CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Sam Johnson Speaks of Following Famous Dad's Footprints Into Amazon
Aired December 6, 2002 - 09:42 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: For Sam Johnson, it started out as an adventure, the chairman emeritus of Johnson Wax re-creating his father's trip into the Brazilian rain forest. That trip of his father took place more than six decades ago. It was there that H.F. Johnson found the supply of the ingredient that would become the jewel in the family's multi-billion dollar worldwide business. In the end, the trip in his father's footsteps became a journey of self-discovery. Sam Johnson has turned that trip into a documentary, called "Carnauba, A Son's Memoir."
Earlier today, I talked to him about his complex relationship that he had with his father.
SAM JOHNSON: Well, my relationship with my father was a difficult one, particularly after he had his stroke and -- but he was a wonderful man and had built the company to something that we were all proud of, but I felt as I was getting towards retirement that I needed to reconnect with him.
HEMMER: Did you find that reconnection out there?
JOHNSON: Yes. As we were flying over the Amazon in an airplane that was a replica of his original airplane that he used in 1935, I could feel him in the cockpit.
HEMMER: Wow. Your mother and father split when you were the age of 3. Your mother was an alcoholic. How much strain did that put on you and your family growing up?
JOHNSON: It put a lot of strain on it, because my mother was never able to conquer alcoholism. Even though she went into treatment three times, it never -- she could never break out of it.
HEMMER: Were you aware of that growing up? How did that affect you?
JOHNSON: I was aware of it as I got into my teens and it was a great kind of disappointment, because one day, she would be one kind of a person, and the next day, she would be another kind. And, somehow, I then realized that it would be the days in which she was drinking that would be the bad days and the other days, she was wonderful.
HEMMER: How did you then go about discovering your own problem? JOHNSON: Well, I always felt that I didn't want to be like my mother in that regard, because it was so difficult for me as a child. But as I got older and as I got towards retirement, I began to be wound up in the hurley burley of the business and the fact we had gotten a lot bigger and we were global and there was great social demands that I -- I didn't really realize I had that much of a problem until my family told me about it.
HEMMER: Did they run an intervention with you? Is that how it came about?
JOHNSON: Exactly. They ganged up on me. Four children and my wife, and they cornered me up at our place in northern Wisconsin and said, "You have to fix your problem." And I said, "What problem?" I was in denial of a problem, but they wouldn't allow me to be in denial. They said you've got to go to the Mayo Clinic and get this fixed. And I said I can't go to the Mayo Clinic. I'm chairman of the board of the Mayo Clinic. And so it made it very difficult.
HEMMER: How do you feel today?
JOHNSON: I feel great. I went through the treatment ten years ago. I've entered into the best period of my life.
HEMMER: What do you find out about your father now in retrospect after this mission was launched and you had this incredible personal revelation, knowing the man you are today, what have you learned?
JOHNSON: Well, I learned that my father was a greater person than I thought he was. I think when you're in your 20s, you think your father, you know, is not very up-to-date or he's way behind the times, or he's a little bit of an old fuddy duddy. But as you, yourself, get older and you realize what he's left behind and the good works that he left behind, now my admiration for him is at its peak.
HEMMER: Thanks for sharing your story.
JOHNSON: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. I have enjoyed being here.
HEMMER: Sam Johnson -- kind man -- earlier today.
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