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  Linda Johnson Rice
  A graduate of the Kellogg Part-Time MBA Program, Linda Johnson Rice has brought her professional insights back to Kellogg by participating in initiatives like the Black Management Association Conference.  Photo © Loren Santow

New ideas, strong legacy brand, spell success for publisher Linda Johnson Rice '87

Linda has continued the legacy of her father and is a perfect example of the success Kellogg graduates can attain.

By Adrienne Murrill

Driving positive change is rarely easy, but an effective leader must do it to deliver results.

That has been the goal of Linda Johnson Rice at Johnson Publishing Company, producer of Ebony, the world's No. 1 African-American magazine, and Jet, the No. 1 African-American news weekly.

Her father, John H. Johnson, founded the company in the 1940s with a dream and $500. While the business grew into a success, Rice held positions including vice president and special assistant to the publisher, vice president and fashion coordinator for Ebony and fashion coordinator for Ebony Fashion Fair. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from USC and became Johnson Publishing's president and COO in 1987, soon after receiving her Kellogg MBA. In 2002, she became CEO, a role she considers to be her highest professional accomplishment.

"It wasn't something that was handed to me on a silver platter, even though I worked for it throughout my whole adult life." Rice says her father, who died in 2005, was a man who demanded dedication, discipline and excellence. When he congratulated her on becoming CEO, she realized it was a turning point for her and the company.

Changing roles has challenged Rice '87 to scout new talent for the company and integrate it with what she calls the "legacy talent" that was already established at Johnson Publishing. "It has been important to manage that change, not just in the business sense, but in the human sense. You have to take into mind how people feel about their jobs, how they feel about new people coming in and integrating that together."

Rice has managed these changes well, which in turn has led to new divisions in the company. This includes a licensing division that has signed agreements with American Greetings for Ebony Inspirations cards, and another that works with Dan River Bedding to produce an Ebony home décor line. In addition, the company has created a new venture with the Associate Press to digitize and sell photos from Johnson Publishing's extensive archives, which date back to the 1940s. "It's a great growth strategy for the company because we have such iconic brands in Ebony and Jet, and I don't think we had capitalized on how strong those two brands are outside of the publishing field."

Rice says her management style, which emphasizes the strength of teams, received its foundation at the Kellogg School, where she was enrolled in the Part-Time MBA Program. She says the team-based approach has made employees feel more energized and a part of the company and its decision-making process.

"Bringing in new people and having them help me create a vision and strategy for the company — and then allowing them to execute that — that's a tremendous value that you need to have in leadership," Rice says. "What I learned from my MBA is to think through strategies very clearly: What are your barriers, your competitors, what sets you apart and how to reach your goals."

Like any good leader, Rice's values are evident in the product. With the addition of new editorial and creative directors, she says, their energy and ideas "have excited the team ... and brought about sharper covers and stories that are evocative."

Fresh ideas at Johnson Publishing are also a benefit of the relationship that the company has with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and with Kellogg. Rice has remained connected with the Kellogg community in many ways, including as a speaker at the Black Management Association Conference in 2005. "We look to Northwestern for intern candidates whether in journalism, or in business and administration," she says.

Overall, Rice believes in refining ideas to deliver results, something she learned from her father. "If you have a vision, you have to make sure that you have thought it through, that you have used all the knowledge and resources of those you respect ... so you can hone that vision. Then be passionate, disciplined and willing to make changes as you go."

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