Hall of Fame Portrait: Don Johnston, Part 1

On December 1, 2011, AEP will induct Charlotte Frank, PhD, McGraw-Hill Education; Don Johnston, Don Johnston, Inc.; and Paul McFall, Pearson into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame. Here in his first installment, Don Johnston, Founder, Don Johnston, Inc., discusses the person who had the greatest influence on him and the advice he would give to those choosing educational publishing as a career.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why?

My father grew up during the Great Depression. He worked in management of the steel mills in South Western Pennsylvania. He taught me to be ‘constantly’ curious and to take action on my curiosities. He started two golf courses in the late 1950’s while continuing to work full time. He couldn’t do both so he had to choose between his secure job and the golf courses. Because of his experience in the Depression he chose the ‘security’ of big industry. Although he said he never looked back, I always felt he wished he could have run his own business.

Based on that experience, I’ve felt that it is better to take risks and risk failure than to not try at all. This relates to starting a business, to choosing how to invest in product lines, to ordinary business decisions. There are so many lessons that my father taught me, I feel that I am a continuation of those lessons.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in educational publishing?

Find what you love to do and have passion for it. Follow that path. Choose employees who also have that passion. Most importantly, build relationships and friendships with the educators who share that passion and love. I can’t think of any industry or field that has a better group of customers than education. It’s difficult to compete with the “big companies,” but if you can build this loyal customer following, you will do well.


Don Johnston grew up with a significant learning disability and has experienced firsthand the struggles that children and adults face when dealing with cognitive, physical and learning challenges. To this end, Don believes that all children can learn to read and write with the right tools and support. This passion led him to build his special education company in 1980 which he still owns and operates today with his two sons, Ben and Kevin, and longtime friend and colleague, Ruth Ziolkowski, the President of Don Johnston Inc. Don is well known in the education publishing field as an early developer, pioneer and advocate for assistive technology accommodations and learning intervention tools to serve students, teachers and families.

Read more about Don Johnston and the AEP Hall of Fame.

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September 2011


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