The Four R’s of Entrepreneurship: An Inspiring Conversation with Debbie Johnson

By Katie Knipe | April 1, 2024

One of the joys of my role at WESST is getting to know the amazing women in our community who have significantly impacted the entrepreneurial landscape. One of these women is Debbie Johnson! Debbie has generously supported WESST as a donor since the beginning, and she was one of WESST’s founding board members when Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team was launched in 1989. On Valentine’s Day, I had the pleasure of sitting with Debbie Johnson and learning all about her experiences as a small business owner for over 30 years, and her role as a leader in the advertisement and entrepreneurial development spaces in Albuquerque.

Raised in Albuquerque, Debbie, alongside her late husband Rick, steered the helm of the region’s largest ad agency, Rick Johnson & Co., for an impressive 33 years. Their entrepreneurial journey was characterized by a series of ventures, each a testament to their strategic vision and dedication to excellence. Debbie shared that only one of the eight businesses she and Rick started together failed, but she said, “That was the best teacher!” I’m sure many fellow entrepreneurs will relate to this.

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, Debbie’s ascent to becoming the first Chairwoman of Affiliated Advertising Agencies International (AAAI), a global advertising entity, underscored her exceptional leadership and expertise. When I asked what it was like to be one of the only women in this space at the time, she said that something she realized as a young kid, as a self-identified “tomboy,” “I could always compete with the boys!”

When Debbie’s journey with Rick Johnson & Co. concluded, Debbie’s friend + friend/fellow supporter of WESST, Kathie Winograd, invited Debbie to become CNM’s inaugural Director of the Office of Entrepreneurial and Economic Development, a role that allowed her to mentor and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs. Debbie shared, “I love entrepreneurs and being around them!” So, this role was a perfect fit.

As we delved deeper into the intricacies of entrepreneurship, Debbie shared some advice that might help anyone who is struggling or is considering becoming an entrepreneur. She spoke of the four essential qualities every entrepreneur must possess: resourcefulness, resilience, responsiveness, and risk tolerance. Drawing from her own experiences, she emphasized the importance of adaptability and the ability to thrive in the face of adversity.

What struck me the most was Debbie’s unwavering belief in the power of women in entrepreneurship. “Women are particularly resourceful,” Debbie said. “We see obstacles as opportunities, and we’re willing to mentor and bring other women up. She spoke passionately about the women she had encountered throughout her journey, each one a beacon of resilience and determination. For her, WESST embodies this spirit of empowerment, a place where women can come together to support and uplift one another.

Thank you, Debbie, for generously supporting WESST over the years, and for taking the time to share your passion and experiences with me. I know your legacy will continue to inspire generations of entrepreneurs yet to come!

About the Author

Katie Knipe

Katie Knipe

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