Mark Johnson, General Manager for CPU, was recently featured in the Clarksdale Press Register’s 2018 Profile Magazine, a publication that highlights “some of the things, places and people that make Clarksdale and Coahoma Country a great place.” You can read the full text of the story below, or click the link to view it the way it is laid out in the magazine.
Restoration and Relationships …the more important things
by: Chris Campos for the Clarksdale Press Register
Anyone who has experienced a major hurricane, earthquake, flood or other natural disaster knows how important it is for basic utility services to be restored quickly. Mark Johnson, new General Manager for Clarksdale Public Utilities (CPU), recalls his time growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “When Hurricane Camille hit the gulf coast, I was 9 years old,” he said. Camille, with winds of 200 mph near the center, was a category 5 hurricane that tore through the gulf coast in August 1969. “I lived through the devastation. Three windows were blown out of our house, and our entire community suffered huge amounts of damage,” Johnson said.
The rebuilding process for a community following a storm or other natural disaster can take days, weeks, and more often than not, years. It involves a number of people and organizations coming together and working together toward the same thing: restoration. Johnson’s personal experience with disasters and what it means to be prepared and to anticipate the potential issues is why he is having a positive impact on the Clarksdale area. “Once you get into the utility business,” he said, “you really enjoy it because, ultimately, it is helping people. It is very much a part of people’s lives. You are always in that mode of helping people and doing things to make lives better.”
Johnson has always been service oriented. He is drawn to ways that he can serve and help others. Mississippi Power is one of the largest industries in Gulfport. “You are always involved in restoration when working for a utility company,” he said. “You think about how those events like Hurricanes Camille, Harvey and Irma change people’s lives because they don’t have a house anymore. They are life-changing events. What we try to do in the utility industry is make it as easy as possible for people to get things back to normal as soon as possible.” Restoration is key, and it takes planning, preparation, teamwork, leadership, and a clear vision for where things need to go. CPU’s focus is always on restoring services for its customers as quickly as possible when there is an outage.
Johnson grew up in a military family in Gulfport, MS. An avid tennis player (ranked 9th in the state in high school), Johnson enjoyed the strategy and diversity of the game. “There are a lot of different aspects to it. You have to be alert, prepared and ready,” he said. The “be prepared” attitude he developed is important in his position at CPU.
After graduating from Mississippi State University in 1982 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he received an MBA from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1997. Johnson’s education is an ongoing pursuit and a philosophy he embodies. “Education is key for our country. If you are able to get an education, you are able to do things you would have otherwise not had the opportunity to do. I’m very supportive of that. I went back to school to get an MBA when I was 37. I earned my professional engineer’s license when I was 50. It’s never too late. We all need to continually learn and grow.”
A father of two girls, Johnson enjoys time with his family. He and wife Kim (also of Gulfport) married in 1988 and will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year. Inspired by Mark’s life of service to those around him, his girls are also pursuing careers in public service. Grace, 27 and a graduate of Auburn University, is currently a Registered Nurse with Georgia Power Company (like Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company) in Atlanta. Bridgette, 23, studied Elementary Education at Auburn University and is currently a third-grade teacher in Charlotte.
“Having three women at home taught me to listen and understand…and do a lot of listening,” he emphasized. Johnson was always very involved in his daughters’ activities. From sitting in the football stands to the basketball stands and back out to the stands for track meets, family time was priority, and he made sure his girls knew that.
Johnson had several important roles in the utility industry before moving to Clarksdale. He worked at Mississippi Power Company for 15 years, then moved to Montgomery, AL to work for Alabama Power Company. He served as the Chief Financial Officer and Interim General Manager for Canton Municipal Utilities. He accepted the job in Clarksdale after an extensive, nationwide search by the CPU Board of Commissioners and the Victor Group out of Starkville, MS.
Jim Hemphill, president of the Victor Group and one of the team that found Mark, said, “When you are trying to employ someone and line them up with the right job, you want to do two things: Make sure they fit well with the organization and make sure the person is going to be well-suited for what they are going to find when they get there. [Mark Johnson] pushed all the professional and personal buttons, and had been a past acting GM. We felt confident in his judgment and character.”
Johnson said, “When I visited, I interviewed with the board, met the employees, and sensed we had a wonderful base that is interested in benefitting the community. It all comes down to that. We are providing services for the benefit of the community. Everything told me that there were a lot of opportunities to do that [in Clarksdale]. We discover more opportunities each day. Our goal is to rise to the challenge of achieving them.”
One of Johnson’s appealing qualities is his desire to succeed, not just by improving CPU, but also in developing the people he works with daily. “I am an engineer. I’m very interested in equipment and efficiency,” Johnson said, “but what I’m more interested in is the success of every person, in maximizing their potential. I’m most interested in their success—in the company and in life.”
How important are judgment and character in a public utility manager? CPU serves the entire Clarksdale community. By adhering to principles of honesty and truth, Mark can influence all CPU employees to serve their customers as they would like to be treated themselves. Such practices can only improve and enhance the quality of life for everyone.
Faith is important to Johnson. He tries to live out what he believes. He likes to ‘right the wrong’ for people. His wife Kim said, “I think Mark takes care of managing his job and the stress and anxiety in his life by praying through it. I always tell him to pray for wisdom–for the good things and the bad things. To make the right decision.” He likes to surround himself with hard-working people who enjoy their jobs. He likes a good team that he can share responsibility with. He’s a planner and prepares. Kim said, “He’s always going to come in prepared. I’ve seen that our entire marriage. Mark is a go-getter. He will go after a problem until he gets it fixed.”
“Sometimes the process of cleaning things up becomes the process that is too much to handle” Hemphill also shared. Johnson has risen to the challenge before, and takes every day as a new opportunity to find improvements, whether they are to serve those around him, set them up for success, encourage ownership and initiative, or bring CPU further along in its journey to fuel opportunity for the Clarksdale community.