Whitney Johnson Profile

  • Demonstrating that disruption originates with individuals, Johnson provides a practical guideline for pivoting your own business or career.

  • After shifting her sights from music to a career in finance, Johnson started as a secretary and worked her way to become one of the highest ranked equity analysts on Wall Street.

  • As the co-founder of Rose Park Investors, Clayton Christensen's disruptive innovation fund, Johnson steered Korea's Coupang through a $8 million seed round to their current value of $5+ billion.

  • Johnson has been recognized as a Thinkers50 finalist, one of the world's fifty most influential management thinkers, and one of Twitter's most influential women.
  • Founder and Managing Director of the Springboard Fund, Whitney Johnson is a top investor and leading thinker on driving innovation through personal disruption. As cofounder at startup investment advisor Rose Park Advisors, she co-led an in-the-trenches venture that applied frameworks of disruptive innovation to investing. She provides strategic and tactical advice to CEOs of early stage start-ups—advising how to influence opinion, build a movement and connect to the right people.

    Ms. Johnson’s unique professional journey is a testimony to the principles and advice she shares as a speaker, blogger, and author. A music major with no business connections she moved to New York City after graduation and got a job on Wall Street as a secretary, working 80 hours per week and studying business at night. Her exceptional focus and discernment for momentum launched her career as an investment banker and researcher for Salomon Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch in which she made several business connections to many of Latin America’s billionaires due to her understanding of Spanish and the Latino culture, having served in Uruguay as a missionary for 18 months.

    Ms. Johnson was an Institutional Investor-ranked analyst for eight consecutive years, and was rated by Starmine as a superior stock-picker. Despite her success and admirable reputation in the financial sector, she decided to “disrupt herself,” leaving her job to produce a TV show and write a children’s book; however instead she ended up blogging about life work issues and co-founding a hedge fund backed by a man she’d met at her church. Today that hedge fund Rose Park Advisors is valued at $2.2 billion.

    As a speaker, writer, and consultant, Ms. Johnson is appreciated for her gentle honesty and ability to inspire people to make great things happen. She has spoken to audiences of over 25,000 people and is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review. She has received wide spread recognition for her ideas which have been covered in The Atlantic, BBC, CNN, Fast Company, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal and more.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      In this technology era where attentions are strewn like leaves in the wind, Whitney Johnson captivates. Genuineness, warmth and an ability to breed trust underscore her personal brand, as affirmed by one of her workshop participants: “Sincerity is often undervalued in our age of hype and hyperbole. But time and again, those who hold our attention always bring their heart into the conversation.”

      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.

      She speaks her truth clearly and gently, and lets things fall where they may.

    Whitney Johnson Speaking Videos

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    Whitney Johnson's Speech Descriptions

    Disrupt Yourself™: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work
    Disruptive companies and ideas upend markets by seeing a need or an empty space waiting to be filled, and daring to create something for which a market may not yet exist. In this talk, Johnson shares how the theory of disruptive innovation impacts publicly traded stocks and private early-stage companies, and how the frameworks of disruptive innovation can apply. This presentation is ideal for high-potential people charting a new career trajectory, a leader trying to jumpstart innovative thinking, or a self-starter ready to make a disruptive pivot in their business. Johnson says that to be successful in unexpected ways, attendees need to follow their own disruptive path, dare to innovate, do something astonishing and “disrupt yourself™.”

    Whitney Johnson on Speaking

    I want people to be equipped to manage change, to see that if they are willing to harness rather than just cope with disruption that they will be far more successful.

    SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn and take away from your live presentations?

    JOHNSON: I want people to be equipped to manage change, to see that if they are willing to harness rather than just cope with disruption that they will be far more successful. Furthermore, I want to give them a very clear framework for how to do that.

    SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message and from what you want them to take away from your presentations?

    JOHNSON: It depends on who I’m talking to. Not too long ago, I spoke with the CFA Institute and they asked me specifically to speak on the topic of, “How do you apply this framework to your career?” And so to the extent that you have an audience that’s trying to figure out how to manage their career, this framework for personal disruption really equips them to do that. It allows them to think about how to play where no one else is playing, and then when they’re trying to get a new job, how to position themselves to de-risk themselves for the potential hiring manager.

    On a corporate basis, I find that there are a number of different instances where people find these ideas especially helpful. One is when there is a lot of upheaval in their industry and at their company generally. For example, if they’ve just gone through a massive round of layoffs or restructuring, this framework allows them to manage the changes and realize, “There’s a lot that I can do with this.”

    Another audience that finds this content very helpful is when you’ve got a major change management initiative, such as a massive software implementation or technology implementation.
    This framework guides them through the “human” aspect of that change by helping them
    harness new technology as opposed to being victimized by it.

    The third audience that tends to find these ideas very helpful are those that are very successful, want be more successful, but don’t have a burning platform. By talking an audience through the disruptive process and showing them what it looks like, you can inspire people to make changes and think of themselves as the change agent or the agent of disruption.

    I believe that if I connect with what I’m saying and the people I’m talking to that they will be able to learn something and be inspired. I want to make change something that they look forward to.

    SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special preparation work do you do prior to an event? And how do you prepare for your speaking engagements?

    JOHNSON: The first thing I want to know is who I’m speaking to and what problems are they trying to solve. Maybe on the surface, they seem like functional problems such as the implementation of a new technology, but what about the emotional challenges underlying that? Are they struggling to implement the technology because they don’t necessarily have the knowledge to do it? Or are they’re afraid to do it?

    Understanding those problems helps me gear my presentation so that it’s more meaningful and valuable to the audience.

    The second thing I do is practice, practice, practice. As a music major I practiced playing piano three or four hours per day. I learned that the more I know my material, the more I can improvise once I am in the room.

    The third thing I do, because I tend to be somewhat of a serious person, is advice I got from Marshall Goldsmith: once I walk out on the stage and into the room, I have fun. I enjoy the people I’m talking to. I believe that if I connect with what I’m saying and the people I’m talking to that they will be able to learn something and be inspired. I want to make change something that they look forward to. Exclusive Interview with Whitney Johnson
    What is Personal Disruption? Answers from Innovation Speaker Whitney Johnson…
    In this interview, business and innovation speaker Whitney Johnson discusses:
    • A roadmap for innovating your career or business.
    • Why we overlook our greatest strengths and talents.
    • Assessing risks in your professional life.
    • How you can find time in your busy schedule to expand your skillset and pursue new interests.
    Read the Full Interview

    "The fundamental unit of disruption is actually the individual. Companies don't disrupt - people do."
    - Whitney Johnson

    What People are Saying about Seeing Whitney Speak

    Rating Entries

    Whitney Johnson delivered a timely keynote and working session, helping each individual chart a disruptive path, while creating a unique networking platform for the entire group. The feedback has been fantastic; a week later her ideas continue to be top-of-mind. It’s no wonder several CEOs plan to book her for their own events.

    — Lynda Baum, CEO, Exclusive Destinations, LLC

    Whitney Johnson is an inspiring speaker, one who connected with our entire audience, no matter what the age. We loved having her as an Annenberg Lecturer in Leadership at Harvey Mudd.

    — Maria Klawe, President, Harvey Mudd College

    Intellectually, inspirationally, and in down-to-earth terms, Whitney Johnson’s words and the delivery of her ideas answered that “so what?!” question for leaders who need, for practical reasons, to make “Dare, Dream, Do!” operational, both in their individual lives and their team cultures. She challenged an audience whose collective belief is that they’ve heard it all, and know it all. And, best of all, she stimulated in each of them ideas about how to start doing the work of transformation in doable, digestible action items.

    — John McManus, Chair, Housing Leadership Summit

    Whitney Johnson did an outstanding job sharing her insights & expertise during the ASUG Leadership 2.0 panel session led by Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie. Her concept of personal disruption sparked a great dialog among attendees eager to disrupt themselves & their careers.

    — Gina Marchese, Director, SAP Americas’ Users’ Group

    Whitney Johnson is an an engaging speaker with rich content, a powerful combination of practical advice based on experience and research.

    — Boris Groysberg, Professor, Harvard Business School

    Whitney Johnson’s closing keynote was captivating and instructive. Throughout the conference I had built her up – and she came through. She pulled people into her vision of having dreams while giving practical ideas for making them come true. Whitney was great!

    — Paul McConaughy, Consultant, Office of President and FRIB at Michigan State University

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    Books by Whitney Johnson:

    Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream

    Whitney Johnson, popular Harvard Business Review blogger, has a goal: to help us identify and achieve our dreams. Her belief is that we can each achieve greater happiness when focusing both on our dreams and on other people in our lives. In this inspiring book, Johnson directs her attention to teaching women, in particular, a three-step model for personal advancement and happiness. She first encourages us to DARE to boldly step out, to consider disrupting life as we know it. Then she teaches us how to DREAM, to give life to the many possibilities available, whether to start a business, run a marathon, or travel the world. She shows us how to “date” our dreams (no need to commit!) and how to make space for dreams. Finally, Whitney’s model brings out the businesswoman in her; she teaches us to DO, to execute our dreams. She showcases the importance of sharing dreams with others to give them life, creating your own “dream team.” Rich with real stories of women who have dared to dream, DARE, DREAM, DO offers a practical framework to realize one’s true potential.

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