A young alumnus of the University of St. Thomas, Steffan Johnson, is already realizing his entrepreneurial goals and helping others make business connections.
Steffan Johnson was barely a teen when something his father said struck an entrepreneurial spark that still burns within his son: "I want to see you sign the front of the check instead of the back of the check."
That comment, Johnson said, worked itself into his "childhood DNA." It inspired him to leave his native New Orleans to attend business school at the University of St. Thomas and carried him through 10 years in the workforce and back to St. Thomas for his MBA.
It propels him today as he leads two organizations: Stratus Medical Group, a medical supply start-up he has been CEO of since May, and the Twin Cities chapter of the National Black MBA Association, the nonprofit where he has been president since July.
"I want my name to be on the front of the check," said Johnson, 32, who described his mother and father as no-nonsense, middle-class working folks. "It's just been the driving force for me."
Through his professional and volunteer work, he hopes to be a driving force that will inspire other African-Americans to enter the business world.
With the MBA group, he and other volunteers offer advice on recruiting and retaining minorities to corporations based in the Twin Cities.
The National Black MBA Association, with 60,000 members, gives scholarship and provides mentoring to African-American students, who, at least anecdotally, appear to be under-represented in MBA programs nationwide.
Johnson was elected vice president of administration of the local MBA chapter in January, then was sworn in as president in July when his predecessor left to pursue a job opportunity.
At Stratus, Johnson is rewriting the business plan and re-envisioning the marketing plan and strategy as the company prepares to relaunch later this fall.
The company, which has been in business for a few years before its owners tapped him as CEO, has five employees but will grow as Johnson expands the product lineup from dozens to thousands of items.
'Wonderful role model'
"He is and will be a wonderful role model for young African-Americans who may be considering a career in business and/or an MBA," said Mary Maloney, assistant professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.
Fellow students elected him CEO of one of the marketing and business strategy projects they conducted, she said.
"We talk about using your MBA skills not just to lead in your employing organization but in the wider community," Maloney said. "He really embraced every aspect of the MBA program here."
Johnson got his business degree in 1997. He ended up at St. Thomas because of a relationship his high school, St. Augustine, has with the university through its president, Father Dennis Dease.
He worked at 3M, then joined the information technology boom, getting training in networking and moving to North Carolina. He worked for a small consulting company, doing workflow consulting and business process management, for corporations that included Microsoft and General Electric.
Returning to the Twin Cities to get engaged, Johnson found that "that entrepreneurial thirst really started to boil."