HP Senior VP brings her experience to the masses


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Allison Johnson’s schedule is packed tighter than a can of sardines.On a recent Monday, the Senior VP of computer company Hewlett-Packard spent the day with Apple’s Steve Jobs plotting out the future compatibility of the iPod and HP computers. Tuesday was spent in New York City helping Starwood Hotels market to a business crowd. Wednesday saw her in Santa Monica working with Starbucks to help establish “music booths” at which a customer could burn their own CD for a price. Thursday was spent brainstorming the launch of the iPod with the heads of Universal Records, and come Friday she was at Skyline College. And you thought your week was busy.”I have the best job in the world,” Johnson said. “It’s not tough so much as it’s fun.”While she might thoroughly enjoy her job, Johnson hasn’t always been in the technology field. She certainly never intended to end up in such a place, either, stressing the importance of getting out in the real world and taking chances.”I’m a communications and journalism graduate,” she said. “I don’t have a Masters-I come from the school of hard-knocks.”Johnson originally set out to become a doctor, but decided to stick with something she was better with, which was writing. After graduating, her first job found her working at a public relations firm, covering Senate hearings. Though it only earned her $9,000 per year, she saw it as “a way to start.”From there, she headed to New York to be a public affairs assistant for Chemical Bank, which involved more coverage of government happenings. She felt this was her first “fun job,” as she met others working in public relations. After this, she began working with Apple.”Apple wanted people who could write, which is what I did for six years,” she said. “I had no technological background, which can be hard if you don’t know what you’re writing about. I had to do a lot of work getting up to speed.”It was at this time that many people from Apple went to IBM, including Johnson, and here she got her feet grounded as a specialist. Whether it was fighting to keep a dying operating system alive or taking business to the budding Internet, Johnson established a name for herself. Eventually, Hewlett-Packard came knocking at her door and has been working there since then.”The thing that I look for in my career is controversy,” she said. “That’s something people don’t like to look for, but I like to be in the middle of it. People leave you alone and it’s fun, because it gets you to the next place. So far, it’s been good-it’s not boring.”Being a Senior VP isn’t always easy, though. While going through her career trials and tribulations, Johnson has had two children and has been married to the same man the whole time. Work even keeps her awake at night.”Part of my job is trying to differentiate HP from the rest of the market,” she said. “We need to define who we are and why we are more valuable. Wall Street can be very parochial-not very comfortable with thinking outside of the box. I try to communicate our value, and communication is more effective. We like to have confidence in the message we put forth in the marketplace.”Another challenge Johnson has met has been in building relations-something she stresses is the key for doing good business. While results are good, what is most important is the quality of your work.”I’m one of those rare people who knew what they wanted to do when they left college,” she said. “I wanted to run marketing for a company. With a journalism degree, I could compete with business Masters Degree holders. Have I made mistakes? You bet. You wear a great big target on your back when you do this, but I try to set goals for myself.”According to Johnson, for those who are interested, the most important part of getting yourself established in the corporate world comes from networking, and being able to write well.”People who engage in subject matter and become passionate about it, should get out there and put everything behind it-that’s what gets you noticed,” she said. “Some marketing people still can’t write well. Writing well is a rare skill and we value it a lot.”