While working as an assistant administrator at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, Al Johnson began selling automobiles part-time to supplement his income. But there was a problem.
Johnson was not allowed to sell on the dealership lot. He became known as the “briefcase salesman” because he sold cars without having a physical car on display. This sparked his greatest innovation.
He secured a meeting with the dealership's owner and propositioned a new way to sell cars. Rather than the dealer making custom orders, the customer would be able to choose custom features for their own car direct from the manufacturer.
Johnson’s keen sales and business management skills successfully revitalized the industry, leading to a subsequent offer to become a Cadillac dealer.
Johnson was never only in the business for himself, however. He established the first Minority Dealer Organization and Training Academy to increase the number and success of African American dealers.
Today, just about 10% of car dealerships are owned by Black entrepreneurs, and the number continues to rise steadily. Johnson’s work made that possible and reminds us that making a path for others to come behind us uplifts us all.