Kenneth Oscar Johnson, the namesake of the Kenneth Oscar Johnson School of Business at Hodges University and a Founding Director of the Hodges University Foundation Board, has died in Naples today at the age of 88. Johnson was a distinguished chemical engineer, respected petroleum industry executive and venture capitalist.
“The Hodges University family has lost a great friend and benefactor, said Dr. Terry McMahan, President of Hodges University. “Hodges University has benefited over the years from the generosity of Mr. Johnson, especially through his leadership of our Foundation as a Director. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ken’s family and the immense circle of friends who were blessed to have him as a friend and colleague. He was a cherished mentor to many of us at Hodges University and he will be greatly missed.”
Vice President of University Advancement, Dr. Louis Traina, feels that Johnson’s legacy is one that Hodges students can learn from. “As a role model, Ken’s professional reputation, his track record for success and most importantly, his personal and professional values are lessons that transcend the classroom and offer a unique perspective on life’s challenges,” said Traina. “Our students can count themselves very fortunate to have had a role model like Johnson that embodied the type of qualities we encourage them to adopt."
Dr. Fred Nerone, Founding Dean of the Kenneth Oscar Johnson School of Business echoes Traina’s sentiments. “No one individual has made a bigger impact on the University’s business students than Ken Johnson,” said Nerone. “His life has been the model and example that we try to instill in every student of the Kenneth Oscar Johnson School of Business. His solid foundation of high ethical standards and business acumen demonstrated that hard work, a bright mind, and solid integrity will win the day every time. Ken Johnson touched us all and will continue on as an inspiration for the future of our university and our students.”
In 2006, Hodges University honored Johnson’s legacy of professional excellence, ingenuity and generous support of the school’s educational mission by naming its School of Business after the entrepreneur. Johnson was deeply grateful to the School for the gesture. At the dedication ceremony, he praised the institution for its work. "I’ve watched this school grow over the years,” he said. “The dedication with which its staff and faculty have worked to help people better their lives is important for families and the community."
Johnson was raised in Minnesota. His father died when he was three, leaving his mother to raise him and a younger sister. He started developing his entrepreneurial skills early in life: selling his mother’s baked goods, maintaining a paper route, working on a farm and frequently fishing for the evening meal. Tragedy struck again when his mother died when he was 15 leaving Johnson to support himself and younger sister.
He worked his way through the University of Minnesota, earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering.
He started his career with ESSO (known as Exxon Mobil today) in 1942 with a net worth of $32.
Johnson immediately worked to develop new high-octane fuels to power America’s fleet of fighter planes which emerged during World War II.
In addition to having several U.S. patents to his credit, Johnson’s 32-year career culminated with his rise to Manager of Wholesale Sales for Exxon.
In 1974, he became CEO of Florida-based Belcher Oil whose company earnings annually doubled under his leadership. Three years later he negotiated the sale of Belcher to Coastal Corporation where in addition to maintaining executive responsibilities, he served as a member of the parent Board of Directors.
Johnson has also served on other various boards of directors: Southeast Bank, New World Symphony, Florida State Chamber of Commerce and Citizens Board of the University of Miami.
In addition to his endowment, Johnson had previously named state-of-the-art computer rooms at Hodges University to honor his deceased wife of fifty-eight years, Margery Johnson.
Johnson was a part-time resident of Naples, Florida, as well as Durango, Colorado, and Houston, Texas, where his son Eric, daughter-in-law Robin and two grandchildren also live.