Woody Johnson

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Woody Johnson
Robert Wood Johnson official portrait.jpg
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Assumed office
November 8, 2017
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyLewis Lukens
Yael Lempert
Preceded byMatthew Barzun
Personal details
Robert Wood Johnson IV

(1947-04-12) April 12, 1947 (age 73)
New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Nancy Sale
(m. 1977; div. 2001)

Suzanne Ircha
(m. 2009)
ParentsBobby Johnson
Betty Wold
RelativesChristopher Johnson
ResidenceWinfield House
EducationUniversity of Arizona (BA)
Net worth$4.2 billion

Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson IV (born April 12, 1947) is an American businessman and, since 2017, the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He is a great-grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I, and a billionaire heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. In 2000, Johnson purchased the New York Jets, a franchise of the National Football League; Johnson remains the co-owner of the Jets, along with his brother, Christopher. Johnson is also the chairman and chief executive of the Johnson Company, Inc., a private investment firm founded in 1978.

A longtime Republican Party donor, Johnson was a supporter of Donald Trump's presidential campaigns, and was appointed by Trump to the post of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. As the U.S.'s representative in London, Johnson became embroiled in controversy in 2018, after he unsuccessfully sought British government influence to move the lucrative British Open golf tournament to Trump's Scotland golf resort, Turnberry. Separately, a State Department inspector general investigation found that Johnson had made "inappropriate or insensitive comments" that had damaged morale among the staff of the U.S. embassy.

Early life, family, and education[edit]

Johnson is the billionaire heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune,[1] which was founded by his great-grandfather, Robert Wood Johnson I.[2] Johnson was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States, the son of Betty (Wold) and Robert Wood Johnson III, who was president of Johnson & Johnson for four years. Johnson grew up with four siblings, Keith Johnson, Billy Johnson, Elizabeth "Libet" Johnson, and Christopher Wold Johnson, in northern New Jersey, and attended the Millbrook School. Johnson worked summer jobs at Johnson & Johnson.[3]

Johnson graduated from the University of Arizona.[4]



In January 2000, Johnson purchased the Jets for $635 million, at the time the third-highest price for a professional sports team and the highest for a New York professional sports team.[5] Johnson outbid the offer of $612 million placed by Charles Dolan, the owner of the Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks, and New York Rangers.[5][6] Forbes valued the team at $3.2 billion as of September 2019.[7]

After buying the Jets, Johnson announced plans to move them to the proposed West Side Stadium in Manhattan. However, after the project's defeat in 2005, Johnson announced the Jets would move to a new Meadowlands Stadium as an equal partner with the Giants. The new stadium opened on April 10, 2010, with naming rights being acquired by MetLife.

Johnson was a member of the eight-man NFL search committee to choose a successor to Paul Tagliabue as NFL commissioner.[8][9]

Private ventures and legal problems[edit]

Johnson is the chairman and chief executive of The Johnson Company, Inc., a private investment firm.[10] In August 2006, Johnson was asked to testify before the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations regarding his participation in a tax avoidance scheme. A Senate report said that Johnson, along with others, was able to buy, for relatively small fees, roughly $2 billion in capital losses that they used to erase taxable gains they garnered from stock sales. The U.S. Treasury lost an estimated $300 million in revenue as a result. In a statement, Johnson said he had been advised by his lawyers in 2000 that the transaction "was consistent with the Tax Code." After the Internal Revenue Service challenged that view in 2003, Johnson in 2006 settled with the IRS and agreed to pay 100 percent of the tax due plus interest.[11]

Johnson was the committee president of the Pre-Commissioning Unit for the San Antonio-class ship USS New York.[12]


Johnson's first official Ambassador portrait

Fundraising for Republicans[edit]

Johnson has given more than $1 million to various Republican candidates and committees. In May 2008, he orchestrated a fundraiser in New York City that brought in $7 million in a single evening for John McCain's presidential campaign, by far the largest amount collected up to that point by a campaign that had been struggling to raise money. Johnson also provided significant funding to 2008 Republican National Convention host committee; from a $10 million shortfall, Johnson contributed personally and solicited friends to assist in covering the convention deficit.[13] In 2011, Johnson endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.[14] In September 2013, Johnson hosted a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee (RNC) at his home in New York City.[15]

By 2016, Johnson had known Donald Trump for about 30 years, with the two men having social connections.[16] Nevertheless, in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Johnson initially endorsed Jeb Bush over Trump.[16] In June 2015, Johnson was named the national finance chairman for Bush's campaign.[17] On several occasions, Trump singled out Johnson in a speech attacking Bush for accepting "special interest" money from donors.[16][18] In May 2016, after Trump became the presumptive nominee, Johnson endorsed Trump for president.[19][16][1] He met with Trump at Trump Tower and was named one of the RNC's six finance vice chairmen, responsible for an effort to raise $1 billion on behalf of Trump's campaign.[16][18]

Johnson had by August 2019 donated $1.5 million to Trump's campaign and inaugural committee.[20] In February 2020, Johnson gave $575,000 to a fundraising committee for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, and $355,000 to the RNC.[21] In May 2020, he gave $1 million to America First Action, Inc., a pro-Trump super PAC.[21]

United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom[edit]


On January 19, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he planned to nominate Johnson to become United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.[22][23] On June 22, 2017, Trump nominated Johnson for the position.[24][25][26] Prior to becoming ambassador, he had no diplomatic experience.[1] Following a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,[27] Johnson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 3, 2017,[28] by voice vote.[25] He was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on August 21, 2017, in the Oval Office. Johnson presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth II on November 8, 2017.[29]

Finding of "inappropriate or insensitive comments" to embassy staff and low morale under Johnson[edit]

In 2020, Johnson was investigated by the State Department inspector general over allegations that he made sexist and racist comments to embassy staff. He had been reported to have held official meetings at men-only clubs in London, which meant that female staff members would not be able to attend.[30][21] According to the New York Times, half a dozen current and former embassy employees said that Johnson made Black and female staff members uncomfortable by making remarks about their appearances or race.[31] One diplomat said he made disparaging remarks about Black History Month.[32]

The inspector general's report, issued in August 2020, found that Johnson "sometimes made inappropriate or insensitive comments on topics generally considered Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)-sensitive, such as religion, sex, or color" that could "create an offensive working environment" and violate EEO (antidiscrimination) laws.[33] The report also found morale problems at the embassy attributable to Johnson's conduct, including his suggestions that embassy employees were disloyal to Trump, questioning of embassy staff's motives, and suggestions that he would remove embassy staff from their jobs for raising concerns.[33] The report found that "This caused staff to grow wary of providing him with their best judgment."[33] The inspector general's office recommended that the State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and Office of Civil Rights coordinate an investigation into Johnson's conduct, "and based on the results of the review, take appropriate action"; however, the department's leadership indicated that they would not open any "formal assessment" and indicated that Johnson had instead watched a State Department video on workplace harassment.[33] Johnson denied that he had "treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way."[33]

Chlorinated-chicken incident[edit]

In March 2019, Johnson wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph saying that chlorinated chicken was a "public safety no-brainer" and that health fears over hormone-fed beef were "myths".[34] This came after he urged the UK to open up to the US agriculture market after the British exit from the European Union and ignore the "smear campaign" of those with "their own protectionist agenda".[35] Johnson was criticised by several agriculture standard boards, such as the Red Tractor Assurance whose CEO, Jim Moseley stated the UK's food standards were "now under threat from ... the United States food lobby" and the National Farmers Union who said it was "imperative" that UK food standards remain high.[35]

British Open at Trump Turnberry[edit]

In February 2018, Johnson as ambassador sought to have the lucrative British Open golf tournament moved to Trump's Turnberry Golf Resort in Scotland, raising the idea with Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell.[1] The New York Times reported, and the former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London Lewis Lukens later confirmed, that Trump had asked Johnson to seek British government influence in obtaining the Open for Turnberry.[1][36] At the time Lukens warned Johnson not to raise the question with the UK government, saying that an attempt to further the president's personal financial interests in this way would be unethical and probably illegal. Johnson did so anyway, unsuccessfully.[1][36] In a subsequent interview, Lukens stated: "The ambassador came back from a meeting at the White House, the very next morning he came and talked to me, said the President wants me to do this. Who should I talk to, how should I go about doing it? I said, 'You can't, you shouldn't do it. This is unethical, probably illegal.' A couple weeks later, he asked again, I gave him the same answer. And then he went and had a meeting with a British minister responsible for Scotland and made the request, or made the suggestion at least."[36]

In a statement, the British government said that Johnson "made no request of Mr. Mundell regarding the British Open or any other sporting event"; the statement did not say whether Johnson had raised the subject of Turnberry.[1] Johnson did not deny the episode, saying only that he complied with "the ethical rules and requirements of my office"; Trump denied that he had ever spoken to Johnson "about Turnberry."[37] Lukens documented his concerns to State Department officials. Johnson forced out Lukens several months later, before the scheduled end of his tenure in London.[1] The report that Johnson used his position as ambassador to promote the president's personal business interests sparked an inquiry by the State Department inspector general's office.[21] In an interview in August 2020, Lukens said that the inspector general's report had "screeched to a halt" without a public report being issued, which Lukens described as highly unusual.[36]

Personal life[edit]

Woody Johnson and his wife Suzanne Ircha Johnson with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump

In 1977, Johnson married former fashion model Nancy Sale Johnson. They had three children before divorcing in 2001. In early 2010, daughter Casey Johnson died of diabetic ketoacidosis.[38] He started a research foundation, the Alliance for Lupus Research, after his daughter Jaime was found to have lupus.[39]

In 2009, Johnson married Suzanne Ircha Johnson, a former actress and equities managing director at Sandler O'Neill & Partners.[40][41] They have two children.[42]

Johnson has homes in Bedminster Township, New Jersey, and Manhattan, New York City.[43]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Landler, Mark; Jakes, Lara; Haberman, Maggie (July 21, 2020). "Trump's Request of an Ambassador: Get the British Open for Me". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  2. ^ Richard Sandomir (January 12, 2000). "Philanthropist and Fan". New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2008. Robert Wood Johnson IV, whose great-grandfather founded Johnson & Johnson, won the right yesterday to buy the Jets for $635 million, the third-highest price for a professional sports team and the most for one in New York.
  3. ^ Wilson, Duff (November 11, 2004). "Behind the Jets, a Private Man Pushes His Dream". New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2010. He grew up in affluent areas of New Jersey, attended the elite Millbrook School in the Hudson Valley and worked menial summer jobs at Johnson & Johnson with the expectation of ascending to the top of the family business.
  4. ^ Woody Johnson, New York Jets, Sports Illustrated (July 16, 2018).
  5. ^ a b Richard Sandomir (January 12, 2000). "The Jets Fill One Opening: New Owner at $635 Million". New York Times.
  6. ^ "Sale Johnson and Ahmad Rashad Get Married Monday". Transworldnews.com. November 21, 2007. Archived from the original on February 29, 2012.
  7. ^ "New York Jets Team Value". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  8. ^ Search Committee Selects Five Candidates to Succeed NFL Commission Paul Tagliabue, National Football League (July 30, 2006).
  9. ^ NFL's Goodell among five after commish job, Associated Press (July 30, 2006).
  10. ^ Robert Wood Johnson IV, chairman and chief executive officer, Getty Images (August 1, 2006).
  11. ^ Birnbaum, Jeffrey H. (August 1, 2006). "Tax Shelters Saved Billionaires a Bundle". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ "Navy News Service - Eye on the Fleet". September 4, 2009. Archived from the original on September 4, 2009.
  13. ^ Luo, Michael (September 5, 2008). "Convention Limelight Shines on a Big Donor". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Haberman, Maggie (November 11, 2011). "Woody Johnson says Chris Christie's Mitt Romney endorsement a game-changer". Politico.
  15. ^ "GOP stars to headline party fundraiser". CNN. August 26, 2013.
  16. ^ a b c d e Maggie Haberman (May 27, 2016). "Woody Johnson Takes On Role as Fund-Raiser for Donald Trump". New York Times.
  17. ^ Reinhard, Beth; O'Connor, Patrick (June 24, 2015). "Jeb Bush Picks Woody Johnson as Finance Chairman". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Maggie Haberman (May 24, 2016). "Donald Trump Meets With Woody Johnson, Jets Owner and G.O.P. Fund-Raiser". New York Times.
  19. ^ Cosentino, Dom (May 24, 2016). "Jets owner Woody Johnson backs Donald Trump, per reports". nj.com. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  20. ^ Pramuk, Jacob; Schwartz, Brian (August 12, 2019). "Trump's money ties to NFL owners go much deeper than Dolphins' Stephen Ross". CNBC. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  21. ^ a b c d Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Nicole Gaouette. "NFL owner and Trump ambassador to UK sparks watchdog probe over alleged racist and sexist remarks and a push to promote Trump business". CNN. Retrieved July 23, 2020.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  22. ^ Borger, Julian (January 19, 2017). "New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be US ambassador to UK". The Guardian. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  23. ^ Schouten, Fredreka (May 17, 2017). "President Trump's ambassador picks sit in limbo". USA Today. Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  24. ^ "Woody Johnson nominated as US ambassador to Britain". The Guardian. June 22, 2017. Retrieved July 17, 2017.
  25. ^ a b "PN691 — Robert Wood Johnson IV — Department of State". Congress.gov. United States Congress.
  26. ^ Zurcher, Anthony (June 23, 2017). "Woody Johnson: Trump picks NFL tycoon as UK ambassador". BBC News. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
  27. ^ "Tracking how many key positions Trump has filled so far". Washington Post. July 14, 2017. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  28. ^ Bieler, Des (August 3, 2017). "Jets owner Woody Johnson confirmed as ambassador to the U.K." Washington Post. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  29. ^ "Donald Trump's man in London presents credentials to Queen". Belfast Telegraph. November 8, 2017. Archived from the original on November 19, 2019. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
  30. ^ "US ambassador to UK denies making racist remarks". BBC News. July 23, 2020. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  31. ^ Landler, Mark; Jakes, Lara; Haberman, Maggie (July 24, 2020). "Woody Johnson Was a Loyal Trump Supporter in 2016. As an Ambassador, He May Be Too Loyal". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  32. ^ Belson, Ken (July 25, 2020). "As N.F.L. Fights Racism and Sexism, Team Owners Undercut the Message". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  33. ^ a b c d e
  34. ^ "UK-US trade deal: Envoy attacks 'myths' about US farming". BBC. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  35. ^ a b Doward, Jamie (March 2, 2019). "US ambassador to UK under fire over defence of chlorinated chicken". The Guardian. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  36. ^ a b c d Chris Ryan, Former U.S. official details Jets' Woody Johnson's request to have U.K. move British Open to Trump's resort, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (August 6, 2020).
  37. ^ Peter Baker, Trump Denies Talking to Ambassador About Moving British Open to His Resort, New York Times (July 22, 2020).
  38. ^ "Coroner: Casey Johnson died of natural causes - CNN.com". CNN. February 4, 2010.
  39. ^ Halligan, Tom. "NY Jets' Woody Johnson Shares Insights At LCT Show East". LCT. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  40. ^ "Wall Street firms vow to rebuild". USA Today. January 25, 2002.
  41. ^ "The Hollywood Gossip - Celebrity Gossip and Entertainment News". Bittenandbound.com. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  42. ^ Grant Cumberbatch, Aimee (June 25, 2018). "Who Is Robert Wood 'Woody' Johnson? The U.S. Ambassador Is A Personal Friend Of Trump". Bustle. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  43. ^ Sandomir, Richard (January 12, 2000). "The Jets Fill One Opening: New Owner at $635 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2010. Johnson, who is 52 years old, has homes in Manhattan and Bedminster, N.J.

External links[edit]

Media related to Woody Johnson at Wikimedia Commons

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Matthew Barzun
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom