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Alumni in Action

Gift From Alumnus Creates Richard J. Johnson Chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems

By Alumni Relations

September 27, 2017

Richard J. Johnson (BBA '72)
Richard J. Johnson (BBA ’72)

With the foundation for his successful career built at the Wisconsin School of Business, Richard J. Johnson (BBA ’72) is giving back to his alma mater by funding an endowment to create a new chair in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems.

The Richard J. Johnson Chair of the Department and Accounting Information Systems was established this fall with a $2 million gift from the 1972 accounting graduate. It will be held by the chair of the department, and also can be used to support faculty within the department and support the department’s goals and initiatives.

“I’m proud to be a Badger alumnus and my education at the Wisconsin School of Business was the catalyst to my professional career,” Johnson says. “I remember the lessons my father taught me: Remember where you came from and always give back. That’s what I’m doing.”

Johnson is executive vice president and chief financial officer at Barker Pacific Group, a real-estate development firm based in Los Angeles. Before joining Barker Pacific in 1986, he was a senior vice president at Guardian Savings and Loan in Houston, where he managed a $450 million commercial real estate portfolio consisting primarily of new construction. He previously served as CFO of Michels Financial Corporation in Milwaukee and as an audit manager in the Milwaukee office of Arthur Andersen & Co.

“Accounting gave me a great foundation,” Johnson says. “It led me to public accounting, and public accounting led me to other things. I realized I wanted to make the deals, not audit them.”

Building on his BBA from UW–Madison, Johnson earned a master’s in accounting from The Ohio State University. He’s a Certified Public Accountant licensed in Wisconsin. He lives in San Ramon, California.

“He’s had a great career by virtue of his start in accounting,” says Terry D. Warfield, the PwC Professor in Accounting and the Richard J. Johnson Chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems. “He’s a good example of many of our alumni who are working in other areas but began their careers in accounting.”

Helping students see career options is a part of Johnson’s gift, too. Some of the gift will be used to support programs in which students can learn from accounting alumni who are now CEOs, CFOs, or hold other executive-level positions.

“I want to have students ask themselves where they want to be in 10, 15, 20 years. What is their career path?” he says. “You don’t walk out the door with the skill set to be a CEO or CFO. That’s not reality. But if you continue to work on your skills and your knowledge base, there are a lot of stepping stones that can take you beyond being an accountant.”

Warfield currently holds the Richard J. Johnson Chair but as the department chair changes, he says, Johnson’s gift will continue to resonate through the school for years to come.

“This chair is timeless,” Warfield says. “It will always be there to support whatever it is we’re doing.”

Johnson will be honored for his gift to the School of Business on October 5 at the Department of Accounting and Information Systems’s annual awards banquet at Union South.