Confronting Fear and Danger, Sharp Difference Maker Chris Johnson Scales Journey to Better Self

Chris Johnson, Sharp

Whenever Chris Johnson came to a fork in the road during his life, he tended to take the path littered with land mines—and it’s more literal than one might think. It’s as if confronting his greatest fears and weaknesses was a welcome challenge to be eagerly anticipated rather than dreaded. But now, the senior director of channel sales, Central region for Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America is happy to have embraced the uncomfortable.

Johnson has tried enough things to know what he doesn’t like, from doing math to reading contracts. He tried his hand at break/fix as a technician, but after six months of visiting customers who were ticked off to see him—after all, broken machines prevented them from doing things they hated in the first place—he gave it up. Johnson was also a sales manager for a spell with Konica Minolta, which rekindled his disdain for reading contracts.

And in 2004, at the age of 31, he joined the Army, and only his boyish looks prevented any old-timer remarks. He’s done tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his obligations have also taken him to Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar—imagine trying to go through TSA unscathed with that passport?

To top it off, Johnson didn’t marry until he was 44 or have a child until about 46. In the span of a year, he got married, joined Sharp and gave up alcohol. Talk about massive changes! But to hear him talk, Johnson is only getting started and eagerly awaits his next adventure. Well, maybe “awaits” is a poor term; the man has a way of carving out his fortunes, although he feels it is more Divine Providence.

“I tend to do everything late in life,” said Johnson, a 2022 ENX Magazine Difference Maker. “I tell everyone that sometimes you don’t know what you need in life until God puts you in the right spot.”

He’s found quite a niche with Sharp. Despite the pandemic and supply chain woes, Johnson’s sales team grew revenues by 15% in 2021. This year has been equally fruitful, as Sharp enjoyed its best July ever from a distribution standpoint.

“The revenue results were great, but I think it was due to the behavior of my sales team in staying aggressive through that whole time,” he said. “We had a mantra we used with our dealers—if you find people willing to buy, we’ll find a way to get it to them. Our goal was to figure out how to get the right product into the right deals at the right time. We made it work.”

Setting the Stage

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from North Central College and an associate’s degree in computer networking from Robert Morris University, Johnson spent the better part of 16 years with Konica Minolta in a variety of roles and developed deep knowledge in direct sales, which equipped him well when it came time to serve the dealer channel with Sharp.

“I’ve managed sales reps and I’ve been one myself. I’ve done all of the things at the branch level that our [Sharp] dealers do day in and day out,” he said. “When I came to Sharp, I told the dealers that I have some strategies that can help them grow their business. And they were very receptive to it.”

Johnson has long appreciated the value of driving the success of others, as it is critical to his own fortunes. And he loves nothing more than a challenge he can (as he terms it) bully his way through; an aggressive nature toward obstacles only accentuates the passion Johnson has for the industry.

An ardent believer in the “show, don’t tell,” philosophy has propelled Johnson’s attitude toward executing plans. Whether it’s in the Army or strategizing to facilitate dealer (and Sharp) growth, actions trump promises.

“If you’re going to make a change or you have a new strategy, just start putting it into play,” he said. “You don’t need to make a big announcement about what you’re going to do. People only care about the results.”

Given his less-than-traditional path, it’s not surprising that Johnson has a penchant for looking at things differently, but with a big-picture perspective. That’s where the strategizing begins, with an eye toward solutions that are predictable and repeatable. Johnson also keeps his eyes on the X-factor and its potential to impede goals.

Johnson has gleaned much of his insight from key influencers such as his boss, John Sheehan (Sharp’s senior vice president of channel sales); President and CEO Mike Marusic; and Armen Biberian, a former boss with Konica Minolta. Sheehan provided a long leash to try new ideas and not be afraid of failing. When Johnson was a rep, Sheehan never kept a quota watch over his underlings, and that confidence he showed in Johnson was eye-opening.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today, skill set and industry-wise, without John giving me that leeway to do it on my own,” Johnson noted.

It was Biberian who guided Johnson’s initial foray into the industry and was the author of the “no big announcements” philosophy. “He taught me that loyalty was a big piece of the puzzle,” Johnson said of Biberian. “He showed me how to manage people.”

Encore Performance

As 2022 winds down, Sharp remains on track for its strongest regional performance, and that’s coming off a wildly successful 2021. Johnson is focused on helping dealers expand their product horizon and take advantage of opportunities with Dynabook laptops and AQUOS BOARD displays. Print volumes may be trending down, but the demand for information is growing exponentially, and he believes diversification is critical for dealer growth.

The journey to personal and professional enrichment is enhanced through lessons learned, and Johnson believes that will not only serve him and his team well in the future but will also open the door to profit avenues for dealers. “The first thing dealers ask after I finish my product pitch is, who else is doing this?” he related. “What strategies of theirs can we borrow? We’ll share with them what works and what doesn’t, because [other dealers] are OK with us sharing the info that can help others build on their success.”

Johnson and his wife, Violet, have been married for six years; their son is 12 and their daughter is four. Johnson and his son share a love of Star Wars, and the young man is now old enough to enjoy concerts with his dad. In addition to traveling abroad, the Johnsons love to travel and camp out under the stars.

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.