I appreciate the challenge of being a CEO. I ask penetrating questions because I want what you want: your success.

— Jim Johnston, Johnston Company

Being a Coach

An engagement with me is about what we can do together to get you where you want to go. CEOs get the most out of me when they have a desire to improve. I’ve worked with dozens of CEOs as their CFO and advisor. I’ve seen triumph and failure. I’ve also seen that what works for one CEO and one company doesn’t always work for another. I do coaching tailored to you and your situation, team, and company. I’m on your side. I want you to win. I want you to be free.

The CEO statements on this site show that my clients believe I bring calm, honesty, discipline, rigor, process, and accountability. Sometimes my rigor can become too inflexible. I welcome feedback and acknowledge that I am still learning. Your success is my top priority, so sometimes I will be unrelenting. CEOs also say I often sort through a difficult situation, succinctly distill it, and help them prioritize and make sense of it.

An hour spent deploying your strengths will propel you further than an hour spent fixing your weaknesses. I will help you become aware of blind spots and weaknesses and manage them, but I won’t see you as a problem to be fixed. I’ll focus on how your strengths can take you to victory over the problems you tackle and the problems that come at you unbidden. I will be candid and ask the hard questions. It’s my job to maintain continuity and accountability in our discussions.

Being a CEO is part of your personal identity – I get that. I will seek to understand your emotional experience as a CEO as I also focus on business results. I want to be the person in your life who understands the complete you. I know I’m succeeding when a client talks with me before and after crucial meetings and events. We sort out what it all means and how to come out on top. I have not been a CEO and I’m not the CEO type. I’ve worked closely with CEOs in 60 businesses as part of their management teams. If you seek a former CEO to coach you, or a CEO group to join, I can help you make a good choice.

How to reach Jim

Frequently Asked Questions

What Have You Done, By the Numbers?
  • CFO of 60 companies. Engagements of other types with dozens more.
  • Host of 38 Johnston Co. CEO Gatherings (invitation-only dinner discussions, each around a selected topic).
  • Facilitator and/or creator of 9 boards of directors of owner-run companies.
  • Retained search professional for 18 searches to fill CFO, controller, CEO, and general partner roles.
  • Author of 8 articles in CFO Magazine, Mass High Tech newspaper, and other publications.
  • Speaker to audiences of 150 CFOs at two conferences held by CFO Magazine.
  • Editorial Advisory Board member for 1 magazine, CFO Magazine
  • 1 bachelor’s degree, economics, Princeton University.
  • 1 MBA degree, finance and statistics, Booth Chicago.
What Industries Have You Worked In?
  • 46% of clients have been Venture and Angel backed
  • 88% of clients have been run by the founder
  • 12% have been acquired
Advanced MaterialsCPS Technologies (NASDAQ CPSH), Atlantis Energy Systems
Business ServicesScout Hotels
ConstructionFBN Construction
EngineeringTest Devices, Practical Applications
Branded FoodsKettle Cuisine, Rustic Crust, Hot Mama’s Foods, King Arthur Flour, Dancing Deer Baking, FoodShouldTasteGood
Computer HardwareAurora Technologies, Ferro Solutions, CSMi
Health CareVirgin Pulse, Sleep HealthCenters
Life SciencesPharmaceuticals Company, SOLX, RadioMed
Outsourced ServicesAutomated Business Development, Valora, Spencer Technologies.
Retail Mahoney’s Garden Centers
Software Glance, Tizor, Timeslips, Permabit, Ipswitch, Umber, Princeton Transportation Consulting Group
Web Development OHO Interactive, Onward Technologies, Granitar, MedTouch
What’s Special About Your Approach to CEO Clients?
  • Be on the CEO’s side as a thought partner. Not a rival. Not a scold.
  • Have the courage to face facts as friends, not enemies.
  • Learn from every client.
  • Understand a business and build accountability of the team by active forecasting.
  • Explore what-ifs fluidly and efficiently.
  • Appreciate that the entrepreneurial CEO is a hero, doing an important, difficult job.
What’s New?
  • In 2019, I ended my CFO practice. CEO coaching and advising is my main focus
  • I continue to accept assignments in board facilitation and executive search
What Are Your Beginnings?

I was born in Ogden, Utah. When I was four, we moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where my father did a medical residency in psychiatry and then joined the faculty. He had a sabbatical year at Harvard in 1970-71, so for my junior year of high school I attended Watertown High School. I graduated from University High (part of the University of Chicago) in 1972 and enrolled at Princeton. After my sophomore year I was a missionary for two years for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern Mexico. I returned to Princeton and graduated with high honors in economics in 1979. I went straight to business School at Booth Chicago and earned an MBA in 1981. I worked for Cummins Engine Co. as an analyst until 1985. I did projects in England, Mexico, Argentina, and at several engine plants in the U.S.

Where Do You Live?

I married Mary Hazen in 1979. We have six children together, born in Chicago, Indiana, and New Hampshire. Since 1992, we’ve lived in Lexington, Massachusetts. Each Patriots’ Day (the third Monday of April), our town re-enacts the 1775 Battle of Lexington. We invite friends, neighbors, and colleagues to park on our lawn at 5:00 a.m., walk to the re-enactment, and then have breakfast with us after. We can handle at least 70 cars and 200 people.

How Did You Launch Johnston Co.?

My life changed drastically in April 1985 when I left Cummins, moved to Manchester, New Hampshire, and took a job with Cadec Systems, a 40-person venture-backed technology startup. Cadec rapidly grew to 80 people and was running out of cash. When I was fired from my job there in September1986, I decided not to return to the corporate world. I had caught the venture bug. I reinvented myself as a CFO and advisor to entrepreneurs.