Tim Johnson is the Director of Transportation Initiatives at NextEnergy. He was raised in the suburbs of Chicago and grew up during the desegregation of public schools. From attending operas with his mother to learning his father’s craftsmanship in carpentry, Tim exemplified a jack-of-all-trades by the time he graduated high school. He went on to play football and baseball at Augustana College, a Division III liberal arts school in Illinois, while long-distance dating his high school sweetheart and double majoring in macroeconomics and history. After their college graduation, Tim and his longtime girlfriend got married, and Tim began working in sales for a can manufacturing company. Four kids later and successful stints at Nextel/Sprint, Tim and his wife moved to Detroit in 2013 where he took his position at NextEnergy.
When described this way, Tim’s biography might not stand out, but then again, it’s not exactly Tim’s business accomplishments that define him. It’s his ambition. The first day I met Tim, I asked him what brought him to Detroit. He responded, “No one moves to San Diego or Chicago thinking, ‘I want to make this a better city.’ But Detroit is different. People come here because they want to take part in something bigger than themselves. That’s why I came here. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.” However, his journey to Detroit has not been straightforward.
After rising to Global Business Development Manager at Sprint (with 18 people working under him) Tim lost his job in 2013. He could have gone to Verizon or AT&T, working in the same position that he had at Sprint, but that disinterested him. Tim attributes much of his ambition to Wayne Gretzky, one of the all-time greatest hockey players. “Wayne Gretzky said, ‘Don’t skate to where the puck is, skate to where the puck is going to be,’ and I have tried to do that in my life.” So here was Tim, 50 years old and unemployed, but never more excited to try something new. Tim was fully aware of Detroit’s turmoil at the time and was ready to move on from the comfortable lifestyle of Grand Haven, Michigan. After looking for jobs in Detroit for a brief period, he joined NextEnergy and has become, as we like to call him, the “Chief Visionary.”
This is just one of many journeys that Tim narrated to me. He overcame a torn MCL to win All-Conference honors and a National Championship for Augustana. He took a pay cut to spend more time with his family. He joined Nextel in 2002 because they were interested in bringing the internet to phones. He spearheaded the connected vehicle sector despite the collapse of the auto industry in 2008. He's currently wrapping his mind around a city-wide revolution in transportation. But I reiterate, it’s not exactly Tim’s business accomplishments that define him. It's his passion for what he does. He frequently chimes, “I’m always ready for the next thing.” Kinda fits that he’s working at a non-profit who’s slogan is “Ask us what’s next.”