Beer Money – Robert Johnson ’60

Beer Money – Robert Johnson ’60

Interviewed by Sophia Gourley ’19

SG:  What have you done since leaving Trinity?


RJ: That was a long time ago. I was the first member of my family to go to college. Both grandparents were immigrants. My mother and father were first generation and very hard working people. Higher education was not on their radar. My expectation after graduating from Manchester High School was to go to work at Pratt Whitney in East Hartford and make enough money to go out on Saturday night and drink beer with my buddies and have a good time. After one, or two days of work in the factory, I thought there had to be something better to do with my life. I made a decision and spent the next three years saving money to go to college. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of neighbors that lived on my street that were smart enough to go to Trinity College after they graduated from high school. So my objective, after a brief experience in the factory, was to save enough money to go to college .

I guess I  was kind of unique from the standpoint of going into Trinity as a freshman at 21 years old. I started out in engineering but physics and I had a problem so I switched to liberal arts and picked Government as my major. I believe what interested me in pursuing that course is that my mother was involved in local politics in Manchester and listening to her talk about her experiences, I thought well maybe government was a career objective. But not necessarily local government, maybe you know, international government. So when I went I chose my major, I kind of had delusions of being a diplomat or something like that. On graduation there were not an awful lot of Washington D.C. people that came to the Trinity campus for job interviews but there was very nice selection of businesses and local insurance companies in Hartford. Here’s the interesting thing;  because I played football, I met a Trinity graduate who was an executive at the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad, to jump ahead, eventually went out of business and the government took over the railroads. It became Amtrak. This particular person was an executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad and ironically, did you ever take a chemistry course not at Trinity?


SG:No, I have not.


RJ: Well the chemistry building is called the Martin Clement Chemistry building. Martin Clement was an early 20th century graduate of Trinity College and he became president of Pennsylvania Railroad. I think in those days the idea was somebody from Pennsylvania Railroad was going to come to Trinity and recruit a Trinity graduates to come to work at the Pennsylvania Railroad. So I got an invitation to come to Philadelphia to interview for a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad. But at the same time there was a drug company headquartered in Philadelphia called SmithKline and French laboratories. It eventually went through a couple of mergers and acquisitions and I believe the company is now called SmithKline Beecham It’s controlled by an British company. And so even though they have a presence in the Philadelphia area their headquarters is in England.. So I came to Philadelphia to interview for two jobs. I went  to meet Mr. Clement and then walking into his office, I walked through a big open office area where there seemed to be a significant number of rather mature gentlemen doing clerical work. I was not impressed. At the same time I interviewed with the drug company and there were a lot of bright energetic youthful people there. Somewhere along the way I made the decision that in spite of the connection between the Pennsylvania Railroad and Trinity College, I was going to cast my lot with the more youthful organization. I had a diploma from Trinity and was feeling pretty good about the future.


SG: Sounds great. Well it’s definitely interesting to hear your story and it sounds like you had a really good time here at Trinity and you’re involved with a lot of things. I was wondering if there’s anything that you learned at Trinity like either in the classroom or just from being on campus that you really think helps you in your career.


RJ: Well you know I went into business not government, but I think that the college experience, working on term papers, doing research, using logic to come to conclusions. attention to detail, and accepting responsibility taught me preparedness  Quite frankly most of my fellow students  came from a lot more sophisticated background than I did and I think that I learned as much from them as I did from my professors. I’m not degrading my professors. They were all just terrific people. And you know to this day I’m very proud to have been able to have made it through Trinity.  I think the word sophistication is as good a description as any in  describing the end result of my Trinity experience. Sophistication is not a bad word. I think you have to have a level of sophistication to rise through the management ranks in any organization whether it be business, government foundations or other organizations.


SG:  That makes sense. It definitely sounds like you utilized, not necessarily so much what you learned in the classroom but what you kind of learned in general from the students and the faculty here. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about your experience in business.


RJ: The first job I took was a trainee position with the drug company Smith Kline and French. And I’m not very proud of that experience. I failed with that first job opportunity  but ended up finding another position where they thought they could take advantage of some of my factory experiences. I left the drug industry and went to work for a company called Westinghouse. I was employed as  a coordinator because this particular division of Westinghouse was in the business of supplying parts to the US Navy to drive the nuclear submarine program. So my factory experience in terms of dealing with machines and parts and that stuff got me that  job.  But after two years there I realized that I wasn’t an engineering person. I was a business person and I was in an engineering environment. So fortunately in the meantime I met this lovely young lady in Philadelphia that became Mrs. Johnson. We decided business school would be the best move for our future.  When I when I was in Philadelphia I started taking business classes. I was a liberal arts graduate with a government major in a business environment. So I went to night school when I was working in Philadelphia and then I continued my night school work when I moved to Pittsburgh and eventually to make a long story short I ended up with an MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.  I set my sights on a career in those days what was called Personnel but these days it’s called Human Resources. That’s dealing with things like labor relations ,employment relations compensation benefits, training and development. Armed with my new MBA I got a job with a small manufacturing company as a personnel manager of a  manufacturing plant near Philadelphia. My next career move was with a large computer company where I spent the next 30 years in the field of human resources moving in and out of various jobs in the field. I’m retired now and enjoying life and forever grateful for my Trinity experience that has allowed me any small measure of success that I may have attained.


SG: Definitely a major change in industry.


RJ: I started out in the aircraft industry and got hired into the drug industry but ended up in a field of human resources where  knowing the  industry  wasn’t as important as knowing the organization . Back in the 1960s  the desktop and the P.C. had not been invented yet. And it was all a matter of large scale computers. My company was a company called Univac which actually was the parent company of the inventor of the original Eniac computer which then transitioned to the word Univac and Univac was a  computer manufacturing company for many many years.It was a leading manufacturer going head to head with IBM for dominance in the industry for several years. Univac merged with another computer company in the 1980s. The company was called Burroughs was the acquiring company. The merged companies took a new name Unisys. And Unisys is still today a minor player in the information technology  business.  My experiences led me from supervisory to management  to  director level positions.


SG:  It still sounds like you accomplish a lot in your career though.


RJ:  Well, I’m a homeowner. I’ve sent two sons to Trinity and I’m hoping to get a grandchild in there one day.


SG: That sounds awesome. I think we have time for one more question I was wondering if you had like any hobbies or passions or anything like that that you’d like Trinity to be aware of?


RJ: Have you ever heard of an organization called the Philadelphia Eagles?


SG: Yes I have, but I’m not of a Patriots fan.


RJ:  Well that’s your misfortune. I’m kidding you, I don’t know I certainly don’t want to come across as  pompous but it’s just that athletics is in my blood and I’m thinking that one of my motivations for going to college was not only to improve my potential for a future in life but I got to play four more years of football because I was that much of a devotee. I just love the game and when my playing days were over I just became a big fan. And I follow it religiously.