Learning Her Way Through Life
Sep 27, 2018 09:49AM
● By Maleesa Johnson
When Patti Johnson reminisces on 2004 – the year she started PeopleResults – her tone is much lighter than the workload she was carrying at the time. Her experience was a far cry from her senior executive position with Accenture and a far cry from where she is now — a published author and the CEO of a company that consults clients such as Fortune 100 companies Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Frito-Lay and McKesson.
“When I first started, I had to learn to do a lot and figure things out for myself. I always laughed that a team meeting was talking to myself in the mirror. It was a shock to my system, but it was very good for me.” So how did she do it? How did a small town girl from Ponca City, Oklahoma, end up in Southlake to become the CEO of her own company and also a leading expert in her field? The obvious qualities come to mind: hard work, dedication, intelligence. But for Johnson, there was something more – a lifelong fascination with what made people tick.
From Sorority Chair To Sanger-Harris
For someone who has been quoted as a consulting and human behavior expert in the “New York Times,” “Wall Street Journal” and “MONEY Magazine,” Johnson’s academic background would more likely have her writing the articles than being quoted in them.
She majored in journalism at Oklahoma State University.
“My path took me a different direction,” she says. “You have to pick a major, so you kind of have to put yourself in a box.”
In spite of venturing a slightly different direction, Johnson can still see the groundwork being laid for a life of consulting. These interests even manifested through her extracurriculars as membership and rush chairwoman for her sorority.
“It was the first time that I had that whole leadership experience and learned how to create an event that will make people feel connected,” Johnson recalls. “That was an early experience where I thought, ‘OK, there’s something about this that I really like.’”
As many recent college graduates do, Johnson still had plans to form a career related to her major. She got an offer from a public relations firm, but it ended up being $4,000 less than an offer from Sanger Harris to be a part of their junior executive program.
While the salary difference may seem obsolete now, the decision helped straighten her career path into what she was truly interested in.
“I got exposure to all these amazing leaders and got responsibilities that put me totally in over my head,” Johnson says. “I was so young, but it was so good for me because I had to figure it out.”
She stayed with the company for five years. She credits the time for exposure to great leadership. The program was formed in such a way that she did rotations in different roles and had responsibility for college recruiting. Johnson got a small sampling of experiences that, unbeknownst to her, were shaping her career early on.
‘A Total Corporate Girl’
About five years out of college, Johnson went to work for Accenture, or at the time, Andersen Consulting. She worked there for 16 years moving her way up the ladder. Before she took the leap to start PeopleResults, Johnson was pretty comfortable, albeit working like crazy.
“I was a total corporate girl,” she says. “At Accenture, I had an assistant, I had a team, I had access to everything and a lot of financial security and benefits – the whole thing.”
As a senior executive, Johnson was instrumental in creating global talent programs and consulting clients on complex changes. And while she refers to some of the years at Accenture as ‘career dog years,’ she also credits the experience for accelerating her career.
“For me, it lifted me up,” she says. “There’s no way I would have started my own business or had the ability to do what I’m doing now if I hadn’t had that experience at Accenture.”
The standards at Accenture were high and the work was fast paced. But for Johnson, those are almost ideal work conditions. She thrived even though she was often the only female leader in the room. Her confidence grew with her experience along with her drive to “figure things out.”
It’s far more impressive to note that while she was moving up the ladder at Accenture, she was starting a family. She and her husband Jim got married in 1988 – for those less mathematically inclined, they are celebrating 30 years this year – while she was still at Accenture in Dallas. Two years after that, they had their first child together, another child six years later. In the midst of so many life changes, Johnson’s work life was ramping up as well. She was traveling more, taking care of global accounts.
And, of course, there was the move. Up until her oldest son reached school age, the family had been living in Las Colinas. While looking for a good school for him, the Johnsons turned their attention to an up-and-coming suburb: Southlake.
“Southlake was a little further out back then,” Johnson says. “There was a Cici’s Pizza and then nothing. But everybody was telling us it was going to be amazing.”
So, 21 years ago and two years before the opening of Southlake Town Square, they made their move into what felt like the country. They’ve been here ever since. Johnson’s two sons, Will and Patrick, were Dragons from elementary school onward, and the amount of green in her wardrobe is still a testament to that.
A wedding, two sons and a move to Southlake later and Johnson was still rising as a global consultant for Accenture. And while the likes of Sheryl Sandberg make ‘leaning in’ seem like a breeze, Johnson acknowledges the challenges that come with being both career-driven and a mom of two.
“I always tell young women, you have got to have a partnership in your careers,” she says. “You can definitely do it, but it takes coordination. There was a time when every Sunday night my husband and I would sit down with our calendars and say
‘OK, you’ll cover basketball practice, and I’ll go to the parent-teacher meeting.’ We just tried to plan everything out. You can’t wing it.”
Beyond planning, being there for her kids took a level of simply intentionally placing priority on her sons and their activities.
“I would treat my kids’ schedules with as much or more respect than a client meeting,” Johnson says. “So I got really good at not apologizing for being a mother.”
She upholds this practice and way of thinking even today, with two grown sons, her stepson, Matt, and stepdaughter, Allison. While everyone is spread out across the country, they all come together as one big family for a vacation each year.
“We are definitely all still a close family,” Johnson says. “It’s so fun going on these vacations now because the kids really love spending time together.”
Taking The Leap
In the early 2000s, Johnson was traveling more and more. She met people who had started their own businesses and started thinking, “I could do that.” Seeds were being planted, but a major domino fell when she was on business in Chicago… on September 11, 2001.
She was two buildings down from Sears Tower and the area was assumed to be at risk. Everything was being evacuated, airports shut down and rental cars were impossible to come by. She was stuck.
“As a mother, it was a terror for me,” she says. “Not being able to get home to my family really rocked me to my core.”
She was able to finally get a ride to Kansas City, and Jim picked her up from there. But another seed had already been planted: She wanted to have control over her life and travel.
“I wanted to be able to have a career and do big things and be able to have a little bit more flexibility,” she says. “I thought about it, prayed about it and over time I just got this peace that I should do it.”
In 2004, Johnson launched PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm. She gave up the comfort of corporate to pursue her passion.
“When I started PeopleResults, I decided to trick myself and say ‘I’m going to try this for one year,’” she recalls. “At the end of the year, I’ll know if I should keep doing this or go find something else. I’m a planner and I like to know everything that is happening. But when you start your own business, you’re not going to know all the answers. You just have to jump in.”
Thanks to a broad network and her solid expertise, Johnson’s first client was PepsiCo. When she hit that awaited year mark, she just kept going. By the 18-month mark, she knew that if she was going to continue down this road, she was going to need a team.
“Even after the first year, I don’t ever remember thinking ‘Eh, I don’t know if I’m going to keep doing this,’” Johnson says. “I had control in my life. I still worked a lot, but I had control.”
Fast forward, even through the recession, and People- Results continued to grow. Along the way, Johnson further developed self-reliance. When she only had herself to turn to, she had to answer all of the tough questions, such as how to set prices on services.
Now, with a team of 15 and a network of consultants to aid in projects – there are often over 30 people working for PeopleResults - Johnson continues to stay close to her clients. Is she just as busy? Oh yes, but she likes it that way.
“I like a lot of stuff going on,” she says. “It has been my normal for so long that I don’t view it as stress. I’m a pretty good juggler, and if I have too much free time for too long, it starts to bug me.”
It’s a good thing she can juggle, because 10 years into growing PeopleResults and gaining clients such as 7-Eleven, Dell, Neiman Marcus and more, she decided to write a book.
“My whole work life was around growing this business,” Johnson says. “But writing a book was on my bucket list and then I started getting some nudges from the universe."
So she looked to the questions that had fascinated her throughout her adult life: “How did this start?” and “What motivated that person to make a change?” In short, she took a deep dive into human behavior by writing about a sample of people who had “made waves” in the communities, businesses and beyond.
In 2014, her book, “Make Waves,” was published. Through it, she has readers ask themselves how they can start their change and act on their ideas spurring them on to make waves in their own lives.
“You have to believe you can do it,” Johnson says. “You have to be willing to step out and believe in yourself and believe that ‘I can learn my way into this.’”
Her book, her company and her life are a testament to this. Johnson continues to make waves, and encourages everyone to do the same.
Patti Johnson is offering up an encouraging message in the same accord as keynote speaker of Southlake Style’s third-annual Women’s Luncheon on Oct. 4.