Global Imaging founder shares success story

Tom Johnson preaches a lean management style and says he has no use for the government.

Published November 17, 2006



TAMPA - Tom Johnson, founder of Tampa's fast-growing Global Imaging Systems, doesn't like the government.

Maybe he'd make an exception for the U.S. Marine Corps he served as a younger man.

He doesn't like lawyers. Some of them anyway.

And he's not too keen on the country's current low unemployment: It crimps his ability to fill 180 vacant sales positions.

But in a breakfast speech before the Association for Corporate Growth on Thursday, Johnson gushed about what he does like: his office equipment company that's recently broken the $1-billion sales barrier, after 11 years in the field.

Global's rise - often at the expense of less lithe rivals Danka Business Systems and Xerox Corp. - was built upon acquisitions of more than 80 companies.

Key to success has been Johnson's philosophy of retaining the original entrepreneurs at the helm of the new subsidiaries, but schooling them in a lean approach that eschews corporate cars, wasteful travel and other perks.

Johnson's gobbling of former competitors has been largely turkey-free: Not a single acquisition has tanked, and just four or five acquired companies failed to make as much money as hoped.

"Drunken sailors on shore leave can buy companies," Johnson, 61, told the audience of 60 sausage-and-egg sated business types at Tampa's Centre Club. "But acquisitions are more serious than that."

Global sells, leases and services copiers, printers, fax machines and other equipment. Twice as profitable as the competition, the company is largely recession-proof, Johnson said.

Well, almost. After flirting with penny stock status in recessionary 2001, Global stock trades around $22 a share.

Global has gained the confidence of banks and venture capitalists. Borrowed money doesn't come cheap. Johnson dubbed "unconscionable" the $10-million in fees banks' law firms have charged him.

"It's one of the all time - well I won't say it," Johnson said to laughs from an audience that included lawyers from Tampa's Trenam Kemker. "It pains you to pay out money that brings you nothing."

Johnson worries America is getting soft, a decline suggested by post-hurricane complaints that the government didn't deliver enough ice. He cheered Washington gridlock.

"I'm sick of reading 'What's the government going to do for me.' I don't want the government to do anything for me," he said.

His biggest pain is hiring sales people willing to work long hours on commission. Pharmaceutical companies tend to pluck his high achievers. Nevertheless, he awaits further growth beyond the firm's breach of the billion-dollar barrier.

"Everything we sell breaks," Johnson said. "And we make more money fixing it than anyone else."

James Thorner can be reached at 813 226-3313 or thorner@sptimes.com.


$1.03- billion 2006 Sales $1.1- billion
$61.9-million 2006 Net income/loss - $24.7- million
4,200 Employees 4,500
$22.11 Stock price $1.71
$1.13- billion Market capitalization $106-million