Magic Johnson describes him as a big dreamer with even bigger execution. Common calls him a trusted business partner and Chris Gardner has relied on his strategic mind as well.
Charles Johnson, seasoned marketing executive and business strategist, has been at the helm of many strategic alliances over the years, but he says his biggest one yet is partnering up with underserved youth to foster the next generation of great talent.
“I want to make sure I help young bright minds go on to reach their highest potential through sharing my experiences,” Johnson said.
His journey began on the southside of Chicago as a Whitney Young High School student who knew he was destined for great things. After going on to graduate from Tuskegee University and working in sales, he went on to land a marketing role with Luster’s, the legendary Black-owned hair care brand. It was there that he discovered his niche. “In the early 2000s while with Luster’s, there was an emergence of grassroots marketing, and brands were clamoring to reach emerging markets,” he explained, referring to Black and Brown consumers.
After successfully leading marketing initiatives for Luster’s, he was approached by Sodexo, a French food services company, to work in business development. From there, his life changed forever.
“I put it out in the universe that I would work with him, and through my time with Sodexo, it happened.”
The “him” he is talking about is Magic Johnson.
Through smart networking and grit, in 2005, the then 29-year-old Charles was able to connect with the famed basketball legend, and pitch him an idea that would shift the trajectory of his career forever. “I explained to Magic that I’d followed his transition from basketball to the business world and was excited when he’d joined Starbucks in a joint venture to open co-branded cafes in underserved urban neighborhoods,” he explained.
Charles thought a similar arrangement, but one that would make Magic the majority owner of a joint venture, might help sodexo develop its own business in new areas for minority owners.
“The idea was to expand Sodexo’s presence in the marketplace while transferring some of Earvin Johnson’s brand equity and credibility to Sodexo in markets where its own brand image was soft,” he said.
The partnership was a success, and soon after, he was named as the lead for SodexoMAGIC Magic’s joint venture with Sodexo.
Since launching the enterprise in 2006, Charles has played a central role in making
SodexoMAGIC the fastest growing minority-owned food and facility service company in the U.S. with current revenue of $600 million.
Now, as the head of his own development company, Ideal Concepts, he is helping other notable figures make an impact in the communities that deserve it most. For example, alongside rapper and activist Common, Johnson created the strategy and led the creation of Art In Motion School in Chicago.
The school offers Black children across Chicago access to arts education programs for free. This is just one example of what Johnson is most passionate about.
I’ve had my head down for years, just doing the work,” he said. “But I realized that if that young person can’t see someone that looks like him doing the things I’ve done, they probably won’t believe they can do it themselves. My role as a Black man is to love, provide and reach back to my people.”