No one gets anywhere in life without navigating challenges big and small. But Kevin Johnson embraces them with a unique kind of fervor. Case in point: Mr. Johnson applied to Temple because his high school guidance counselor suggested he wouldn’t be able to get in. “That ticked me off,” he says, no hint of the disdain still present in his voice.
When Mr. Johnson arrived for freshman orientation—his first time ever seeing the campus in person—it was a triumph. Over time, Temple, and one accounting professor in particular, taught him to harness his ambition, training him not to enter into the world blindly. He came to understand that a well-rounded student learned to see situations develop and was better prepared to handle them. And while he’d never love science or English the way he did his business courses, Mr. Johnson at least grew to appreciate their value. He arrived at accounting in part because he overheard a conversation between his parents and family friend when he was 10. The friend was telling them that he really wanted to be a CPA, but the segregation laws in South Carolina at the time forbade it. Mr. Johnson, who is African American, said he had no idea what a CPA was until then, so he found an encyclopedia and looked it up. As he got older and math became one of his favorite subjects, the memory of that day when he was 10 became his own subtle motivation and, eventually, his own ambition. Today, Mr. Johnson plays an active role in reshaping the corporate landscape. He’s a member of the National Association of Black Accountants, AICPA, and The Executive Leadership Council, which aims to advance the contributions of black executives and groom up-and-coming corporate leaders. Mr. Johnson is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Cardinal and Gold Fund, an endowment fund for his high school alma mater, Cardinal Hayes High School. He has also served on several nonprofit boards, including America’s Second Harvest, The Camp Coca-Cola Foundation, and the Butler Street Community Development Corporation. After graduation, Mr. Johnson worked for Arthur Andersen and Co. and Occidental Petroleum before joining The Coca-Cola Company in Houston, Texas. Two years into his tenure with Coca-Cola, Mr. Johnson faced another crossroad. He called his manager in Atlanta and confided that he needed more of a challenge from his job. The manager asked for six months to address his concerns. Much sooner than that, however, Mr. Johnson began fielding more complex, higher-exposure assignments. It didn’t take long for that exposure to help Mr. Johnson gain access to his first significant inroad with the company. Within four years, he was promoted to director of Financial Planning with Coca-Cola North America without even explicitly seeking the position. Another five years later, a project was pinned on him after he was late to a meeting and everyone else had begged off. But the work, Mr. Johnson quickly realized, pulled him, for the first time in his tenure, into interaction with Coca-Cola’s senior leadership. This opportunity enabled him to form a relationship with a senior leader who would eventually become his sponsor. Fast-forward 10 years later, now two decades into Mr. Johnson’s career with Coca-Cola. He’s a senior-level executive, but he believes he’s standing on the outside looking in at a sweeping corporate restructuring. “It was extremely deflating,” he says. He approached his mentors, one by one, and asked whether he should leave before he was forced out. They all said the same thing: Stay. “I couldn’t reconcile what they were saying with what I was feeling, but I stayed,” Mr. Johnson says. Patience proved to be the right decision, and Mr. Johnson was eventually offered a leading role in deploying SAP software throughout the corporation’s infrastructure. His project management experience was, admittedly, lacking and he wasn’t especially tech-forward, but he accepted the position and leveraged his knowledge of the business to compensate for his blind spots. For the past five years, he played a leading role in the company’s System of the Future initiative, which involved the refranchising of territory within the North America bottling system. Prior to his retirement in February 2018, Mr. Johnson was one of Coca-Cola’s longest-tenured executives. The achievement he’s proudest of, though, is the scholarship fund that he and his wife established at Temple to help ease the burden of attending college, to which Coca-Cola matches their donations. As far as Mr. Johnson is concerned, he’s simply paying it forward with the resources he has been blessed with because of his experience at Temple. “Everyone gets knocked down at some point in their lives. But Temple students are a special breed because they seem to relish the challenge of recovering from it,” Mr. Johnson says. “It’s a spirit that was alive before me, and it continues to thrive today.”
Temple University Degree
Bachelor of Business Administration ’80, Fox School of Business
Title & Company
Retired; former Vice President, Finance Transformation and Continuous Improvement, Coca-Cola Refreshments
Temple University Awards & Affiliatons
- Dean’s Council, Fox School of Business
- Former President’s Advisory Board
- Acres of Diamond Circle
What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
Honestly, I had no clue. I knew, at least, I wanted to go into business, but my vision for what my career might look like was limited at that point.
Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
My father told me, simply, “Do your best every day in whatever it is you’re doing.”