It is bittersweet to announce the retirement of Michael P. Johnson from the Tiger Woods Foundation Board of Governors. Michael served 10 years on the board in addition to mentoring Earl Woods Scholar Grace Lee throughout her four years at the University of California, Berkeley. We take this moment to look back on his journey with the Foundation and thank him for his many years of devoted service.
Michael first became involved with the Tiger Woods Foundation in 2002. Upon the death of his friend and former TWF board member Cuba Wadlington, Jr., Tiger's father, Earl, asked Michael to join the cause. Inspired by Earl's leadership and passion for charity, he accepted the proposal and continued to offer his expertise to the Board of Governors throughout the next decade.
Currently CEO & president at J&A Group, Michael was formerly senior vice president & chief administration officer of Williams Companies, Inc. As chairman of the board of the Williams Foundation, he played an important role in shaping Williams' sponsorship of the first World Challenge golf tournament, held annually in December. Previously known as the Williams World Challenge, the tournament was one of the first major fundraising events for the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Michael also played an integral role in the implementation of the Foundation's character education program in the Tulsa, Okla., public school system, helping provide young people in that community with hands-on, educational programs at no cost.
In addition to being an asset on the TWF Board of Governors, Michael also accepted the task of mentoring Earl Woods Scholar Grace Lee. Grace is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley and is currently employed at NASA.
When financial disaster struck Grace during her last year and a half at Berkeley, Michael encouraged Grace to take action and apply for more scholarships, which she did successfully. On New Year's Eve of her senior year, she received a call from Michael. He told her that he had just made a donation to the Tiger Woods Foundation to cover the costs of her last semester at Berkeley. It was his gift to her.
When asked to reflect, Grace attributed much of her success to Michael.
"Looking back, my mentor must have been waiting for the right time to jump in and save me," she said. "He waited until I tried all my resources and proved that I could pick myself up after letdowns. He helped me become the person I am today: a self-sufficient, slightly pushy, resourceful, relatively thick-skinned and independent woman, ready to take on the world, embracing all of its challenges and triumphs. 'Thank you' is too small a word to describe all that I gained from my sage mentor."
Tracing back to the beginnings of their relationship, Michael shared the following about being a mentor and being part of the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Q: Overall, what has being a part of the Tiger Woods Foundation meant to you?
It was one of the best experiences I've ever had. Education and youth development are things I'm extremely passionate about. The satisfaction of seeing young people grow and become productive -- there's no better feeling than that.
Q: What was your first impression of Grace?
I thought she was very smart. Shy, but eager for advice and learning. I thought she was bright and maybe a little scared of the unknown, college-wise.
Q: How did you feel to see Grace graduate?
I was really touched. It was almost like my own son had graduated. I told her dad that Grace was the daughter I never had. I was very proud of her. Not only her academic achievements but her personal achievements, in terms of her confidence, her ability to confront issues, her ability to open up more and be more outgoing -- and her aggressive, take-charge personality.
Q: Grace had some financial and academic challenges at Berkeley. She often came to you with very hard questions. How did you handle these challenges? What did you tell her to keep her going?
Honestly, as a mentor you do a lot of listening, and you ask a lot of questions. Sometimes, through that process -- questioning and listening -- you can get people to sort things out for themselves. My approach to mentoring is to help people solve issues and problems themselves rather than to give them the answer. The reason I do that is because if they own what they come up with, they can implement it much better. My philosophy is to help them help themselves.
You also act as a soundboard for them, rather than to give them every answer. Obviously, it would be quicker to give them the answer. But the approach I'm taking, I think, is more effective. This approach does, however, require more patience and sometimes more time on the part of the mentee and mentor.
Q: What urged you to become a mentor? Did it come naturally?
I have two sons, and I have a strong interest and passion for youth development and education. In my role at Williams, I got a lot of experience coaching employees ranging from young professionals to senior executives. I also have kids for whom I currently provide scholarships and mentor outside of TWF.
Q: Any parting words upon your retirement from the TWF Board?
In my opinion, the root cause of all the social and economic issues we have in our country today centers around providing educational opportunity to our youth. My parting words to the Tiger Woods Foundation are to continue to serve and address these issues. By investing in our youth, the TWF is making America stronger. In order for America to be everything it can be, all of its people need to be everything they can be. And the Tiger Woods Foundation is serving that mission.