Ex-Institute chief has a new job ? but his departure from Aspen is still news | AspenTimes.com

Ex-Institute chief has a new job ? but his departure from Aspen is still news

Brent Gardner-SmithAspen Times Staff Writer

Former Aspen Institute President Elmer Johnson has signed on with the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block.The Chicago Tribune reported this week that the firm would be “getting a big boost” by hiring Johnson and Robert S. Osborne, another Chicago corporate attorney.”The power of this deal is enormous,” Kay Hoppe, president of a legal search firm, told the Tribune.Johnson and the Institute parted ways somewhat abruptly after an August board meeting. His resignation has made news in Washington, D.C., where the majority of the Institute’s staff works and where most of its policy programs are held.The Washington Post reported on Sept. 10 that there was “more trouble at the top” at the Institute and quoted board member Sidney Harman as saying that “members of the board disagreed with the way he [Johnson] was proceeding.”The Post also referred to the Institute’s “budget woes.”The Institute, which offers corporate executives a chance to discuss values and ethics in Aspen and at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, has been hurt by the cutback in corporate spending on meetings. But Institute Director of Public Affairs James Spiegelman said the organization’s “budget woes” were not of Johnson’s doing.”It was more of a reflection of the fact that people weren’t coming out to Aspen because of the recession and 9?11 than any fiscal mismanagement on Elmer’s part,” Spiegelman said. Instead, the Institute and Johnson seemed to have split ways over issues of style and geography.Chicago was Johnson’s professional home and it was where he kept his Aspen Institute office and a staff that was loyal to him, but insulated from the Washington-based Institute staff.”He was rarely around more than a day or two at a time; there would be weeks that would go by that he was not around at all,” the Post quoted an anonymous Institute worker as saying.From a style standpoint, the Institute board seems to have suddenly decided that Johnson’s style was too corporate and not collegial enough.Yet the board members, many of whom have held top ranking corporate positions, had brought him on to put together the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration efficiently. “He had a corporate style, and there were factions in the board that didn’t quite see eye to eye with him,” Spiegelman said. And, it’s also unclear why Johnson suddenly left the Institute, when he was already planning to step down.”There was no surprise he was going to leave, it was just a good 10 months before he was planning to do so,” said Spiegelman.Johnson has not been reached for comment, and he has not started yet with Jenner & Block. Johnson, 70, was president of the Institute for three years. A former partner with the prestigious law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, he had been expected by some to return there. But instead, Johnson has joined Jenner, a firm which has close to 400 attorneys. “We’re delighted that two of the country’s top corporate attorneys have joined us in further establishing Jenner & Block as a world-class law firm,” said Robert L. Graham, a managing partner at Jenner.Johnson is well-known in Chicago for having authored “Chicago Metropolis 2020,” a strategic plan for the city, which was published in 1999. He was also an executive vice president and director at General Motors in the 1980s. The Institute expects to hire a new Washington-based president within four to six months.[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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