Innovation and Culture: Field Trip to SC Johnson

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February 2016
What do the well-known consumer brands of Pledge®, Raid®, Zip-Lock®, Glade® and many others have in common? All are products of S.C. Johnson (SCJ) "The Family Company" headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, now in the leadership of fifth generation family members.

Twenty students from Kellogg's MBA student Family Enterprise Club (FEC) were lucky to start off fall quarter with a day-long tour to the SCJ campus, including a powerful film commissioned by 4th generation leader, Sam Johnson, about the family's leadership. The group toured the architecturally significant administration building, research tower and foundation conference center, each designed in the 1930s by iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, engaged for the project by the innovative third generation leader H.F. Johnson. The administrative building is still in active use today - nearly 80 years after conception. They ate lunch in the employee cafeteria in the ultra-modern, newly-designed Fortaleza Hall.

Of the time at SCJ, Professor Justin Craig reflected, "Two aspects dominate for me. The first relates to the contribution one generation can make to a family business ... and, by extension, to the communities they serve. Consider that, on Sam Johnson's watch, the company grew by 40 times. The second aspect relates to legacy. As well as appreciating Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy to American architecture, we saw the legacy of generations of the Johnson family and what they have created. This was both inspirational and aspirational."

A PTMBA student from China was struck by a quote of Sam Johnson in the film, "Carnauba: A Son's Memoir", that had meaning for her as it relates to her family business and legacy. After his father died, Sam was given a note by his father's secretary, paraphrased in part: "Pay no heed to people [who complain if you are not running the company the way that I did] because you have to do what you think is right for the company and for its people at your point in time."

A 1Y student in the fourth generation of his family's 90+ year old U.S. family business commented, "Walking around SC Johnson's campus, it was refreshing to hear the employees talk so highly of the family. We could see the loyalty in their faces and rhythm. Entering the main building designed by Frank Loyd Wright decades ago and still in use today, was a treat. Successful family businesses are simply great at preserving the best of the past while creating a company that is able not only to accept but initiate change needed for the future ... it's a big balancing game."

A 2Y student who just started Kellogg shared, "As a first year student from a third generation family business, the trip to SCJ was the perfect introduction to KCFE and the FEC. Viewing the film gave me an up-close view of the dynamics between the Johnson family and its business. Touring the campus demonstrated how SC Johnson, while engrained in its traditional family values, has been revolutionary and innovative throughout its history. Finally, meeting our fellow 'family business' classmates outside of campus kick-started our journey to building fruitful relationships with one another."

A second year FEC co-leader from a third generation family business in Thailand was impressed by the adventurousness embedded within the family culture as highlighted by the quote attributed to H.F. Johnson to his son, Sam, when Sam was just a boy, "May your everyday be the first day of summer, and the beginning of a great adventure". She was "very impressed by the family's adventurous approach to business and how each generation continued the same passion in driving core values. The excursion was truly a valuable learning experience for me and other members of the club."