Michael Johnson has traded his track shoes for a CEO’s desk as he leads his Michael Johnson Performance Company.
The four-time Olympic track and field gold medalist has built a strong portfolio in the business world through MJP and as a television commentator, working primarily for the BBC in England.
Johnson, a former world record holder in the 200 meters and current world record holder in the 400 meters, recently hosted a track camp in McKinney.
Who is Michael Johnson, the businessman and teacher? After retiring in 2001, I went into television, 13 years now with BBC and then I started my management company in 2004, working with Jeremy Wariner, for example. Then in 2007, [I] started MJP, which now takes up the majority of time. My role is president of that company and I’m fortunate to have a great staff, great directors that are able to manage all the different departments. It’s nice to have people like that and then I get to dictate the direction and growth of the company. We have operations now in China, the UK; we open later this summer in Brazil. We are a global company and service about 15 different global clients as well.
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With regard to the track camp and its evolution, are you happy with where it’s going? Well, the quick answer is no and that’s because I always think we can get better. I want to reach more athletes, but we have to perfect what we’re doing here before we can take this to other communities. But considering what it was seven years ago and to now, it’s better for sure. With regard to the camps, I’m more intimately involved probably with this more than anything else we do. We work with athletes in all kinds of sports, professional or amateur, and it’s not just track. We’re working with the Dallas Stars and FC Dallas and work on off-season training. Of course the track camp, I’m most passionate about. The reward is literally showing a kid something and they try it and automatically they feel faster.
What’s with the UK? You’re working with the BBC and why have they accepted an American onto their television screens? It has less to do with me being an athlete and more to do with me as a broadcaster. I’ve had the opportunity to be in broadcasting over here, but in the States, it has to be a full-time thing. The format here is just different than it is in the UK and, quite frankly, getting a broadcast job here, as it should be, is based on earning the spot. In the U.S., there just isn’t much track coverage, so it makes sense that my opportunity would be over there. Probably one of the nice things about 13 years at the BBC is that I’ve earned the opportunity now to present ideas about documentaries that I want to do, and they either approve them or not. But they are documentaries that I really want to do, so it’s nice to be able to have the ability to make that presentation.
There are great American athletes like yourself who hold achievement records that will be difficult to overcome. Whereas many don’t seem too keen on another athlete achieving at the same level or breaking those records, you seem to welcome it. Why? Looking at it two different ways, on one hand, I knew Jeremy before he won the Olympics in 2004 and mentored him before he won. I wanted him to be as successful as he could be. If it’s not going to be me, I wanted it to be him. It never crossed my mind until people started talking about it that I was helping a guy that could legitimately break my record. I don’t wake up every day and say to myself that I’m the world record holder because that’s just not what I’m focused on. For me, I’m ready for the next challenges in life and I’m always looking forward. None of the awards I won, none of the accolades sit on my shelf at home. I’m extremely proud of what I’ve done, but I’m the guy that looks forward. As far as the 400, I’m proud of that record, but I have nothing to do with what’s on the track today. I’m retired. I’m just as proud of my 200-meter record (19.32) as the 400 (43.18), but obviously when Usain (Bolt) broke my (200) record (19.19), I knew he was going to break it and I predicted that. I wanted to be in the stadium when it happened. The next day when I was in the studio, everyone was, like, ‘Are you OK?’ You know, nothing changed, I was still Michael Johnson.
What does the future hold for track and field at this point? It’s tough to watch sometimes because I love the sport and it’s tough to see it not growing at the rate it should be. If you watched the last Olympics, swimming really jumped up a notch. There was an emphasis on the swimming coverage where there wasn’t in the track coverage. That’s just a direct result of the governing bodies that run the track continuing to kind of coast and just consider themselves the premier Olympic sport. Now with what happened in London, maybe that will wake them up a little bit.
Considering where you’ve brought your company and the things you’ve accomplished outside of your on-track career, if approached, would you consider a decision-making position within the governing bodies (USATF or IAAF)? Probably not. If the format is the same as it is now, I couldn’t truly help or be successful. Those organizations aren’t set up for excellence. There are people in the decision-making positions that are in those not because they are qualified, but because they’ve served for so long. ... But, I know that for me, I would only thrive in an environment where the people around me were fully qualified to drive an organization forward. For example, the director of say marketing should be someone that has proven themselves as the very best at marketing. You know businesses run that way; federations don’t. Look at the professional team sports in this country, they now all run like businesses, but the federations do not.
How often do you get back to the area and are there still things you like to do when you get here? Well, I still have a house here. I live in San Francisco, but I’m back and forth so much. My parents and brothers and sisters are still here. Right now, I’m here about three-five days a week. Lots of airplane time.