Barth, John M. 1946–
John M. Barth
Chairman and chief executive officer, Johnson Controls
Education: Gannon College, BS, 1977.
Career: Johnson Controls, 1969–?, industrial engineer; ?–1990, head of plastics group; 1990–1992, head of automotive business; 1992–1998, executive vice president; 1998–2002, president and COO; 2002–2004, CEO; 2004–, chairman and CEO.
■ John M. Barth embodied the success story of the loyal, long-term employee who worked his way to the top of a company. In its 117 years Johnson Controls had only six chief executives; Barth was hand groomed for the job by the well-liked chief who preceded him, James Keyes, who stayed on as chairman for another three years after stepping down as CEO. Barth's challenge would not be to turn his company around; in fact, Johnson Controls was an unequivocal leader in its industry. Rather, Barth needed to find a way to sustain the momentum and success that had already been instilled at the company by his predecessors. Adding a warm, personal approach to the executive role, he both met that challenge and created his own legacy to match those of previous CEOs. By 2004 Johnson Controls had enjoyed its 29th consecutive year of earnings growth while also advancing its visibility as an involved and responsible corporate citizen.
As of 2004 Johnson Controls, Wisconsin's largest company, employed over 118,000 persons worldwide. Founded in 1885, the firm began as a producer of electric room thermostats, later expanding its inventory to include other energy and security products and services for buildings. Later entering the automotive-supplier market, Johnson manufactured and marketed batteries and seats, eventually becoming a leading producer of interiors and electronics for new vehicles.
A LOYAL EMPLOYEE
Born in 1946, Barth joined Johnson Controls just a few years after his completion of schooling at Carnegie Tech. His first position with the company was as an industrial engineer in 1969. He later returned to school, earning his bachelor's degree from Gannon College in 1977. Loyal and committed to the success of the company, he served in a variety of operating management positions over the next 15 years, heading Johnson's plastics group and, starting in 1990, its automotive business in Michigan.
Barth's technical skills and management abilities assured him of continued success; also of key importance was his close relationship with the former CEO James Keyes, who had joined the company two years before Barth. The two worked together for many years, predating Keyes's own promotion to CEO in 1988. They shared corporate philosophies and objectives and jointly trained several other managers for higher positions.
During Keyes's tenure as chief executive officer Barth was elected executive vice president in 1992, then became president and chief operating officer in 1998. He held those positions through 2002, at which time he took over for Keyes as CEO. When Keyes finally retired from his duties as chairman in 2004, Barth was named to head the company's board.
AN OUTSTANDING CORPORATE CITIZEN
When Johnson's board of directors announced Barth's election in July 2002, Keyes stated in a company press release, "John Barth and I have worked together for 17 years, and I am confident that he will strengthen Johnson Controls' commitment to our customers and our shareholders, as well as our employees, our suppliers, and our communities" (July 24, 2002, http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT= 105&STORY=/www/story/07-24-2002/0001770789). True to his commitment, Barth continued Johnson's legacy of success while also keeping the company visible in social and civic communities.
During Barth's term of leadership, Johnson Controls became the only company to twice win the Management Excellence Award—in 2002 and 2003—bestowed by Robert W. Baird & Company and the Executive MBA Alumni Association at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. The company was honored as Corporation of the Year in 2003 by the National Minority Supplier Development Council. The award represented the highest recognition a corporation could receive for conducting business with minority- and women-owned firms. In 2004 Barth was named chairman of that council.
With Barth at the helm, Johnson Controls became the only automotive-parts supplier to make BusinessWeek 's Top 50 Performers list in 2004. Barth told the magazine that he considered customer relations to be the job of every employee. He also stated that in order for a company to improve its bottom line, the company had to focus on helping its customers improve their bottom lines. Also in 2004 the World Environment Center selected Johnson Controls for its Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development. Elsewhere Barth committed a hefty company contribution toward the creation of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Barth had endeared himself to the community before: In 2003, five days after the 77th annual Milwaukee Holiday Parade was canceled due to a lack of financial support, Barth heard the news on the radio while getting out of the shower. He and his wife had just relocated to downtown Milwaukee from the Detroit area; realizing what a tradition the parade had become for the community, Barth hurriedly gathered a number of corporate managers. Later, from the company's downtown lobby—with a choir of boys and girls singing Christmas carols behind him—Barth announced that Johnson Controls would rescue the parade, which would go on as planned. Yes, Virginia, Santa was alive and well—and living in Milwaukee.
See also entry on Johnson Controls, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Content, Thomas, "Executive to Become CEO at Glendale, Wis.–Based Auto-Interior Supplier," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, July 25, 2002.
——, "Milwaukee-Based Automotive Systems Maker Selects New Chairman," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, July 24, 2003.
Heinen, Tom, "Johnson Controls Official Rescues Milwaukee Holiday Parade," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 13, 2003.
"Johnson Controls Elects John Barth CEO; Additional Appointments and Dividend Announced," company press release, July 24, 2002, http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=105&STORY=/www/story/07-24-2002/0001770789
—Lauri R. Harding