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In 1976 he became president and CEO of Spiegel, Inc. and, in 1985, was named vice chairman of the company, the third largest catalog company in the United States in 1987. Under Johnson's leadership, Spiegel became the leading women's fashion catalog store in the world. By creating "a department store in print" to meet the needs of working women, he originated a marketing strategy that led to a nearly threefold increase in sales.

A strong supporter of the school, Johnson served as Chicago chairman of Chicago Booth's capital campaign, president of the Executive Program Club, and national chairman of the Company Groups Program. He was also a member of the Council on Chicago Booth and has served on the Alumni Board of Directors, the Dean's Fund Committee, and the Annual Fund Steering Committee.

Johnson was a regional president of the Boy Scouts of America and served on its National Executive Committee. He was a board member of the American Retail Federation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Direct Marketing Association. A recipient of the 1983 National Distinguished Service Award of the American Jewish Committee, Johnson also received the 1984 United States Olympic Committee's Spirit of America Award and was honored by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans with its award in 1985.