Georgia-Sandy Johnson
Sandy Johnson learned from the best, including former UGA coach Vince Dooley and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Loran Smith: Former UGA standout Sandy Johnson learned from Vince Dooley, Steve Jobs

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Here in the company of a former Georgia football letterman, a certain intellectual surge resulted from a conversation with one Joseph (Sandy) Johnson, who arrived in Athens with the boys who formed the nucleus of the first two SEC championship teams of Vincent Joseph Dooley.

Some of those who signed on to matriculate in Athens are not under the radar, led by Chairman William Porter Payne of the Augusta National Golf Club and including but not limited to Dr. Thomas W. Lawhorne, Dr. Happy Dicks, Judge Kent Lawrence, Bill Stanfill, the All-Pro defensive end of the undefeated Miami Dolphins of 1972 and his Georgia teammate, Jake Scott — both members of the College Football Hall of Fame — coach Steve Greer, lawyer Wayne Byrd and businessman Pat Rodrigue among others.

Now for an accomplished overachiever, who was and is under the radar, it is in order to salute an extraordinary member of that team, Sandy Johnson. He helped lay the foundation for those Bulldogs championship teams of ’66 and ‘68, but he also was a member of one of the greatest business teams of our technological times, that of the late Steve Jobs. When Sandy showed up in Silicon Valley, he joined Jobs, who had set out “to create the next great computer company,” after his original affiliation with Apple. Sandy was a “ground floor” participant with respect to being involved with the coming of the digital age.

Further, Sandy became a longtime resident of Paris who happily was exposed to the sophistication of the French. He found the culture and art of this exceptional country (he learned early on that you don’t talk politics with the countrymen of any society or you won’t enjoy dinner) an uplifting experience.

He was a frequent visitor to the capitals of Europe, and while he was never the ugly American, he learned that at some point you have to, when you are doing business, take charge, set the example and if need be, ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

To enjoy living abroad, one has to mesh with the cultures, traditions and modus operandi of the business community, understanding, for example, that in France there were two-hour lunches and no brown bags in the office refrigerator. Sundown and weekends afforded a look at a different lifestyle and a different television menu. Sandy arrived in Europe without the internet, Ted Turner and CNN and just ahead of McDonald’s and Starbucks — “spectacles in their own right, given the French distaste for fast food and anything other than expresso.”

He made the adjustment socially and culturally, however, avoiding homesickness but never forgetting the staples of who he was — a Georgia boy with a Georgia education, one who didn’t trumpet his unique experience which exposed him to the computer business when it was in its infancy.

He was comfortable doing what his job called for him to do and to venture into the business world of places such as China, South Korea and Australia. One of his favorite courses at Georgia (when he enrolled the NFL was not on his mind and earning a degree was as much of his mission as it was to play football) was international marketing in the Terry College of Business.

Life abroad had its drawbacks. It sometimes was late Sunday when he learned the final results between the hedges. Seeing a game in Sanford Stadium became a rare treat, but in looking back, his life has been fulfilling. “An international exposure is a very moving thing in your life and makes you realize as great as our country is, our borders tend to make us provincial,” he says. Today the digital systems he helped promote and market joyfully keep him in touch with the University of Georgia and the Bulldogs.

Over dinner at a favorite restaurant, he talked, albeit modestly, about his multifaceted life experiences. He had ordered a robust Bordeaux, which is conducive for good conversation, and made a visitor conclude that this is a man whose intellectual flexibility gave him the inspiration to understand the nuances of playing football for Dooley and also to market the genius of Steve Jobs.

This ‘Dog could hunt.