Jonathan E. Johnson
Jack of all Trades
Hilary Ingoldsby Whitesides
January 15, 2009
When Overstock.com hired Jonathan E. Johnson in 2002 as its general counsel, the company got three for the price of one: a businessman, lawyer and political lobbyist all in one man. In July of 2008, Johnson was appointed president of Overstock.com and his resident jack-of-all-trades status continues to be put to good use.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Japanese and a law degree from Brigham Young University, Johnson practiced law in the Los Angeles offices of the New York-based law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and the San Francisco-based law firm of Graham & James. As a lawyer, Johnson’s practice focused on corporate work, such as mergers and acquisitions, preparing him for his transition into the business world. Johnson then worked for TenFold Corporation in various positions before joining Overstock.com.
“The second time around the transition [into business from law] was very natural,” Johnson says.
As president of the retail company that he fondly calls “always on the brink of possibility,” Johnson hopes to continue to improve the consumer’s experience.
Overstock.com started as a liquidator for last year’s products offering consumers outlet prices online while selling everything that can be found in a bookstore or department store. The company has now morphed into a full-scale retailer with first-run goods as well. For the last two years, American Express rated Overstock.com an impressive fourth in the nation in customer experience close behind companies such as Amazon.com.
“We would like to be number one,” Johnson says. “We listen to our customers and want them to have a great experience.”
Also high on Johnson’s to-do list is to reform financial security by fixing what he calls “large loopholes in the system” that allow traders to deliver IOU’s instead of shares—not only for Overstock.com, but all of Washington D.C. Johnson calls the recent economic crisis “very avoidable” and hopes to improve the system locally and nationally.
“I’ve been back to Washington D.C. 20 times in the last three years offering solutions [to the recent financial meltdown] and will continue to work to make capital markets work better,” Johnson says.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Johnson’s first career goal was to be a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He later changed his mind and decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by studying law. Since moving to Utah for college, he says he couldn’t be happier living and working in the Beehive State. Johnson says Utah’s workforce makes the state one of the best places to do business in for three reasons: be, know and do. “Be is a character thing,” he says. “We find quality people to work with. Know: There are great skills in Utah—an abundance of computer knowledge and second languages. Do: The people here have a great work ethic. They aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard.”
Overstock.com is centered in Salt Lake City, employs 1,000 people in the area, serves around 15 million customers and grosses approximately $8 million in revenue. For Johnson, the company is a perfect fit allowing him to interact with colleagues he enjoys and remain involved in legal issues and strategy without the fine print involved with being a practicing lawyer.
“It’s a great job,” Johnson says, “One that I truly love."