Q: Do you remember your graduation day?
TJ: Not as well. All I remember is that my...
Q: They say you never remember the speaker.
TJ: What I do remember, though, is my dad and my mother, my aunt, who was the only college educated person in our family--Annie Ruth Johnson, Annie Ruth Brown Johnson, that hauled me to Alexander II rather than going to Union in Macon. All through seven years of picking me up and taking me home, she thought I got a better education. She was a teacher, anyway, my grandfather, my aunt, my mother and father were there. You talk about real pride, except for Annie Ruth, nobody else had ever gone on to college and it was really a major thing for them, and for me. It's funny, I still regret...I didn't make Phi Beta Kappa. It's the only regret! I forget how much...they told me if I went and talked to the teacher that he would probably have adjusted the grade if he knew that it might make the difference between...as I look back I am a Phi Beta Kappa kind of guy.
Q: That's that drive coming through again. You wanted all of that. I guess, though, you had the same drive through Harvard because you had other opportunities coming on the tail of that.
TJ: I've had some intense periods of my life. There was no period of my life that was more intense than the two years at Harvard Business School. It’s the case method and in any given day, you could be asked to start a single case or a single class in front of 90 classmates led by a highly skilled professor or no class for weeks...no start. You could go for weeks without ever being asked to start a case. Some days you might find youself being asked to start two cases and so you must be prepared. It was like you couldn't go to bed at night without being prepared to start those cases. I only had a liberal arts background---journalism, English, political science, history. I had virtualy no math...some math, I took some French. There were a lot of quantitative cases at Harvard Business School and I was sitting there with guys who were graduates of MIT and Cal Tech and Georgia Tech. Several from Georgia Tech...anyway, this professor in this class called MERC---M-E-R-C...Management Economics Reporting Control-- said, "Mr. Johnson, you really need to get caught up on this." He gave me two basic accounting and finance books and he said, "You really need to study these and know of what is in these books to be able to do well in this class." So, I was trying to catch up, I was not prepared on the financial side for Harvard Business School, but I could write! My roommate, who was not Edwina for the first four months... My roommate was a guy from the University of Michigan, Merv Roberts. He knew everything quantitatively and he could barely write his name. I knew nothing quantitatively, so the two of us worked together. I would help him write his cases that required to be ready by Saturday called WAC, Written Analysis Cases, and he would help me on all these complicated financial issues. I survived, I think I would never would have made it had it not been for Merv helping me in those first four months. It just changed my way of thinking so dramatically in terms of doing the analysis of a situation, what's in a company...some of the courses were in human relations, really do your analysis, before you decide what course of action to take. That sounds fairly simple, but a lot of us make our decisions on our gut, sort of spontaneous decisions. Snap, whatever. Well, that was very helpful as a life lesson.
Q: Mr. Anderson knew what he was talking about, sending you there.
TJ: He did. It was intensely competitive and the good news is, Edwina and I married at Christmas of 1963 and I say I saved her from a career at Delta because she had become very interested in becoming a flight attendant and seeing the world and I was convinced that I would lose her. I had proposed in the business office of The Red & Black during my senior year with what she said was one of the most romantic proposals that anyone could ever get. “Don't you think that it's time to go get the ring?” That was my proposal.
Q: It was practical!
TJ: It startled her! Anyway, we did get the ring at Mr. Foster’s, it was the beginning like strapping on an added propulsion devise. I had one of them which was my University of Georgia education and the education I had received really in Macon and those classes at Georgia. But strapping on a second propulsion device which was the Harvard Business School degree and experience there, it was like having news and journalism over here (hands on his shoulders, left tapping his left shoulder) and having business over here (tapping his right shoulder) and that prepared me so well for the future because when Otis Chandler started looking for who could be the publisher for the Dallas paper or who would become the publisher for the Los Angeles Times or Ted Turner, who was going to be the chief executive officer of CNN, having those two sets of experiences (taps both shoulders with hands) news, journalism on one side and business on the other, not many people had that frankly. You had people who had all news background who become editors or some unfortunately who had all accounting backgrounds and did not respect the newsroom.