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ACT Rochester leader Ann Johnson takes an analytical approach

ACT Rochester leader Ann Johnson takes an analytical approach

Ann Johnson’s experience has shown her there are two factors crucial to getting others to make a decision.

For Johnson, a position built on a foundation of solid data, coupled with persistence, is key to change.

Ann Johnson
Ann Johnson

“Throughout my career I’ve always approached things in a win-win way,” said Johnson, senior director of ACT Rochester, a program of the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

By sharing data with colleagues and clients, Johnson said, “I could see that it took much less time for them to agree, or disagree, or counter, what I might be proposing.”

As a marketing manager for IBM in Houston almost 30 years ago, she made the case for being considered for the manager of the year award—even though she was only on the job for nine months of that year.

Johnson showed her boss that, by looking at her nine months of sales, on an annualized basis, she was actually the top performer.

She had to make the pitch three times before he finally agreed to nominate her for the award. And she won.

“I’ve always tried to use data in a way that it could be impactful,” said Johnson.

And she has been continuing to do so in her role at ACT Rochester.

ACT Rochester’s website tracks demographic data in nine counties and four cities in the region. The program connects businesses, nonprofit organizations and institutions to help learn from the data and work together to solve challenges in the community, such as poverty, racism and access to quality education.

The ACT database is updated annually in partnership with the Center for Governmental Research, or CGR, and is available to anyone online.

Major accomplishments in the past nine years:

  • ACT Rochester issued a report on race and ethnicity in 2011 that led to the exhibit: RACE: Are We So Different? at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.
  • The exhibit attracted more than 45,000 visitors and fostered community conversations about racial inequities, resulting in the creation of an initiative called Facing Race, Embracing Equity (FR=EE). FR=EE has five workgroups that set goals for the community in the areas of education, health disparities, juvenile/criminal justice, jobs and economic opportunity and housing.
  • Last year, ACT Rochester and the Rochester Area Community Foundation launched Hard Facts: Race and Ethnicity in the Nine County Rochester Area, and held two community workshops on the topic in January.
  • In 2013 ACT Rochester co-sponsored a special report that led to the creation of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. Follow-up reports on poverty in the region were issued in January 2015 and September 2016.
  • For the past seven years, ACT Rochester has been delivery its annual regional “report card,” as nine county report cards.

“Very few communities around the country have this kind of database that’s so public and available to people as we do,” said Tom Argust, chairman of the ACT Rochester Advisory Committee.

“We’re very fortunate. And I think we’re fortunate to have Ann being the one that’s put this whole thing together,” he said.

Johnson’s skills are particularly important when she’s facilitating meetings of people from different sectors, such as business, government and education, who are talking about the data they have and what they need, said Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of Rochester Area Community Foundation.

“Ann promotes the importance of trusting each other and the need to share data to get better outcomes for people,” Leonard said.

Johnson calls herself a conductor, or “integration executive.”

“I like to take lots of different pieces of what’s happening and bring them together in a way that the people, or the initiatives, are extremely successful and can deliver something better than what they do themselves,” she said.

Johnson was born in South Boston and her family moved to the suburb of Milton when she started high school. Her mother was a social worker and her father a bartender.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business and computer science in 1977 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Johnson went to work in sales for IBM.

She started as a systems engineer in Tulsa, Okla., but wound up in West Virginia as a marketing manager after moving four times in less than six years.

She became intertwined with the business, education and political community of West Virginia, where IBM won a $70 million contract to provide computer systems to the state’s public schools.

After Gaston Caperton was elected governor in 1989 on an education platform he hired Johnson to run his office of community and economic development.

In her new role, Johnson was responsible for 12 departments, none of which she could have run on her own, she said.

“That’s where I learned really how to lead, how to connect the different things without knowing how to do them,” she said.

It was an exciting time. She opened an office in Japan and frequently attended meetings and events at the governor’s mansion.

“It was a very interesting opportunity to be a big fish in a little pond. But something was missing,” she said.

She became slightly disillusioned by the world of government and politics. She saw newly elected legislators arrive in the capital who eventually were trading votes on bills they didn’t believe in so they could accomplish a fraction of their own agenda.

“That’s just not me. I’m kind of a lay-on-the-tracks kind of person,” Johnson said.

In 1993, when she was 37, about the time she decided to leave the government job in West Virginia, Johnson decided to become a single mom.

“I had watched a lot of people be with the wrong person to have a child, so I decided I can do this on my own and, lo and behold, I did. I was blessed,” she said.  “I researched the different possibilities and was fortunate to naturally deliver a healthy baby boy in 1993.”

Her son, Eric Vaughn Johnson, 25, is business manager and musical director for the Rochester Association of Performing Arts and president of the board of the Greece Performing Arts Society.

When her son was born, they moved to Rochester and she took a job at Xerox Corp. as manager of worldwide marketing communications and marketing education.

She spent 13 years at Xerox. She was general manager of operations for Xerox Capital Services in 2006 when she left because her position was being moved to an office out of town.

Johnson spent a couple years as a self-employed business consultant before joining ACT Rochester in November 2009.

Although there was no “Mr. Right” in her life when she wanted to have a child, he eventually surfaced. Actually, he resurfaced.

In February 2010, Johnson got a Facebook message from Nils Miner.

“He said, ‘I’m looking for that special someone I knew on Cape Cod many years ago, in Wellfleet, and I’m wondering if you’re her,’ ” she recalled.

She indeed recalled Miner. They first met at a dance at the end of the summer when she was 15 and he was 16. They dated the next summer, but hadn’t seen each other since.

During the intervening years, Miner was married and divorced and living in San Diego.

Johnson responded to his message within a few days. They met about a month later. He moved here in October 2010 and they were married in December 2010.

“When you’re our age and it’s right, why wait?” Johnson said.

“His ex-wife said, ‘I think she was always his soulmate,’ after she heard we had reconnected,” Johnson said.

[email protected]/(585) 232-2035


Ann Johnson

Title: Senior director, ACT Rochester

Age: 62

Family: Husband, Nils Miner; son, Eric Vaughn Johnson, 25

Education: Bachelor of business administration, business and computer science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Leisure activities: Musical theater; shopping

Quote: “I like to take lots of different pieces of what’s happening and bring them together in a way that the people, or the initiatives, are extremely successful and can deliver something better than what they do themselves.”