Matt's Memo: A force in business and generosity: Sheila Johnson

Sheila Johnson Design Center

It's not often you get to talk with the person whose name is hanging on the outside of a building. It's more common that person has long since passed away. His or her name turns from meaningful to just a place to go to work or class. That couldn't be further from the case when it comes to the namesake of the Sheila Johnson Design Center at Morrisville State College. Sheila Johnson is a vibrant, passionate and sharp business woman who fully understands the great power of her wealth comes in empowering others.

She was the guest of honor on the Morrisville State College campus today for the dedication of the new Sheila Johnson Design Center. I sit on the foundation board of the college. It's a place with a foundation in agriculture, but a hand firmly on the world of technology. A decade ago Johnson began a relationship with Morrisville and its outgoing president Dr. Ray Cross. She pledged one million dollars, but she didn't just want her name on a funky new building created from an old barn. She wanted a hand in changing lives.

I sat and talked with her with a small group this afternoon including Dr. Cross and other board members. The conversation revealed the intensity, the leadership and the vision Johnson carries into her conglomerate of business. She has no fear. I asked her how she manages to oversee athletic teams, movie making, hotel and resort development and still keep her hands deeply into charitable works involving higher education and the arts. She told me she just keeps moving forward. She just gets it done.

At Morrisville she's not just about the buildings, it's the students. Julio Torres is one of those who has benefited from the Sheila Johnson Institute which provides support for diversity and character building at the college. Julio is one of many first generation college students at Morrisville. He went from being on the streets of New York City to degrees at Morrisville and Cornell University. Now he's going to be working for Sheila Johnson on projects in his native Dominican Republic. He is a remarkable young man. Johnson recognized that, encouraged him and is putting her professional trust in him.

Sometimes we meet people and recognize they are a force. They are confident and armed with the ability to execute ideas. That's Sheila Johnson - forever more than the name on the building.