Whitney’s heartfelt encouragement creates courage, and with that, ideas grow.
Having immersed her life and studies in the idea of personal disruption, this innovator infuses her communications with an authentic story that is both palpable and actionable. A strategic thought leader who is also a do-er, Ms. Johnson imparts a robust tale of “what I did” along with the generalized principles of how to execute similar goals for others. She has lived her principles at the individual level, acquiring deep domain expertise, and she thrills in finding ways to influence people’s behavior—through her unique approach—to make good things happen.
In fact, one might say that Whitney’s alignment with disruption began at birth, as an American born in Madrid, Spain, which—despite her family leaving there just six months later—forged for her a strong connection to the Spanish culture. She later studied the language in high school and college, served 18 months as a missionary in Montevideo, Uruguay, and carried this distinct theme through to a professional life centered on Latin America.
Perhaps the most life-disrupting move occurred after college graduation, when she and her new husband crossed the country, relocating to New York. While he pursued his Ph.D. at Columbia, this real life Working Girl, inspired by the fictional Tess McGill’s ‘sense of pluck’ and relating to the character’s internal drive, made something happen. A music major with a virtually empty Rolodex when she arrived on Wall Street, Whitney Johnson took the helm of her future, traversing the often-unbridgeable career divide between secretary and investment banker.
To achieve this feat, Ms. Johnson studied business at night and worked 80 hours per week; her indefatigable hard work and a boss who recognized talent, propelled her to this new career rung. From there, she navigated through a series of investment banking and research roles at Salomon Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, when her career really took flight. Despite no prior experience in running a research platform and developing a franchise, this go-getter stepped up after an acquisition made her redundant. Her unflappable, disruptive nature further served her; instead of folding, Whitney took initiative, working grueling hours to carve out a new sector – media. Strategic thinking, tactical implementation and roll-up-her-sleeves action were ingredients of a ground-floor recipe to become the clients’ go-to person for critical financial models, with access to controlling shareholders and management, providing color on industry trends.
This pivotal uptick in her dynamic career was punctuated when Starmine recognized her as a first-rate stockpicker, and she earned eight years’ consecutive honors as an award-winning analyst. A willingness to take a firm stand on an investment thesis combined with sensitivity to momentum were crucial to her persuasive calls-to-action. When she upgraded or downgraded a stock, it moved. By 2005, when Ms. Johnson left sell-side research, she had earned a coveted double-ranking in the Institutional Investors surveys. She not only survived, but also thrived in the roiling Wall Street waters and was widely considered the axe on stocks under her coverage, regularly outperforming her peers.
Talent in disruptive innovation perpetuated in her role, alongside Clay Christensen, as co-founder of Rose Park Advisors, an investment firm that was approaching $75 million in assets-under-management when she left in 2012.
ROI-minded throughout her career on Wall Street and beyond, the swell of a business’ profits and the creation of value are organizational sea changes Whitney continually affects. While other analysts focus on Excel spreadsheet models and writing research, this sharp-eyed analyst collaborates across silos to boost market share and ultimately, the top line.
Whitney Johnson’s Wall Street post script reads like a dramatic thriller, spun with influential community-building initiatives featuring global investment, journalism, academic, religious and media icons, to name a few. Her book, Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream, emerged from a writing foundation cemented after her blog was launched in 2006. Through this vehicle, she exhibits a warm, thoughtful voice with powerful distinctions, while daring people to be their best self, to act out the courage of their convictions.
The intrinsic energy of her original writing has spurred frequent invitations to speak at corporations, universities, and to participate as guest mentor/panelist at renowned conferences and forums. Her reputation and brand, as well as that of Clay Christensen’s Rose Park Advisors, have been elevated through her prolific blogging for Harvard Business Review and her meaningful Twitter presence. Frequently among the most-read and most-commented on, Whitney’s HBR posts also elicit citations. “Disrupt Yourself” appeared in Harvard Business Review Magazine in 2012, and in 2011, one of her posts was cited as an HBR Editor’s Pick and appeared in “Top 10 Business and Management Blogs” list by Marcus Buckingham.
She also was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “12 People to Follow on Twitter in 2012,” Business Insider’s “54 Smart Thinkers to Follow” and Huffington Post’s “100 Business, Leadership and Technology People to Follow on Twitter.” She has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fast Company, Forbes and many more high-profile media outlets.
The weight of Ms. Johnson’s business impact—having run a successful franchise at Merrill Lynch and launched an investment firm—has been leveraged by CEOs of early-stage start-ups, as well. She has been tapped for Advisory Boards to provide strategic and tactical advice for Shabby Apple, Just Family, Everest and 8020 World; she also serves as a Senior Advisor to the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards in association with the Tribeca Film Festival.
As an award-winning stock analyst, she honed her influence skills. Similarly, when speaking to corporate, university or organizational audiences, Whitney’s thought-provoking reality checks and persuasive calls-to-action reverberate. With an engaging voice, she intuitively and scholarly cobbles together disparate ideas and facilitates conversations around ‘possibility’ by building a case for dreaming and disrupting. She facilitates small and large groups; she holds the attention of large audiences through her mission to help people—and companies– ‘disrupt themselves’ and build a remarkable and surprising future.
It is not uncommon for such seeds of talent to be planted early in life and cultivated through longstanding relationships. Profoundly influenced by her mother’s passion for reading, Whitney continues to scribble in book margins today while nourishing her own writing career. A diversity of other early influences flexed her muscles, developing her sense of identity and play-to-win attitude. She was an ice skater, revved by Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” and in grade school was picked ahead of the other girls (and many of the boys) for dodge ball. She is a classically trained pianist and during college toured with the jazz band, Synthesis, at the Montreaux Jazz Festival.
And perhaps most importantly, Whitney Johnson’s career fortitude and personal convictions have been buoyed by her 25-year marriage to Roger Johnson, a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, as they mutually support each other and raise two children.
Ms. Johnson’s strength is in picking winners; catalyzing others through her innovation and drive—whether stocks, start-ups or people—she sees and perpetuates the magnificence in others. Her leadership strength is only overshadowed by her quiet humility in that role.
- Disrupt Yourself™: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work
Disruptive companies and ideas upend markets by doing something truly different—they see a need and create something for a market which may not yet exist. After co-founding the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard's Clayton Christensen, I discovered that the framework of disruption can also be applied to individuals. So, if you are…
a high potential individual ready to make a big career leap
a leader trying to jumpstart innovative thinking in your company, or
a self-starter ready to make a disruptive pivot in your business
We are living in an era of accelerating disruption—managing new learning curves is a vital skill. If you want to be successful in unexpected ways, I'll guide you down your own disruptive path.