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Johnson: a CEO again.

Only months after a family dispute forced his resignation as president and CEO of Johnson Products Co., Eric G. Johnson is CEO of a million-dollar company once again. In September, Johnson's holding company, Tri-Star Industries Inc., purchased the 71-year-old Baldwin Ice Cream Co. for an undisclosed sum. He now faces the task of transforming the nation's only black-owned ice cream company from a regional player into a nationally recognized distributor.

Baldwin's former owner, Jolyn H. Robichaux, 64, parted with the venerable Chicago institution because she was ready to retire and none of her children were interested in assuming its leadership. Under her stewardship, the company posted sales of $3.2 million last year, and has no outstanding debt. Its butter pecan, black walnut, New York cherry and other ice creams have become fixtures in about 98% of the Chicago general market. The company also distributes ice cream to chain stores in seven other states.

Robichaux was sold on Johnson's knowledge of the industry and marketing skills after a one-hour meeting with him in June. He was reportedly able to close the deal using the $480,000 severance package he received from his stint at Johnson Products. (See "Johnson Products Co. Regroups After Family Row," In The News, May 1992.) "I'm pleased that Eric Johnson is taking over the company. I think he'll take it to another level of business management," Robichaux says.

Johnson used his expertise to help publicly traded Johnson Products' stock price jump from $1.63 in 1988 to $19.50 when he resigned in March. He admits that he was "very ready" to leave the health and beauty care industry.

He says the transition won't be difficult. Both health and beauty products and ice cream are consumer products that have similar distribution requirements. "It's a natural extension," says Johnson.

In preparation for his drive to go national, Johnson has already increased his staff by 20%. He says the expansion will be financed gradually from within. A new advertising and promotion campaign will be launched early next year. The distribution strategy will focus on developing a niche by penetrating the premium ice cream market in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Johnson says there is huge potential for growth. "If you take Baldwin's sale position in Chicago and expand it to 50 states, you will have sales far in excess of $100 million.
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Title Annotation:Eric G. Johnson buys Baldwin Ice Cream Co.
Author:Weaver, Maurice
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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