When I first met Robert

by francine Hardaway on April 11, 2006

When I first met Robert Johnson, he was partying like it was 1999, and indeed it was. Robert had founded Environmental Support Solutions in 1993 to help companies manage refrigerants, which had just been declared toxic wastes. His Mesa-based company sold software that organized and automated new regulatory recordkeeping requirements for ozone-depleting chemicals, such as those used in heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air-conditioning. The company quickly established market dominance in the refrigerant management niche, and Robert became an industry expert.

Three years later, Robert sold the successful company, but the acquirer didn�t know how to run it; so a few years later Robert decided to buy it back. That�s when he and I met. I was struck by his commitment to the company and to getting it back on track.

However, by the time he re-acquired it, the Internet had changed everything, and Johnson�s original model of providing environmental compliance software on CD-ROMs was dead. Always a visionary, in 1998 Robert embraced the Internet, creating an interactive web site, www.environ.com, that not only sold software, but educated customers and acted as a portal for compliance information.

Johnson also saw that one product, refrigerant management software, wasn�t enough to build a company on, and he quickly expanded the line of products to include Indoor Air Quality and Waste Management. More products were needed, but it was difficult to develop them quickly inside the small company.

So in 1999, Johnson undertook a series of carefully planned strategic acquisitions designed to change the company into an all-around operational risk management company. He moved ESS closer to Arizona State University and accepted outside investment to acquire several mom-and-pop compliance software companies. He was on the way to becoming the market leader in a much larger market: global Fortune 500 companies burdened by compliance responsibilities.


But Robert�s attempts at expansion took place against the backdrop of 9/11 and the dot-com bust, during which both corporate expenses and Internet business models came under severe scrutiny. Sales cycles became longer as companies tried to assess uncertainties in their own markets. Through these difficult years, he persevered, refusing to abandon his dream of becoming the sole provider for all his customers� environmental information requirements.

Striving to blend his acquisitions in a resource-constrained atmosphere and achieve economies of scale wasn�t easy. For several years, sales stayed the same. However, because of his management abilities and his single-minded focus, Environmental Support Solutions� lenders and investors stuck with Robert through the downturn, allowing him to execute on his plan.

Five years later, the company has finally merged the best elements of its acquisitions into one cohesive corporate entity (www.ess-home.com). Its products, Essential SuiteTM (for the enterprise) and Compliance SuiteTM (for the mid-market), help organizations of all sizes manage operational risk with tools that meet a diverse range of global, regional and local data management requirements and challenges.

(Some of them Robert even gives away�like the Waste Reporter tool that can be downloaded from the ESS web site and used to comply with EPA biannual reporting regulations.)

Some big wins in 2005 have put the company in a position to grow dramatically in the next few years. And then what? Robert doesn�t think much about exit strategies these days.

Now recognized as the leading provider of environmental compliance software, Johnson and his team continue building on the company�s position as �the� go-to resource for services that reduce operational risk and increase profits for clients as important as the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, Petrochina, Raytheon, and General Mills. As always, for Robert Johnson, it is about the vision, and about the future. He�s thinking of doing more global business, so he has a development team in India and an implementation partner in China. He�s perfectly content to take over the world.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: