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But at the peak of this distinguished career, Johnson pivoted and headed in a new direction. He left the world of big corporations in order to apply his vast experience with smaller, private equity backed companies. “This was a pretty significant decision for me and one with pretty significant personal risks. However, I find this environment much more satisfying as it’s far easier to make an impact,” he says.
And he has truly made an impact. At Progrexion, where he has served as CEO since 2009, he set and achieved ambitious targets for growth. The company’s revenues have grown more than 130 percent and 900 new employees have been added since Johnson took the helm.
Progrexion operates in the consumer credit repair arena, and Johnson is equally passionate about helping individuals reach financial goals. “Our company provides a very important service that can dramatically alter the lives of our customers. But today, only a small percentage of the consumers that need our business even know that our type of service exists,” he says. “We need to continue to expand our business while providing a fulfilling career for our associates and a reasonable return for our shareholders.”
Jon Pixton, CFO of Progrexion, says Johnson is “truly concerned about all the stakeholders in the business. His goal is not to maximize profits. He really wants everyone to succeed. He cares deeply about delivering value to our customers and improving their financial lives, providing good jobs and opportunities to our employees, and providing a good return to our investors.”
Johnson helped Progrexion develop a clear five-year vision and strategic plan, upgraded the company’s operational infrastructure and created a more cohesive management team. But while he has focused on instilling professional management and operational practices, he says, “People want to be led but not dictated to.”
Just keeping up with Johnson’s boundless intelligence and energy keeps most employees on their toes, says Pixton. “Jeff’s brilliance influences the way we tackle challenges at Progrexion. It is kind of like being on the Jeopardy! game show and playing against Watson, the IBM supercomputer. You can’t take any shortcuts in your analysis and everything you do needs to be thought through, or Watson will eat you up! His influence keeps us at the top of our game.”
JOSH COATES — CEO, Instructure
“I thought I’d be a software engineer and just write code and build things in that way. But it turns out you can do that and so much more, and actually build organizations and build up industries,” says Josh Coates, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Instructure.
After launching a startup in Silicon Valley, Coates relocated to Utah, where in 2005 he founded Berkeley Data Systems (Mozy.com), an online data storage company that offers remote backup solutions. That company was acquired by EMC for $76 million.
“I like building things, fundamentally,” says Coates. “Whether it’s an actual physical object, project—or if it’s an organization or some type of innovation in a segment of industry—building things is fun. That’s why I do startups.”
After Mozy, he volunteered as an instructor of a venture startup course at Brigham Young University, where he became interested in learning management systems (LMS). That led him to Instructure, a company he believed had a unique approach that would disrupt the LMS industry. Coates was an early investor, then joined Instructure as CEO in 2010.
“Instructure is unique in the education community in that we’re truly a technology company. We weren’t born out of education—it’s technology that’s in our DNA. And that’s what Josh brings to the table. He’s got an extensive technology background,” says Mitch Macfarlane, vice president of product for Instructure. He adds that Coates knows how to make software “that people will really use and engage with.”
For his part, Coates says he wants to help get LMS technology “out of the way” of instructors and students, creating a platform that “takes away the tedious nature of managing classrooms.”
The company’s signature product, Canvas, has been adopted by dozens of school districts, as well as several colleges and universities, including the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University and the University of Washington—and all of Utah’s major higher education institutions.
When Coates joined the company in 2010, it had a small handful of employees and almost no revenue. “Twenty-four months later, we had over 340 educational institutions under contract, and we had over 200 employees,” Coates says. “We were counting bookings in tens of millions of dollars. That growth exceeded all my expectations.”