It was the late 1990s, and Johnson, whether it she recognized it or not, was already absorbing the painstaking planning process that goes into a successful signage program.
The industry was in the midst of a retail boom and American / Interstate Signcrafters was an emerging player. At the time it was riding a dual retail / financial services wave that would transform the company from a 'Mom & Pop' shop into the National Sign Company it is today. The work was hardly glamorous, but it would inform Johnson's decisions as Sr. Vice President in the years ahead.
“I was the front line for our customers. I was fielding punch-list items, scheduling, and customer services calls all day, every day. It gave me a great understanding for the flow and timing of a well-run program and allowed me to understand the concerns of the client at every stage of the process," said Johnson.
"Today I think that experience has given me a leg up on the competition. It allows me to anticipate client needs and 'paint-points' weeks ahead of time. This allows me to solve a problem before it becomes one."
Today Johnson oversees the Customer Execution Team for American / Interstate Signcrafters. She works hand in glove with many other strong, experienced women like herself; all of which possess uncommon depth of experience in the sign industry.
There is Catherine O'Brien-McGovern who oversees the American / Interstate Signcrafters Financial Services division; Michelle Curran, MBA, who oversees the Specialty Imaging Division; and Elizabeth Morales, who runs the Architectural Division. Each of these leading ladies has more than a decade in the sign business running some of the nation's most coveted re-imaging, re-fresh, and re-branding programs.
“The sign business is generally a family business and a male dominated industry. Unless you’re apart of it from an early age the barriers to entry -- with success -- are high. The level of knowledge required is, frankly speaking, staggering," Mcgovern, American / Interstate Signcrafter financial services division director, says. “It’s not a business that hires people sans experience...and the right experience is tough to come by.”
And yet there is American / Interstate Signcrafters. Women like McGovern fill its top positions and dominate its most important department. On its customer execution team, 80% of its members are women. And six out of seven Sr. PM's are women, including the heads of its main verticals.
Johnson is not the only reason for that. Yes, some have been drawn to American / Interstate Signcrafters because of her. She has an enthusiastic presence—someone who seems comfortable completing a marathon in a sprint—and that enthusiasm has attracted many. She has built up a team around her that includes the industries' most experienced hands.
But Johnson and other leaders at the company point to CEO Jeff Petersen, the company’s owner and founder, as a big part of the reason for the company’s success in recruiting and promoting women.
“We’re a meritocracy.” Petersen states. "We focus on experience and competence as our governing factor. Whoever is a proven performer gets the job. It’s that simple. That’s how it is.”
Johnson says, it really is about talent, drive and skills. This emphasis has led her to hire so many of the sign industries top performing project managers into positions of great responsibility.
“From Liz to Michelle, Cathie, Lori, Candy, and 'Shell' they're great at what they do, tops, better than I am,” Johnson adds. And the results back it up.
Liz Morales, Dir., Architectural Division
Elizabeth “Liz” Morales is Dir. of American / Interstate Signcrafters Architectural division. She has more than 15 years in the sign industry working on custom signage projects; including some of the industry’s best known ATM and Feature Wall programs.
Having got her start in 2004 on Wells Fargo, Liz would go on to oversee projects for Capital One, Charlotte Rouse, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, Brookstone, and many others within the financial services and retail sectors.
Today she spends most of her time managing the national signage program for the nation’s fourth largest retail bank, which includes a diverse family of signs and one of the industries most aggressive ATM wall programs. In addition she manages all new builds and retro-fits within the footprint.
Michelle Curran, Dir. Specialty Imaging Division
She has more than a decade of project management experience for the nation’s largest retailer by number of branches.
Today she oversees a team of two dozen Project Managers working on over $20 million in signage program work for the nation’s largest and best known financial services and retail organizations, including but not limited to managing the administration of program work for
Citibank, Wells Fargo, Macy’s, et al.
Prior to joining American & Interstate Signcrafters Michelle spent six years as a senior project manager at the nation’s largest sign manufacturer and has several years experience as a Corporate Buyer.
Michelle’s unique combination of experience makes her an invaluable asset to American & Interstate Signcrafters’ clients. She holds a B.S. from Missouri State University, an M.B.A., Magna Cum Laude, from Indiana Wesleyan University, and is currently working towards her P.M.P. certification.
Catherine McGovern, Dir., Financial Services Division
Catherine began her career in project management on the Capital One Bank account; wherein she oversaw sign fabrication and installation throughout Capital One’s mid 2000’s multi-phase, strategic acquisition campaign.
Operating as the day-to-day, she led an initial phase fab & install conversion on 720 locations. Her performance on this project led to the award of two additional retail accounts with total locations of 1,250 and 1,508 each.
As senior project and national accounts manager, Cathie’s experience also includes managing the signage program for several Fortune 100 retail organizations, two of the nation’s three largest financial service providers, and signage fabrication and conversion for the largest healthcare service providers in the nation. She continues to average 684 locations per national program client, and has developed the internal teams and processes for managing such high volume signage accounts.
Lori Arnold, Sr. PM, Healthcare
Lori oversees complex and custom signage conversion projects for American / Interstate Signcrafters within the healthcare industry. She plans and manages hundreds of project timelines encompassing quoting, permitting, manufacturing, subcontracting and installation. She is also responsible for day-to-day team and project oversight, as well as project reporting to clients and senior management.
Lori’s prior experience includes managing automotive corporate turn-key image conversions throughout the continental United States. Prior to joining the sign industry Lori spent nearly a decade with the Alcoa Corporation and Howmet Power & Propulsion in positions of increasing responsibility.
Candy Shick, Sr. PM, Large Scale Developments
Candy Shick is a Sr. Project Manager at American / Interstate Signcrafters. She has two decades experience in the sign industry as a team leader and project manager.
Candy runs our architectural metalwork, custom, and specialty project accounts helping American / Interstate Signcrafters execute some of the industries most complex signage contracts. She is adept at establishing rigorous project schedules, managing tight turnarounds, and providing meaningful deliverables to the end user.
Candy’s prior notable experience includes a national re-brand for a client with more than 800 locations, management of national sign programs within the hospitality industry, and a 100 site brand conversion project across four states in seven months.
Prior to joining the sign industry Candy was the in-house interior design lead for The Progressive Insurance Company where she prepared functional space programs, estimates, schedules, timelines, and planning standards for interior space projects.
Michelle "Shell" Alexander, Sr. PM, Specialty Division
Michelle brings to American / Interstate Signcrafters nearly 20 years of national account, rebrand, and refresh experience for the some of the nation’s top automotive, financial services and healthcare brands. As Sr. Project Manager Michelle is your point of contact on permits to fabrication, install, and punch-out.
She began her sign industry career in the automotive sector providing back office support for a nationwide General Motors refresh. Michelle then advanced to a client-facing position where she handled branding for Chrysler locations on the west coast. Soon after Michelle moved to a lead role on a number of rebrands across multiple verticals.
For instance, Michelle oversaw BP’s Chicago metro-area image refresh, including the canopy wrap and the dispenser valance refresh at more than 60 locations. She then ran AT&T’s southeastern region “Like-for-Like” sign replacement program at more than 195 non-retail locations. More recently Michelle was integral to the PNC Bank signage program where she managed permitting, brand guidelines, time frames, and all other aspects of the program up to the point of the grand unveil. She did this for the BAU program and executed on more than 300 sites.
Immediately prior to joining our team Michelle participated in the reimaging program for the nation’s fifth-largest health system and California’s largest hospital provider; thereby bringing still more depth to American / Interstate Signcrafters’ industry leading, healthcare aligned project management team.
“It’s an amazing culture,” concluded Johnson, "It's a strong foundation that has already yielded many great and unexpected results. The future is so bright I need shades."