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Johnson is investing with care, mindful that rapid return on investment is a priority. "We have more of a short-term focus on generating as much value as possible in 2009 and probably into 2010," he says. "There are projects where we say that if you can't do it quickly, you don't do it now."
BB&T has what Johnson calls "a very disciplined methodology for the submission and approval" of projects, with a traditional emphasis on ROI, often in the two-to-five-year range. Now, though, he says, "The strategic project pool is narrowed to things that will give us value in that period. There are some things we would have gone after at broader scale if we had more money, but I can't think of anything that we're not doing at all."
Johnson works closely with executive management, and his interactions with them contain few surprises. "I've always got to have a good business case when I go to them," he says. "I can't say it's the right thing to do because the technology is better or the architecture is better. I'll lose that argument every time." That certainly has not changed during the downturn.
However, the recession has had an impact on Johnson's messaging to his own staff: It's become the focus of one of the regular town hall meetings he holds with all IT managers. "To ignore the economy is to evade it," he says. "You have to talk about what's happening, to help people understand how BB&T is doing in this economy." Johnson is always mindful of the fact that his people and their families may be affected by events outside the company.
Good communication is a hallmark of BB&T, he says, but these are unusual times, and Johnson has a special message for his people: "I want them to know that to control our own destiny, we have to execute at a high level. They need context, to see that we are on a growth trajectory, that we're on the attack and we'll take opportunities where we can. Now is the time to take advantage."