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CIO Profiles: Jerry Johnson Of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Becoming a C-level executive? Get an executive coach, advises this CIO.
Career Track

Jerry Johnson, CIO, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Jerry Johnson
CIO, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
How long at current company: 32 years, six years as CIO

Career accomplishment I'm most proud of: A little over a year out of school and working as a system administrator/programmer in a research group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), I suggested to my manager that there were opportunities for improvement in how we were organized to support and operate our scientific computers. I was invited to write a short white paper, and a few months later I was asked to run a new group formed to do just that. It was my first management position, and that small group of a dozen engineers was the seed that grew into the 250-person-strong IT organization we have today.

Most important career influencer: I've got to say my father. Growing up in the Great Depression and lacking the advantage of a college education, he worked his way up from the shop floor to become executive VP and COO of a large West Coast printing business. His success provided me the advantage of a college education, and from him, I learned the values of hard work, treating people fairly and respectfully, and balancing family and career.

Decision I wish I could do over: Very early in my career I was asked, "Do we need to connect to Arpanet?" (the DOD-funded network that later grew to become the Internet). I answered, "No." I put that response in the same league as when Digital Equipment's Ken Olsen said, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."


Advice for future CIOs:The best advice I got as a new C-level executive is to find an executive coach. Mine happens to be someone in our own HR department who is appropriately trained, but you can hire one from outside as well.

The federal government's top tech priority should be ... America's energy challenges have become more acute. Working with industry, the federal government must deliver affordable solutions to eliminate emissions from the combustion and utilization of hydrocarbon fuels, sufficiently predict climate change to deliver adaptation solutions, and sustainably reduce our dependence on imported oil.

Kids and tech careers: Career success, no matter how you define that, comes from loving what you do. My wife and I exposed our kids to many different careers. They both chose careers in healthcare.

On The Job

IT budget: $46 million

Size of IT team: 250

Top initiatives:

  • Complete our enterprise architecture, including mapping of core business processes and the applications supporting those processes.
  • Finish deployment of role-based portals supporting project management and line management functions.
  • Improve the reliability and ease of use of remote access to PNNL information systems and scientific instruments, while staying secure.


Colleges/degrees: University of Washington, BS in electrical engineering and an MBA

Leisure activities: Hiking, bicycling, kayaking, and scuba diving

Best book read recently: Tears In The Darkness, by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman, on the Bataan Death March

Smartphone of choice: BlackBerry, but I'm trying out an Android-based phone as part of our remote access improvement project

If I weren't a CIO, I'd be ... a teacher and soccer coach