Leadership

Larry D. Johnson, A Celebration Of The Man Who Built An Empire

The Builder's Daily salutes the founder of masterplan development community crown jewel Johnson Development Corporation, who passed away unexpectedly this week.

Leadership

Larry D. Johnson, A Celebration Of The Man Who Built An Empire

The Builder's Daily salutes the founder of masterplan development community crown jewel Johnson Development Corporation, who passed away unexpectedly this week.

January 7th, 2022
Larry D. Johnson, A Celebration Of The Man Who Built An Empire
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Hundreds of thousands of people may never have known who Larry D. Johnson was.

They have lived and flourished, and raised children, and gone to work, and come home from school, and hosted parties, and gone for walks around the block or through the woods in the 100 communities Johnson Development Corporation laid out and breathed life into since 1975, and they may never get what he meant to them.

Larry D. Johnson who died unexpectedly Jan. 5, 2022, accepted that. He would have wanted it that way.

As hard as he worked and as much of his heart and soul he poured into making the homes and neighborhoods of those hundreds of thousands of families thriving, comfortable, pulsing, vibrant places – the kind of places people love to come from and love to come home to – the founder and chief architect of one of master planned communities' world class enterprises, wasn't in it for recognition of any kind.

The real estate business legend who is Larry Johnson happened not because he strived to become one.

Let's not focus on the fact that in his case, the term legend fits the opus of accomplishments, of successes, of impact, of legacy. Let's remember him, the man, the person his 100 workmates – working by his side up to the very final days wrapping up 2021's year-end close, and readying the company for a new deal presentation this Monday morning.

Let's remember the man, who fortunately had his wife Suzanne and his five children – Nick, Chad, Scott, Jennifer and Larry – by his side when he passed. At this moment the man and what he stood for, and whom he touched, and how he lived shines no less brightly than the business legend he became.

And at this moment, Larry D. Johnson's sudden passing hits hard people whose paths crossed his, whose journey merged with his, and whose work and lives improved because they came close to him in some way.

Larry brought joy to work with him every single day I worked there with him for the past 16 years, and I'm one of the newer ones," says Elizabeth York, senior VP, general counsel for Johnson Development Corp. "There was never a day he'd come in without bringing fun, intensity, drive, and focus on making homes for people. Those of us who got to work for Larry and with him every day felt aware that we worked someplace special and we appreciated that. Now that he's gone, we feel that appreciation even more deeply."

It's a grief, a loss, a feeling that's at the same time terrifyingly lonely and profoundly tied to others – other people in the community whose livelihoods are devoted to new neighborhoods and homes.

Wins, successes, deals, empire-building, recognition, honors and accolades, they may be what set individuals apart from one another in the work world, especially in the work world of dizzying moving-parts, enormous risks and rewards, and lasting impacts as residential real estate.

What connects them as a force of nature, and a regenerative seed of hopefulness is the human bond of having loved, respected, and lost someone dear to us. When someone like Larry Johnson leaves this life, and this community, the outpouring throughout the community attests to the soul and lifeblood people rely on that is not larger than life, but is as whole and miraculous as a real life can be.

For Larry Johnson, partnership was a bulwark of his professional arc and his corporation's strategy, but being a partner, and living in the arms of its meaning and order of principles and values was hardly separable from his character. He'd use the word partner not as a tactic, but as his word and bond, a point of personal honor. Partner comes from language roots that mean "sharer." People who worked with Johnson tended to feel they shared experience with a principled, fun-loving, driven individual who cared about people above place.

He was a decent, a great person," says Larry Webb, founder and former chairman and ceo of The New Home Company, who'd known and done business with Larry Johnson for three decades. "He took so much pride in his communities."

The man who grew up as a kid in a Swisher County, Texas 1940s Panhandle plains town of Kress, of grain elevators, a single general store-restaurant, and no local grocery store and no local bank, where people were and are few and far between. Playing quarterback for the Kress High School Kangaroos won him a scholarship at Lubbock, TX, Texas Tech.

Out of that childhood came a man who knew livestock, and loved ranching, and felt at home in the country, and had a passion for agriculture – for growing – that evolved into growing places for people to prosper.

A 2009 salute in the Texas Tech Today newsletter notes:

A native of Kress, Johnson entered Texas Tech on a football scholarship. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics in 1961. He then attended the University of Texas Law School and eventually relocated to Houston where he embarked on a career in real estate development. He began his career founding and serving as president of a Houston real estate investment and development firm for nine years until he merged it into a public company in 1970. For the next five years, he served as president of a subsidiary of First Realty Investors.

The business legacy of Larry Johnson will live, and as general counsel Elizabeth York notes, "what Larry built is living, and what he'd want right now is for us to keep continuously working on that living, breathing thing that homes, neighborhoods, and communities are made of."

His Johnson Development bio notes:

Mr. Johnson has played an active role in the development of numerous projects, including master-planned communities, retail shopping and entertainment districts, office buildings and mixed-use commercial centers in Arizona, California, Georgia and Texas. He has served on several boards, including the Texas Tech Board of Regents and has been named a Distinguished Alumni of that university.
Mr. Johnson is a past recipient of the Houston Business Journal’s prestigious Landmark Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to Houston’s real estate industry. And in 2021, Mr. Johnson was named the Zonda Legends Award winner, an honor that salutes visionaries in the master-planned community space.

The data points benchmarking the real estate enterprise Larry Johnson founded and guided to its stature as one of the nation's leading placemakers each contain multitudes of the measures of trust, reliability, and value the human being Larry Johnson instilled in the organization.

  • 19 projects under active development
  • 80,000-plus residential units under development
  • 47,500 acres of community
  • 16.7 million sq ft of retail and commercial space
  • 100+ employed industry professionals
  • 45+ years of success
  • 2 million trees preserved or planted

The data point that meant the most to him is the number 1. His team.

Today, team American homebuilding and real estate development mourns the loss of one of its giants in leadership, and celebrates the life of one of its human beings who in work and life honored his partners.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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