After more than 120 years, SC Johnson stays true to its “A Family Company” motto. What began as a buyout of a small hardware company in Racine, Wisconsin is now a company run by a fifth generation Johnson that brings in $9 billion annually. However, the success that SC Johnson enjoys today did not happen quickly or easily. In fact, its founder Samuel Curtis Johnson experienced bankruptcy and business failure more than once before his investment paid off.
Samuel Curtis Johnson first looked for a career in railroads in the 19th Century and invested half his salary in a new railway development. Unfortunately, the business went bankrupt and took his savings with it, and Samuel soon afterwards became a partner in a book and stationery store. However, like the railway business, his book and stationery store failed and left Samuel with only one option: starting over at age 50. In 1882, Samuel moved to Racine, Wisconsin with his family where he became a parquet flooring salesman for the Racine Hardware Company. Just two years later, Samuel managed to buy out the business and began selling flooring to contactors for fine homes, churches, hotels and public buildings.
Working as the salesman, bookkeeper and business manager with just four other employees, his company showed a net profit of $268.27 in its first year of business. During the next several years, sales and new products multiplied as customers wanted help caring for their new floors. One of the first products to be released was a can of Johnson’s Prepared Paste Wax, which would accompany the installation of each Johnson floor. But soon, even folks without Johnson flooring came to buy the product. By 1898, sales of Johnson floor wax, finishes and wood fillers surpassed those of flooring. By the time of Samuel’s death in 1919, “Johnson’s Wax” was a household name in the United States and beyond.
His son Herbert F. Johnson, Sr. would be known for the first expansion of the business overseas. On a trip to England in 1912, Herbert F. Johnson, Sr. traveled to a little hardware shop in London, polished the shopkeeper’s floor and dragged his backside along it. To the amazement of the shopkeeper, Johnson’s backside was completely clean and a deal was made to establish the first international SC Johnson company in England. Similar demonstrations took place in Australia and Canada as SC Johnson expanded around the world.
The next two Johnsons—H.F. Johnson, Jr. and Samuel C. Johnson—would grow a $5 million company to a $150 million company in the 1950s to a $6 billion by the end of the 20th Century. As an early environmentalist, H.F. became fascinated with carnauba, a wax that was the principle ingredient in all SC Johnson products at the time. The incredible resilience of the wax could withstand the harshest droughts, and H.F. set out to the jungles of Brazil to establish a plantation to fill all of the company’s carnauba needs.
While serving as SCJ’s new product director in 1954, Samuel C. Johnson introduced the company’s aerosol insecticide product. In order to remain competitive, Sam pushed for the expansion of the company beyond wax products and into a corporation that sold more than 100 products on six different continents. Some of these products that he introduced included Raid insecticides, Glade air fresheners, Pledge furniture products and OFF! repellents.
Today, Fisk Johnson continues expanding SC Johnson as the current chairman and CEO. Under Fisk the company has created the Greenlist, a new way to select product ingredients that are better for the environment. In 2006 the list of more sustainable ingredients was honored at the U.S. White House.
50 Years of Big Leaps
The last 50 years has brought rapid growth to SC Johnson as new divisions within the corporation were born. In addition to the introduction of the insecticide line Raid and cleaning supply line Pledge, the late 1950s and decade of the 1960s saw the growth of a strong international presence of SC Johnson. In 1959 SC Johnson set up shop in Italy, and by 1961 SC Johnson had expanded to Chile, Switzerland, Sweden and South Africa. The next seven years would see further expansion into Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Spain, Ghana, Denmark, east Africa, Greece, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.
Still known as “Johnson Wax” in 1970, the introduction of Edge, a shaving gel, launched the company into the personal care product industry. As growth accelerated and the industry expanded, Johnson Diversified, Inc. (JDI) was established in 1970. Upon its founding, JDI acquired 15 companies and extended into recreational equipment. Other significant changes to SC Johnson would soon include the elimination of chlorofluorocarbons (linked to ozone layer damage) three years ahead of the US government’s mandated withdrawal.
With much of the company undergoing restructuring in the late 1970s and 1980s, the next period of tremendous growth would arrive in the 1990s alongside a slew of new products. One of these products was Glade Plug Ins, which gained the top position in the continuous-action air freshener category. The acquisition of Drackett Co. from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in 1993 brought with it Windex glass cleaners, Drano drain openers and Vanish toilet bowl cleaner. In 1998, SC Johnson acquired the DowBrands unit from Dow Chemical Co. for $1.13 billion. The acquisition added Ziploc plastic bags, Saran Wrap plastic wrap and Fantastik cleaners to the company’s product line. As a result, revenues topped $5 billion by 1999.
Today, with nearly 13,000 employees and 11 major brands, SC Johnson continues to make news for its innovation in environmental sustainability and product development.
Since 2001, SC Johnson scientists have been using the company’s internally developed Greenlistenvironmental classification system, which categorizes each potential ingredient in a product as “Best,” “Better,” Acceptable” or “O-rated” for materials that can only be used in special circumstances. Subsequently, SC Johnson has increased the percentage of “Better” or “Best’ ingredients from 18% to 50% and has reduced O-rated materials from 10% to 1% during that time. Each new product created by SC Johnson must have a Greenlist score as good or better than prior versions.
This past year SC Johnson made one of its biggest commitments to sustainability with the installation of two wind turbines at its Waxdale manufacturing facility, the largest manufacturing facility responsible for constructing products like Scrubbing Bubbles, Glade and Windex. With the production of eight million kilowatt hours (kWh), the facility is able to produce on average 100% of its electrical energy onsite.
SC Johnson continues to be recognized as a great place to work—literally. During the past 18 months, SC Johnson Canada, Spain, Venezuela, India, Chile, Argentina and Portugal were highly ranked by the Great Place to Work Institute. In addition, SC Johnson ranked number 10 among 25 Best Multinational Companies to work for in Latin America and was recognized as the 24th World’s Best Multinational Workplaces by the Great Places to Work Institute.
Other awards include recognition in November 2012 by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index. SC Johnson earned a score of 100% and made it on the list for the 10th consecutive year. The Working Mother magazine named SC Johnson for the 24th time as one of the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” in September 2012 and in August 2012 SC Johnson was recognized for the fourth consecutive year by Hispanic Business Magazine and ranked 37th on the Best Companies for Diversity Practice List.
During the past several months SC Johnson has introduced an array of environmentally-friendly products including Ziploc Compostable Bags, a compostable, storage solution the reduce landfill waste; Smart Twist™Cleaning System, a breakthrough cleaning product which adds cleaner cartridges to a sprayer unit and thus reduces plastic waste; WindexTouch-Up Cleaner, a cleaner designed to offer a fast and convenient solution to clean and sanitize the kitchen and bathroom; and the Scrubbing Bubbles® Total Kitchen Foaming All Purpose Cleaner with fantastik®, a new cleaning formula that adds the grease-fighting power of fantastik® to make cutting through grime easier.
All in the Family
SC Johnson has remained “A Family Company” for more than a century.
By James Zilenziger, Assistant Editor
Published August 1, 2013
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