Becoming CEO – Twice
Johnson stayed in the real estate sector for seven years. He did a lot of project/facility work until 1996 when the real estate department was outsourced to a company called the Trammell Crow Company, based in Texas.
“I separated from Nova and transitioned to Trammell Crow. I kept the same office with the same phone but the pay increased. I quickly became the account manager, and then moved up to regional manager, handling multiple accounts.”
Around 2000, Johnson received an opportunity to move to Toronto. “We were doing a lot of projects and construction work across the country but we weren’t doing enough to leverage or centralize the work. The company put out a call for a VP position so I took the job. I went to Toronto and reported to the president and CEO for Canada.”
The president, Todd Johnsen, was married to an Australian and within a year he announced he’d be moving to Sydney with his wife. The position of president and CEO opened up and Dean Johnson got the job.
“I was 36 at the time and in way over my head. Looking back, I absolutely knew I had to have that job, period, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I was getting into – really.”
Johnson held that job for five years. He recalls it was a great company to work for. “It was a very entrepreneurial experience and gave me lots of latitude. We sold and sold and sold. It didn’t matter if we had the technical capabilities of doing what we said we were going to do. We’d just sell it and figure it out afterwards. And that was fine.”
After a few years, things began to take a different turn. In 2006, CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) acquired the business.
“I felt stifled by the sudden lack of growth, and corporately a lack of focus and interest in Canada. The new owners became focused on selling and I focused on the next step for me. While I was looking around I was head-hunted by a company called Compass Group Canada, which is also when I joined PEO.”
Jack MacDonald was the CEO of Compass at the time. “He was a great guy and was a COE I learned a lot from.” The way Compass was structured, it operated through different segment lines and each segment line had a president. Johnson came in as the president of one of the segment lines. “Crothall was the name of my segment line, it was all the facility management business. We were 90 per cent food services with 10 per cent of the revenues coming from the facilities department.
The company really wanted to grow that part of the business and I was excited to do it from the ground up. Unfortunately when I got there, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be and I realized I’d have trouble realizing my plans.”
When another headhunter from a company called Sodexo approached him with a similar pitch, he did a lot of research before joining the company in 2008. Sodexo also wanted to grow its facility management (FM) department from a solely 90 per cent food service provider. He agreed to come on as the senior VP of facility management. It is now almost 30 per cent facility management and 70 per cent food.
In November 2008, within eight months of joining the company, Johnson became president of Sodexo Canada. Similar to what happened at Trammell Crow, the president left his position and Johnson was approached to fill the role.