new way to influence the system. Anybody, anywhere in the country can now download a term limit pledge and challenge their candidate to sign.”
Allen continues to keep up with Coca-Cola UNITED, its changes since refranchising, and the challenges facing our industry, including consumer demands for lower sugar in beverages and reduction of waste in our world. He credits Coca-Cola UNITED for being leaders in serving our customers and our communities within our culture of caring about people.
“Imagine how our country would be if our government had the Caring Culture of Coca-Cola UNITED!” said Allen.
“I have the utmost admiration for the people who work at Coca-Cola UNITED. They are not only very successful at what they do, but collectively they have a positive influence on the world because of their values and the way they serve one another, their customers and their communities. I couldn’t be more proud, and I’m sure Crawford Johnson Sr. is too!”