Linda Johnson Rice

President and chief executive officer, Johnson Publishing

Nationality: American.

Born: May 22, 1958, in Chicago, Illinois.

Education: University of Southern California, BA, 1980; Northwestern University, MBA, 1987.

Family: Daughter of John H. Johnson (publisher and chairman of Johnson Publishing) and Eunice W. Johnson (secretary-treasurer of Johnson Publishing and producer-director of Ebony Fashion Fair); married André Rice, 1984 (divorced 1994); children: one.

Career: Johnson Publishing, 1980–1985, fashion editor of Ebony ; 1985–1987, vice president; 1987–2002, president and chief operating officer; 2002–, president and chief executive officer.

Awards: Phenomenal Woman Award, 2000; Alumni of the Year, Kellogg School of Management.

Address: Johnson Publishing, 820 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60605;

■ Linda Johnson Rice was the first African American woman to be named chief executive officer of a company listed among the top five of the Black Enterprise 100s, the nation's largest black-owned companies. Johnson Publishing, founded by Rice's father, John H. Johnson, had more than $400 million in sales as of 2002 and was the number one black-owned, privately held publishing company in the world, worth $350 million and employing more than 2,500 people. The company opened the eyes of mainstream American businesses to the multibillion-dollar influence of the African American consumer market by convincing mainstream companies that they would be well served by advertising in magazines aimed at black readers. At the same time, the company played a key role in establishing the careers of many African American professionals in publishing and advertising.


Born in Chicago, Rice developed interests as an equestrian and opera singer. However, she always had a keen interest in the family business. From the age of six, she often went straight from school to the Johnson Publishing headquarters south of Chicago's downtown loop. "It was a giant baby-sitter," Rice recalled ( USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002). As she grew, the young Rice began to play a role in the family business. Her father would often include her in meetings with editors debating about which photos to feature as Ebony covers, and the precocious schoolgirl participated actively in the discussions. In addition, Rice would often travel with her mother to France and Italy to shop for haute couture for the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that raised money for charity.

Rice attended the University of Southern California (USC), earning a BA in journalism in 1980. She collected her first full-time paycheck in 1980 when she became the fashion editor at Johnson Publishing. Over the next several years she held the titles of vice president, president, and chief operating officer. At the same time, she attended Northwestern University's J. L. Kellogg School of Management, earning an MBA in 1988. Rice's early years at Johnson Publishing were noted by William Berry, a University of Illinois journalism professor who was an editor at Ebony for seven years: "I've watched her career over the years, and she's retained the availability of an ordinary person who has extraordinary access to power and capital" ( USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002).


After her promotion to CEO in 2002, Rice oversaw the production of Ebony and Jet magazines and was executive producer of a television show, Ebony/Jet Showcase . In addition, she developed an aggressive advertising campaign for Fashion Fair Cosmetics, which included special events, more gifts with purchases, and glitzier signage in stores. Without changing any of the products, she attempted to further brand them in various arenas, such as video and television.

Rice sat on several corporate boards of directors, including Continental Bank Corporation, Kimberly Clark, and Bausch & Lomb. She was also on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, the board of directors of Magazine Publishers of America, the Museum of Contemporary Art Board of Trustees, and the USC Board of Trustees. She was also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.


Johnson Publishing's change in leadership from John H. Johnson to Linda Johnson Rice was managed sensitively and smoothly, said employees, because of Rice's vision and ability to inspire. In her first few months as CEO, she spent a large portion of each day meeting with groups of employees at all levels of the company. "My door is hardly ever closed," she said. "I'm not the type of CEO that runs a dictatorship, because I don't think that gets you anywhere" ( USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002). Like her father, Rice took pride in knowing the details of the company, approving story lists for each issue and making the final decisions on Ebony covers. According to Rice, "Out of 12 covers a year, you want 12 hits. You want something out there that is appealing and eyecatching. I'd be crazy not to look at them" ( USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002).

With the transition in leadership came a change in managerial style. Rice described her father as an entrepreneur with a fiery temper and the vision required for the birth and growth of a business, while she described herself as a more patient operations person dedicated to managing the size and growth of an established business. Even with more than 2,500 employees nationwide, Johnson Publishing maintained a family atmosphere that reflected the company's leadership, keeping an open-door policy, hand-signing paychecks, and retaining many employees 30 years or longer. Rice was also dedicated to maintaining a healthy mix of business and family time, making a habit of eating Sunday dinners at various local restaurants with her daughter and friends.


Rice responded to critics that claimed Ebony and Jet were not serious reflections of African American issues by stating, "We are not an investigative magazine…. We are a feature magazine. We are not here to pick apart African Americans. We are here to celebrate, and uplift, and inspire" ( USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002). Nonetheless, Rice planned to devote more space in both magazines to the issues of economic equality, education, and drug abuse.

Not a believer in complacency or stagnation, Rice said her drive was inspired both by seeing employees work hard to put out the magazines and hearing the positive responses of readers. "My father built an incredible business, and I don't want to let him down," she said ( USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002). Despite several offers, Rice never considered selling the family business, maintaining the spirit of family pride in ownership and control that outweighed the spirit of capitalism.

Rice took the reins to guide the company through a turbulent time in publishing, with advertising revenues throughout the industry the lowest in years. Although Ebony and Jet overwhelmingly dominated the black publishing market in 2002, they faced mounting competition from emerging niche magazines, such as Essence, Vibe , and Black Enterprise . Despite the proliferation of magazine titles, however, Jet had a circulation of more than 950,000, and Ebony maintained a circulation of more than 10 million readers and 1 million subscribers.

At the same time, Fashion Fair Cosmetics competed with major makeup manufacturers such as Estée Lauder for consumers of various ethnic backgrounds. However, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics firm in the world, selling in 2,500 stores on three continents, was the world's number one line of makeup and skin care products for women of color. In addition, as of 2004 more than 300,000 patrons attended the Ebony Fashion Fair per year, and the show had raised a total of $49 million for charity, the majority of which was used for scholarships for 475 students.

See also entry on Johnson Publishing Company in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Bengali, Shashank, "Jetsetter," USC Trojan Family Magazine , Winter 2002, .

Bennett, Lerone, Succeeding against the Odds: The Inspiring Autobiography of One of America's Wealthiest Entrepreneurs , New York: Warner Books, 1989.

Clarke, Caroline V., "At Ebony, a New Johnson Is CEO," Black Enterprise 32, no. 11 (June 2002), pp. 136–137.

Henderson, Eric, "Ebony and Jet Forever!" Africana , .

Lenoir, Lisa, "Revolutionary Fashion Fair Fights to Keep Its Edge," Chicago Sun-Times , November 13, 2003.

—Lee McQueen

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