When Chris Johnson worked at the Walgreens Distribution Center in Mt. Vernon years ago, he told his co-workers that his goal was to one day manage the facility. Skip ahead 16 years, six promotions and three moves across the continental U.S. – he is living his dream as the manager of the largest Walgreens Distribution Center in the nation, regarding volume and team members.

So, how did he do it? He knew where he wanted to go, he learned how to get there and he utilized education and a strong work ethic to make it happen.

“I started finding out what qualifications the company was looking for at each position that I moved to,” he said. “I moved through six different promotions to get where I am today. With each one, I increased my skill set to meet those qualifications – whether it be courses at Rend Lake College, attending seminars, training on software programs or improving my grammar and speaking skills. I worked very hard at each level. In this company and throughout the distribution environment in which I work, results speak very, very loudly. I made it a point to get the results that the company was looking for. Moreover, I made it a point to get even better results.”

- Alumnus of the Year -

His recipe for success continues to put him on paths to reward and achievement.

Johnson is the 2006 Rend Lake College Alumnus of the Year, an honor annually given to a graduate of RLC. He will be presented the award at the Rend Lake College Foundation’s Annual Dinner, Dec. 7, at the Mt. Vernon Holiday Inn.

“Chris was chosen as the 2006 RLC Foundation Alumnus of the Year based upon his personal success and the impact that he has made,” said RLC Foundation CEO Pat Kern. “He is the perfect example of a local person coming back and helping to improve the area’s economic development through his aim at making one of our largest employers a ‘good place to work.’ He loves being back home and living in this area. We need more people like him.”

- Tools of the Trade -

Johnson is a 1998 graduate from the Business Administration Program at RLC. He first attended the college fresh out of high school, but stopped to enter the local workforce. A little older, and a little wiser, Johnson later came back to RLC where he learned the skills that fostered a brilliant rise through the Walgreens ranks.

“Rend Lake College gave me an excellent knowledge base and a good education to get my feet underneath me and establish myself in the business world,” he explained. “When I graduated RLC, I found that my education there had enhanced my analytical skills ... to the point where I was able to analyze aspects of business in a more quick and efficient manner. I was able to map out an effective game plan to solve problems that I faced in business. Some of those skills do not come naturally. They have to be taught.

“I’m very proud to be named Alumnus of the Year,” he added. “It’s not only great to get to come back home, but once you get there, to be named Alumnus of the Year is icing on the cake. It’s a very proud moment.”

- Advice From A Local Leader -

In his opinion, today’s globally competitive field of business demands leadership and successful businesses are championed by great leaders.

“Overall, I think you need to be a great leader,” he said. “Being a great leader is more than being a great manager and leading is more than managing manpower. A great leader is someone that can share a vision, get people to buy into that vision and make them want to follow it in the direction you want your department or business to go.”

Johnson’s vision took him south to Florida’s Palm Beach County, west to the Lone Star State and back to his roots.

He began his career at the distribution center in Mt. Vernon on March 19, 1990 and transferred 11 years later to a Walgreens site in Jupiter, Fla., where he worked for two years as the operational manager and opened the first “New Generation” prototype distribution center for the company. He then transferred to Waxahachie, Texas - about 20 miles south of Dallas - and opened the second newest Generation Center as the plant manager there. In January, he became the manager of the company’s flagship distribution center in Mt. Vernon.

-Strong Roots-

His full-circle service to the Walgreens corporation brings Johnson back to southern Illinois and sits well with the 37-year-old local business leader.

The 1987 graduate of Mt. Vernon Township High School and former student at Dodds Elementary Grade School said he is, and always has been, proud of his southern Illinois roots.

He now lives in Valier, near Benton, with his wife, Stephanie, and their four children.

The couple will celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary on Dec. 22. They have a daughter – 15-year-old Lindsay – and three sons; Caleb, 11, and 3-year-old twins, Canden and Cayden.

Johnson said the two accomplishments he is most proud of are his 16 years of marriage to Stephanie - a stay-at-home mom with a nursing degree from Rend Lake College - and his children.

He is gratified to be able to raise his children in southern Illinois, he said.

“I think southern Illinois is a real down-home area. I like the smaller communities and the rural areas. There are a lot of good people in this area whom I feel comfortable raising my family around.

“I’m happy to be back in the community. I’m happy to be back home,” he said. “I was always proud to tell everybody where I was from - especially while I was in Florida and Texas. But, I was even more proud to tell everybody where I was going back home to.”

- Strengthening A Foundation -

Earlier this year, Johnson joined the RLC Foundation Board of Directors.

“I think the Board consists of a great group of people,” he said. “I’m very excited to get involved in and work with the team there.”

According to the RLC Foundation Board Nominating Committee, Johnson represents one of the largest employers in the Mt. Vernon area, brings his business expertise to the Foundation and strengthens the partnership of Walgreens, Rend Lake College and the Foundation.

After being named to the RLCF Board of Directors, Johnson said he thinks Rend Lake College, as well as the community college system as a whole, serves a vital role in Illinois education.

“It’s very important. I think it sets a very strong foundation for the kids in the area. It will really help give them a leg up when they move on to a four-year university. And I think it’s very important to the area.”

Kern said Johnson is a model for future students who are looking to return to education and realize their dreams.

“Chris Johnson is a great story,” she said. “His story continues to show how it took determination, hard work and the pursuit of higher education to reach a huge goal – returning to Mt. Vernon as the plant manager of Walgreens' flagship distribution plant. He shows a true sincerity when talking about his team members. That is a great trait for a person in his position.”

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