20 Sep Remembering Jim Johnson
Wanke Cascade president was a leader in flooring, “green” products and friendship
Every time I talked to Jim Johnson, I got stronger. The first time was at a panel discussion during a Surfaces trade show, where a past-president of Teragren LLC was to speak.
I was a Teragren bamboo flooring distributor, Jim was Teragren’s West Coast sales manager. When he sat down at my table, I was looking for a misplaced receipt, worried that an attendant would be around to verify that I had paid to get in.
“Why did you pay?,” Jim pressed. “You’re a distributor here to support a vendor. You are entitled to just walk in.”
Though being a middle-aged, female executive in the flooring distribution industry carried unique challenges, Jim was not discriminating in my favor. He shared his 23-plus years of industry experience freely and fairly with everyone, and he always made time to lift people up.
It was no surprise to me when Jim was recruited as Wanke Cascade’s new president in 2008. Nor was what the company said in a Sept. 19 statement about Jim’s battle with cancer, and his death: “Jim brought a contagious energy to work with him every day. His vast knowledge of the industry, combined with his sharp sense of humor, entrepreneurial spirit and unflappable work ethic made him an excellent leader. Jim led by example – he was a mentor to all and a great communicator. He was a true inspiration to every one of us. He instilled a culture of taking control, making things happen, and providing solutions for our customers. We are all better people, and a better company for having been part of his life.”
On top of his impeccable knowledge in carpet, tile, resilient floors, laminate floors and hardwood, Jim’s expertise in “green” flooring products was unmatched. He also told it the way he saw it: “What level of ‘green’ is an FSC-certified hardwood floor with an aluminum-oxide finish?,” he pointed out this year, when we blogged about DuChateau Floors and their natural oil finish. And “Why,” he said already knowing the answer, “do you suppose that we have CRI Green Label Plus certification for carpet, but we only have CRI Green Label for carpet pad?”
More of his insightful observation had everyone in the room laughing at the 2008 Forbo distributor retreat in Phoenix, AZ. There, Forbo unveiled its shockingly new lime-green click, which I said was long overdue, but Jim said, “You’d better wait for some sales figures before you think about stocking that one.”
This retreat was one I was hesitant, for many reasons, to attend. But as I walked up the stairs to the kickoff event and heard Jim’s voice greeting colleagues at the door, I felt like I was entitled to just walk in.
I did not know it would be our last visit when I met Jim at the Surfaces flooring convention this year. It took about five minutes for him to decide to join the Natural Interiors marketing group. Then, Mark Buckwold, Wanke Cascade’s commercial sales manager, kept asking Jim to leave for dinner. But Jim’s phone kept ringing, and old friends kept stopping by, and Jim wanted to see them.
He stayed and talked about his sons, shared some tips to help me through the “terrible teens” with my son, and he beamed while telling stories about how he and his accomplished wife, Cindy, got through it all and how proud they were of their young men, Adam and Kyle.
“Jim knew everyone, and I felt like he knew everything,” Buckwold said. “He always took the opportunity to talk to somebody. Wanke Cascade is continuing to work on many opportunities that we have because we talked to people. I’d like to have that last chance to tell him how much he taught me.”
A few weeks after Surfaces, an email came from Jim saying Mark would be my point person in planning out Wanke Cascade’s Natural Interiors blogs. I wondered if something was wrong.
Another email came in June. Jim now was in a fight for his life, but he took the time to ask about my son. In true form, he also tried to curtail worries: “I am optimistic that I can knock this thing down and get a good outcome… . I am hopeful that I will be able to be back to contributing at work 100 percent over the next month or so.”
He even wrote a blog that posted after that, but I never heard from him again. Concerned about the silence, I sent him an email, trying to tell him what an incredible difference he had made by helping people. And I thanked him for helping me.
But I neglected to remind him of what he should be thinking when he gets to heaven. I should have said: “Jim, you are entitled to just walk in.”©
— Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com.