Betty Johnson, Vice President and Chief People Officer of Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, will retire on May 27. In the Q&A below, she shares some of the experiences and insights gleaned from her 23 years.

Describe your current duties: I am involved in overseeing the operations in our Human Resources Department and in our Career Solutions division. I guide the teams to reach their goals, and I assist in providing the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Birthplace and places you have lived: I was born in a suburb of Chicago. We also lived in east-central Illinois for 10 years before moving to Nashville.

Educational attainments: I have an MBA in Human Resource Management from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, Biology and Environmental Studies from Millikin University.

Describe your career before Goodwill: My first full-time job was in a bank just outside Chicago. I was a customer service representative, then an audit clerk, and then the personnel assistant. I also worked as a GED instructor at the local community college and as the personnel supervisor for Walgreens at an administrative facility.

How and when did you first come to Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee? In 1992, my husband, Paul, earned his master’s degree and accepted a job in Nashville. It took me six months to sell the house, find a job in Nashville and move the kids here. I started on Jan. 18, 1993, as the Human Resources Director for Goodwill. In 1999, I was asked to also oversee our mission services (today Career Solutions), and I was promoted to Vice President of Employment Services. In 2012, my title changed to Vice President and Chief People Officer. Our CEO, Matthew Bourlakas, since his arrival in 2013, has included me in the strategic planning of our great organization, and he has encouraged me to offer insight into other areas of the organization. For that, I thank him.

Talk about this Goodwill’s growth since you arrived? What stands out most? When I started in January 1993, we had 12 stores and just over 400 employees. We provided our mission services at one location — at the main headquarters on 9th Avenue North in Nashville. I recall we placed 183 people into jobs in 1993. In my 23 years, we’ve added 24 stores, 1,700 employees and 27 career centers at Goodwill. We’ve also developed 14 occupational training programs, built a new headquarters, started and begun new ways of collecting donations. In 2015 alone, we served over 36,000 clients and helped over 15,400 start new jobs. I think what stands out most for me is watching the development of knowledge and skills of our staff. I celebrate when employees receive a promotion or graduate with a new degree or learn a skill like supervision and leadership.

You have seen a lot of lives changed over the years as well. Which success stories are most memorable for you? The folks who have my heart are those that have utilized our mission services and then have decided to work for Goodwill. I’ve always said, “We hire the Best.” That’s because we see the great qualities in some of the clients we serve and we encourage them to come work for Goodwill. To name one or two would leave out so many others who have changed their lives at Goodwill. And, we try to highlight those memorable success stories in our newsletters, calendar and at the Impact Luncheons. So many successes!

Which accomplishment are you most proud of from your time with Goodwill?
My proudest moments have been hiring those who have had a huge impact at Goodwill. Today, I look at each of the staff I’ve had a hand in hiring, and I brag to anyone who will listen, “I hired him or her!!” That happens often. On a different note, my greatest disappointment was not starting the Adult Charter High School. In 2012, many staff and I put together a huge charter school application that was reviewed by a group at Metropolitan Nashville Schools. This evaluation team decided they did not want to spend Metro schools’ money on a school for adults to earn their high school diploma. I think there is a future for this model, but with some other funding source.

Is there a particular moment you recall where you knew you were truly “Living the Mission?” I felt I was truly living the mission my first day on the job. I met so many dedicated, hard-working employees. My first few weeks here were spent working in various departments, such as production, DEC and the stores. I met so many people who exemplified our mission, and I felt it immediately.  I refer to it as “drinking the Kool-aid” and, today, I can tell when an employee has “drunk the grape Kool-aid.” They just get it. They get that we are a mission-based organization. They get that we are diverse, inclusive, and here to help those who need assistance with job training or with finding a job. Working at Goodwill truly is a calling.

Where would you like to see Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee go in the future?

1) Find funding to establish and operate the Adult Charter High School.

2) Increase sales to allow us to further grow our mission — add donation sites, stores and career centers. Serve more people and place more people into jobs.

3) Develop and provide individualized training plans for employees who are interested in gaining a credential or earning a promotion.

Plans after retirement: We are moving to Sedona, Ariz., to enjoy the beautiful natural resources.

Do you have a parting message for Goodwill employees? Do your best every day. Help your co-workers, and be a resource for our clients and our new employees. Be honest in your actions and true to our mission and core values. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to grow your skills and knowledge so you are ready for that next promotion. Share your great ideas to improve Goodwill with your manager/supervisor and/or a member of HR.

Any words for Goodwill’s donors and shoppers? Thank you for supporting Goodwill by shopping at a Goodwill store and donating your gently used items. Proceeds from every item you donate and/or buy go to provide job training and job placement services for our most vulnerable citizens. Help them by partnering with us. We appreciate you!

We want to know your thoughts and ideas about how we can improve the shopping and donation experiences at Goodwill.

Read the Spring 2016 edition of The Ambassador – Goodwill’s quarterly magazine which provides readers with stories of events, activities and the inspiring stories of how Goodwill is changing lives

  • Damon Prince
    Posted at 20:32h, 09 June Reply

    A little over 10 years ago, Betty Johnson saw potential in my ability to connect with people. She gave me an opportunity to enhance my professional experience with a job as Career Counselor in Career Solutions, Cookeville TN. Since my time with the company, I have successfully moved forward in Workforce Development. However, I know my professional success was not possible without Betty’s confidence in my potential and ability to cultivate talent. She is brilliant leader and an exceptional professional. Thank you, Betty Johnson for helping me reveal what you saw in me.

  • Angie Griffin
    Posted at 20:14h, 25 May Reply

    Betty Johnson is a valued mentor and friend,
    Thank you Betty for the many dedicated years of service to Goodwill Middle Tennessee.

  • Ida Harrison
    Posted at 19:40h, 25 May Reply

    Dear Mrs Johnson,
    My name is Ida Harrison and I learned computer and job readiness at the Bellevue Career Solutions with Mr. Glenn Brown. I currently work at the Bellevue Goodwill store in housekeeping and am cross trained in the shoe department in processing, sales, and customer service. I am happy being able to learn new things as opportunities present themselves. Thank you for sharing your story of encouragement.
    Ida Harrison

  • Ida Jarrison
    Posted at 19:32h, 25 May Reply

    Dear Mrs Johnson,
    My name is Ida Harrison and I was trained in computer and job readiness at the Bellevue Career Solutions by Mr Glenn Brown. I currently work in the Bellevue store in housekeeping and am cross trainied in the shoes dept in processing, sales, and customer service. I am happy to be a Goodwill employee. Thank you for sharing your story of encouragement.
    Ida Harrison

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