Spudman 7: Mac Johnson
Mac Johnson has spent his entire career in marketing, working for, or with, many of the country’s largest consumer product goods. In 2000, he joined what was then known as the U.S. Potato Board as vice president of domestic marketing, where his first effort was to “reinvent the potato,” from packaging to marketing to research. Shortly thereafter, Johnson started the chip committee, made up of chip growers and chip processors, to better serve that segment of the industry. He then started the “Best in Class” program, realizing that the industry needed to better engage with retailers to effectively compete in an ever changing and growing produce department.
In 2008, two large potato growers hired Johnson away from the board to start Category Partners, a strategic category management firm to enhance their retail partnerships. Since then, Category Partners has grown to become a nationally known strategic services company working with many produce companies and boards — but potatoes still play a major role. Johnson stepped down as president/CEO last October, but continues to provide support and insight as senior director. Johnson and his wife Joann recently moved from Denver to Atlanta to enjoy the warmer weather and be close to their son Keith, his wife Vionnette and their grandchildren.
What are the best words of advice you’ve received?
It was my boss at Tom’s Foods, Mike Tracy. We were in the middle of developing our five-year plan and Mike said, “You can’t ever live in the past, but you can learn from it.” Those simple words always stuck with me. As we plan for the future, what are those things we’ve learned from the past that can help us succeed tomorrow?
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
I’ve been trying to retire for the past year, and as my wife Joann tells me, not very successfully, but I enjoy staying involved and trying to find new ways to grow the business both for Category Partners, our clients and the potato industry. So, the number one goal is to cut back a little, spend more family time and less airline time. That being said, goal number two is to stay busy, involved, productive and supportive to the industry. And goal number three, have fun doing it!
What job or work would you have pursued if you had not become involved in the potato industry?
I got my start in marketing with an ad agency. It was crazy and exciting, and I probably could have stayed there — but I’m sure my life expectancy improved getting out of the ad business and involved in the potato industry.
What do you do to relax?
I really like doing home improvement projects, especially since we just moved to our new home in Atlanta from Denver this past December. Unfortunately, about half of my projects include calling in outside help to undo what I’ve done, but I’ll keep trying.
What would you like to be your lasting legacy?
That regardless of the task at hand, Mac always gave it 110 percent, and he’d always give you his honest opinion.
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Travel the U.S. with Joann. We’ve traveled a lot, but there’s a lot more we’d like to see.
Go to the Ryder Cup. We both love golf, but would really like to be there in person to cheer the U.S. on.
Write a novel. I’ve spent a lifetime writing letters, emails and presentations. I would like to try my hand at a book — likely fiction.
What is the one truth you’ve learned about the produce processing industry?
Having worked for Beatrice Foods, General Mills and Tom’s Foods, I’ve met some really good people and made good friends, but nothing compares to agriculture in general, and the potato industry specifically. The friends I’ve made in the potato industry are incredible — not just grab-a-beer friends, but fishing friends, discuss-issues-and-opportunity friends, confide-in friends. Hard-working, good people with big hearts.