Rice, Linda Johnson

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Rice, Linda Johnson

Johnson Publishing Company


At the age of 29, Linda Johnson Rice became one of the youngest publishing executives in the country when she was named president and chief operating officer of the Johnson Publishing Company in 1987. Today, she is one of the few African-American women to hold such a position. Rice played an integral role in the development of several Johnson products, including Ebony Cosmetics and "E-Style" Catalog, items designed to reach the market of international African-American women. She has also developed new products, including the videotape series Ebony/Jet "Guide to Black Excellence,". This venture into broadcast media demonstrates Rice's will to take her company into the twenty-first century.

Personal Life

Linda Johnson was born on March 22, 1958, in Chicago, Illinois, and was adopted by John H. Johnson and Eunice W. Johnson when she was three. She began preparing for her publishing career at the age of six, frequenting the offices of the Johnson Publishing Company, which her father founded in 1942. While she was a child, Johnson played around in the fashion department of Ebony magazine where she visited with her mother who was the secretary-treasurer and fashion editor. Throughout her teenage years and into college, Johnson accompanied her mother on trips to fashion shows in Paris, where she learned some of the intricacies of the fashion industry. She worked as an intern during the summer while she attended the University of Southern California, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism. After graduating in 1980, she joined Johnson full-time as a vice president and fashion coordinator. She entered the family business on her own and in no way felt pressured by her parents to do so.

Johnson married S. Andre Rice in 1984, and they have one daughter, Alexa Christina. She had one brother, John Jr., who suffered from sickle-cell anemia, and died in 1981 when he was 25. Although John Jr. was two years older than Rice, he was not interested in becoming a publisher like his father, so he did not compete with Rice for a prominent role in the company. Even without sibling competition, Rice knew that she would still face many challenges, especially in business-related activities. As a result, she enrolled at Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School, where she earned a M.B.A. in management in 1987. "She didn't need it [a graduate business degree] for me but for herself," John Johnson said to Renee Edelman, a writer for Working Woman magazine. "It is difficult to establish credibility [in the business world]," he said. The master's degree "was a way to answer possible critics."

In her free time, Rice enjoys horseback riding, and has won awards in equestrian hunting and jumping events. She is a big basketball fan who regularly attends Chicago Bulls' home games. She also likes to swim and play tennis. Rice enjoys collecting art and is active in various charitable organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and the United Negro College Fund. Rice is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and is on the board of directors of many companies, including Continental Bank Corp., the Magazine Publishers of America, and Bausch & Lomb.

Career Details

When Linda Johnson Rice traveled to Europe to learn about the fashion industry, she did more than just observe her mother's work. She took on an active role during the couture showings by helping select models for the show. When she was 23, she traveled overseas by herself to select clothes for Johnson Publishing Company's Ebony Fashion Fair. Rice described this as the one incident that helped instill the confidence she needed to succeed in the business world. "That was a turning point . . . I saw I could do it," she said in an interview with Working Woman's Edelman.

When Rice graduated from USC in 1980, she began to work very closely with her father to learn what he did on a daily basis and to get a better understanding of the company as a whole. In the beginning, she followed him around, attended important meetings, and reviewed all of his mail. Eventually, she learned about other important areas of the company, such as advertising, circulation, and Fashion Fair Cosmetics. Rice believes it was her graduate work at Northwestern, however, that enabled her to attain success at her current position as president and chief operating officer. "It really taught you how to think through a problem. How to recognize what the problem is. How to come up with different strategies to solve the problem. How to look at the competition and the barriers to entry, as they call it. And then how to come up with a conclusion for it. And I think that was very important," Rice said in an interview with Ebony.

Rice learned a lot from her father's tutelage and from graduate school, and has proven that she is fully capable of running the Johnson Publishing Company, as the company's $337 million revenue in 1997 shows. Rice believes that her management style is an important aspect to the success of the company. She stresses that strict attention to detail and employee relations are fundamental qualities for a supervisor. Rice set an example for all executives when she decided to work behind the counter to promote Fashion Fair products at one Chicago store. It is this kind of leadership that Rice hopes will help her to lead Johnson for the next 50 years. Rice talked about the images that black companies have in the Ebony interview, saying that many people have an image of African-American companies as being unprofessional and disorganized. I don't think that is true at all if you look at us," Rice said. People are amazed . . . Johnson Publishing Co. has always had a first-class image. And until the day I die, I want to keep that image."

Social and Economic Impact

Linda Johnson Rice has big plans for Johnson Publishing Company. Through direct-mail campaigns and advertising she hopes to expand the business' circulation. She has already helped to develop products that will reach African-American women around the world, and she has also become involved in television specials and documentaries. The Ebony/Jet "Guide to Black Excellence" is a videotape series featuring prominent African Americans designed to inspire young African Americans to enter into entrepreneurial and leadership roles. Rice thinks that there are many opportunities for African-American entrepreneurs, especially in broadcast journalism and as owners of radio and television stations. "In regards to black people, we have a treasure trove of information that nobody else really has," she said in an interview with Lynn Norment. In a 1990 interview in Fortune magazine, Rice said, "There are more opportunities today for the black entrepreneur than in many years. They have learned how to acquire capital, how to put together business plans, and how to start enterprises. There is still some discrimination in lending practices, and certain bank officers will have petty prejudices. A black entrepreneur has to be equally if not more prepared than a white to get his fair share of loan money."

Chronology: Linda Johnson Rice

1958: Born.

1964: Began frequenting Johnson Publishing Company with father.

1980: Graduated from University of Southern California.

1980: Became vice president, Johnson Publishing Co.

1981: Went overseas to choose clothes for Ebony Fashion Fair.

1984: Married S. Andre Rice.

1987: Earned M.B.A. from Northwestern University.

1987: Promoted to president and chief operating officer of Johnson Publishing Co.

Currently, Johnson has more than 2,000 employees and continues to be the U.S. top publisher of African-American oriented magazines. Ebony, along with Jet and Ebony South Africa, reach 20 million readers in 40 countries. Magazines will continue to be the main business of Johnson, Rice maintains. In an interview with Lambeth Hochwald of Folio magazine, Rice responded to a question asking how magazines such as Vibe and The Source have impacted Ebony's or Jet's mission: "I think somebody's got to be cutting-edge. It just depends how you want to market your magazines and how big you want them to be. We look upon competition as what it is. It's there, you pay attention to it, but you don't live by it. You have to go on and grind it out day to day and do the best you can with your magazine every single day."

Sources of Information

Contact at: Johnson Publishing Company
820 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605
Business Phone: (312)322-9200
URL: http://www.ebonymag.com/jpcindex.html


Contemporary Black Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

"Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management." IAC Insite, 1 July 1997. Available from http://IAC-insite.com.

"Linda Johnson Rice" Notable Black American Women. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.