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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 60: Renee Johnson

Renee Johnson
Renee Johnson

Renee Johnson joins Jennifer Moss on this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk

Renee Johnson is passionate about what she calls her “labor of love” in the financial industry. Her goal is to help individuals build wealth and secure a legacy. She also enjoys event planning is gearing up to start a non-profit to make an impact on the community.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


VO: Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and who have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live.


Jennifer Moss: Hi everyone it's time for Powerful Women, Let's Talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jennifer Moss. It is a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Renee Johnson.

Renee is very passionate about her labor of love currently as a financial services professional where she helps individuals build wealth and secure a legacy. Now for close to a decade, Renee has been involved in the financial industry currently as a partner with New York life. She's been awarded the career life success in life producer awards as well as being a 3-time consecutive executive council winner. Renee is all about her community. We’re going to get to more of that in just a moment. But first, let us welcome Renee Johnson to Powerful Woman Let’s Talk.

Renee Johnson: Thank you so much, Jennifer, for having me here. I really, really appreciate it. And I enjoy, you know, talking to people. So, this is great.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. We're happy to have you here now. You have a lot of experience in finance.

But we should also mention that you sit on a number of boards here in West Michigan, a note that even with your busy schedule, you find time to volunteer. Renee is an active member of the Grand Rapids alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority incorporated. She also serves on the board of directors for the Muskegon Community College Foundation. She's on the Association for corporate growth, diversity and inclusion committee and she is a past board member for the Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce as well. Staying pretty busy there. So, as we look at your financial background, you actually call it that labor of love as a financial services professional. What do you find so rewarding and are you enjoying the journey? I know you are an educational resource for financial planning.

Renee Johnson: Absolutely. I'm enjoying the journey because I get to go into family's home and just listen to them and find out what their needs are, especially when it relates to their finances. We also do the legacy planning where we get them ready for the end of life basically. So, a lot of people don't think that that's important but is very important. And when you kind of follow someone, like, from the beginning…if they're in their 30's and you’re starting your planning with them, and you see the growth over time…you feel good about that. Now, the one thing that you might not feel as great about is at some point the person is going to pass away. And then you kind of walk them through that process as well. But then you know that you've done what you should have done because a lot of people when they pass away, they may not have things set up. So, for me, I find that very rewarding to know I had a part in that.

Jennifer Moss: I was going to say that is rewarding because you're setting them up for the future. Not only for the individual that you're serving, but their family as well. And that's where that legacy comes in. And that's got to be something that's important to a lot of families.

Renee Johnson: Yes, and it was something that I kind of just stumbled into. I worked in corporate America for about 25 years. And I decided that I just wanted to work in purpose. And so that led to me just really walking off my job, which I was working. Making, you know, an excellent income and I walked away because I was ready to work in purpose. So that was 2 years ago and now I feel I am in purpose.

Jennifer Moss: That, and that is an important key. And as a powerful woman, that is key in what you're doing. So, as we look at that, had there been any barriers that perhaps you've encountered as you've traveled along your career’s path? Whether it be from the corporate world, an entity versus what you're doing now in the financial industry?

Renee Johnson: I think the major barrier is myself…

Jennifer Moss: …and that can be big!

Renee Johnson: That can be big! One of my friends the other day, you know-- on Facebook—made a post and it said, you know, we are the biggest Barrier. We're in our own way. And I just think that that resonated because that's how I became more of who I am. Once I really found out those things that were important to me. Those things that I know I do well, then I just started becoming me, you know. And that's so important. And I think that's the key to success.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. That was my next question. So, on our road, our journey and the like,

you know, we strive to move forward, but we do face those obstacles those challenges. But what has it

taken for you as you talked about finding “me” and working in purpose? How did you get comfortable and find your own voice? Finding that inner voice, that “you?”

Renee Johnson: What I found out, it was more coming with age and I hate that it came so late.

I mean, I was 47 when I walked off my job 2 years ago. And that's one thing that I do want to share the story with younger people that you don't have to wait that long to find yourself. And so, that's what I really want to, you know, share with the younger generation. That it’s not all about what kind of car you drive, your zip code. You know, all those things that are materialistic. And what I want to share with people in the younger generation…Do those things that make you happy! You know, don't work

in a field all those years and then come to a point and say, you know what, I really don't enjoy what I do. And once you find out that thing that you really enjoy that you do well, likely that's purpose.

Jennifer Moss: And then finding purpose is so important. So, I know you work with a lot of people in financial services. But you also work with a lot of people under your event planning umbrella. And so, our listeners. No, I want to go over…the last 3 years, 3 years?

Renee Johnson: 4 years.

Jennifer Moss: 4 years now. We made 4 this year. You put on this huge event entitled Water Colors.

Tell us about the event to start, then I'm going to drill down on some specifics on what might help others be able to fulfill their dreams. So, tell us about Water Colors.

Renee Johnson: So, Water Colors started in 2018 and it started with just a group of women. We were out. Eating dinner and we found ourselves saying, “What is it to do here in Grand Rapids?” We don't have find a lot of things especially of quality. And so, one of my girlfriends said, “Renee, stop complaining and do something about it!” So, they already knew that I had this love of event planning. So, they said just plan something. So, we planned the first Water Colors and from there it has grown. And we’re on year five.

Jennifer Moss: And tell us what Water Colors is.

Renee Johnson: Water Colors is a celebration of black culture where we look at, you know, we celebrate our food, our fashion, our music and then the art itself. We do try to make it inclusive. So, it's a celebration. So, people can come and help us celebrate our black culture. It is not just for one culture; it is for everyone. So that's the Water Colors, all colors under the rainbow.

Jennifer Moss: Awesome. Awesome. And you’ve had great success with that as well.

Renee Johnson: I think people love what it stands for and it's all about fun it is laughter. I think we sometimes live and we live in a world where everybody is so serious, so still, and everyone is kind of like…stressed.

Jennifer Moss: Yes, stressed out.

Renee Johnson: And so, you have to really get a little loose and just enjoy yourself. And that's what

it's all about. I think that as I have gotten older, I think I realize that and a lot of things come with age. And so, I try to, you know, just create a fun atmosphere for everyone.

Jennifer Moss: And coming up with Water Color. So that was a step out of faith I would imagine because it's a 2-to-3-day event.

Renee Johnson: It's a 2-day event. Yes.

Jennifer Moss: And you know, you've got music in the park. You've got a big event on a more formal type of event on a Saturday night. That's a big undertaking, but it's something you were really committed to.

Renee Johnson: Yes, and as I formed teams and committees and people have come along. They may go to an event one year and they say, hey, how can I get involved? And then they come on board. And then we…now we are family. I mean, I invite everyone over to my home. We have like a follow-up celebration. So, we get very close and they're committed. That's the biggest thing. They're committed to make sure this becomes what it is supposed to be. And a lot of my people there on the committee.

They have said, Renee, this is something big. This is something big and I you know, I didn't want to feel like I owe, you know. Yes, it is. So, I just like, you know, got God to guide us through this.

Every meeting we start out with prayer and we just ask God to just be the center, you know, of it all.

Jennifer Moss: So, Renee also in addition to water colors, which is a big undertaking. You're also soon going to be launching a non-profit. Tell us about that.

Renee Johnson: So, my nonprofit is called the ASHER Legacy Group. All of businesses has the ASHER name and a lot of people ask me, you know what does ASHER stands for? It is Jacob’s son in the Bible and it stands for fortunate one. So, I'm taking that name. And what I'm doing is taking all the talents within my family, thus legacy, and we're combining that and we're starting that nonprofit. So, we're going to be helping seniors we’re helping young adults. We're going to work with young men who have been incarcerated. So, all these things play into my family, things that we've experienced. I think the best way to give back to someone is to give them those life experiences. So that's what that is going to be all about. One thing. My daughter, she makes wigs and what we're going to do is we're going is we’re going to offer to cancer patients. You know, a week where they can, you know, once they lose their hair, so young women. We will be doing that and then as well as the incarceration piece…My husband, he was incarcerated at one point in his 20's, you know, he made some mistakes. But in his 20's he moved past that and he’s now living a productive life. So, we want to sew back in two those people that have had struggles had some things in their lives that didn't work out. We want to make a change in that and then myself, I'm going to work with seniors as it relates to end of life planning because of the work that I do in financial services.

Jennifer Moss: And so that's pretty exciting. And that's coming up pretty soon, right?

Renee Johnson: That is correct. We actually launched it October 21st.And so I'm very excited that we're now moving into those things that I really, really enjoy and that can make a difference. You know, in our city.

Jennifer Moss: Of course, and we wish you the best with that. Now, as we look at the things that you're doing. And of course, quite impressive, I might add, you work with others to get things done. What are some of the leadership traits that you see perhaps in those that you are working with on this journey or perhaps even those that you mentor?

Renee Johnson: So, because I stress a lot on creativity and being you. So, I take those things that people are good at and what I try to do is display them. So, I put them in a position that is going to really get them to use that skill. And then once they use that skill and other see it, then they sometimes will go on and do other work you know, example… There's a host that I got to, you know, kind of bring the people together and they did that. And then we brought him back again the second year. And now I see he's hosting all types of events. So those gifts that people have, I try to make sure we bring them out. So, it's a win-win like they're not coming in, just trying to get water colors together

just for me. But it's something in it for them.

Jennifer Moss: And they're learning to use their talents that may have been hidden until, perhaps, working with you and others that brought them out into the forefront.

Renee Johnson: Exactly!

Jennifer Moss: So, you're actually helping people like I said, to succeed in their own dreams?

Renee Johnson: Exactly. Exactly. That’s exactly what I like to do.

Jennifer Moss: So, so many women deal with, you know, daily pressures of getting it all done.

What was your journey like when you were raising your kids? I know you have 2 grown kids.

So, what was that journey like? Because, again, you started in the corporate world, you have made the transition over into the financial industry. What was that like?

Renee Johnson: So, I think kids…when you are a mother, that’s your purpose! I mean, I really do. Now that I'm, you know, 56 years old. I'm a grandmother. I just believe that we have to walk in purpose. So,

I never like to say I regret anything but I do feel like maybe the business part of what I was doing. I kind of tried to climb that corporate ladder, which once I found out was not the most important thing. So, I would say balance is important. When I was at my last job before moving on to New York life, which is who I'm affiliated with now, I was responsible for putting together a work balance type of project where we could work from home because I felt like we needed that child growing up they’re having games, they’re having doctor’s appointments, you know, you want to be there! So, I think balance is key in making sure that you give that attention to the children. So, when I went to work for New York Life I was able to now go to those games because my schedule is now flexible. So, I won't tell everybody to just jump in and take that leap like I did. But that was the most important thing I could have ever done was to take that leap of faith to go into some unknown where financial services…It is an entrepreneurial type work. It's Commission only, so you don’t get a salary. So, it was some sacrifices that, you know, I had to make. And I think that's all part of life. You know, making those sacrifices.

Jennifer Moss: But as we look at powerful women, it's one of those brave moves. And while you don't say maybe this isn't for maybe say that this isn't for everyone, but it gives people the opportunity to know that, you know, if I want to switch gears, maybe there's some confidence in doing so.

Renee Johnson: Right. And in just taking those steps like, to make sure financially that your household can continue on which I made sure I talked to my husband before I took that leap of faith.

So, I tell people, you know, yes, you want to take

those fates, those leaps and do those things that you really enjoy, but you gotta look at that

total picture. So, and that's something I help people through as well to make sure

that they check those things off before they take leap.

Jennifer Moss: Have a little balance.

Renee Johnson: Yes.

Jennifer Moss: So, ok, we know you're very busy. Got a lot going on. But I know as we all do you have to be able to find some down time. So, my “fav” question, what makes you laugh? What makes you laugh? It is good for the soul, of course, we all know that.

Renee Johnson: Well, I guess the water colors is built on laughter. And I think one thing as far as laughter like I know what makes me smile. My family makes me smile. my grandson. And my husband who a lot of people don't know. He’s a comedian somewhat, he loves to do impersonations. So, his biggest impersonator is myself like he likes to impersonate me and to be able to laugh at myself and the things that I do. I just find that very, very funny. But we like to do comedy shows. And you know just really enjoy each other. We travel together, and that's kind of my down time. And planning! Believe it or not. Planning is a big piece because if I am sitting at home and he's there watching TV or whatever, I'm on the computer and I'm planning and he’s just like can you just like have a little down time! But that is my down time.

Jennifer Moss: that is your down time. You enjoy that. So, so much happening in the world we live in today. People often looking for that, you know, that 1 or 2 words of encouragement. Do you by chance have any favorite sayings or a motto or process that you use to encourage yourself and others?

Renee Johnson: I think one is really I think being authentic is really key. So, “To thine own self, be true.” I think you really have to make those definitions yourself like don't let other people define you.

That was the biggest thing that I think hindered me. I let other people define me. Once I started to finding myself and knowing who I am and knowing what makes me tick and knowing the things I love my life changed altogether, so. So, you just have to be true to yourself.


Jennifer Moss: That’s a good word, a good word to end on. Renee Johnson, I really enjoyed this conversation. So nice chatting with you.

Renee Johnson: Aw, it was a pleasure to be here, Jennifer, thank you for the invite.

Jennifer Moss: And a big thank you to all of our listeners for joining us for another edition of Powerful Women, Let’s Talk. I'm Jennifer Moss, do enjoy your day.


VO: Produced by women about women. This powerful podcast focuses on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women Let's talk? Get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let's talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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