“No Sleeping in the Trophy Room” is REVOLT’s digital series hosted by Carlos Del Valle. This sit-down style show is a conversation series fueled by motivation, experience and truth, where Del Valle interviews successful individuals across different industries.
In the evolving landscape of marketing, authenticity has surfaced as the buzzword that top brands are working tirelessly to emulate. For PUMA’s senior manager of entertainment and marketing, Chief Johnson, this authenticity is a built-in feature that has powered the young executive’s ascent through the rankings from aspiring rapper to multi-faceted executive, and in the latest episode of “No Sleeping in the Trophy Room,” he breaks down the winding road of opportunity that has led him here.
Johnson’s journey begins with a move from Colorado to Los Angeles as part of the Deux Process rap group. He paired his music career with a day job at the Greyone sneaker shop and inadvertently planted the seeds that would grow into his pivotal roles at some of streetwear and fashion’s most recognizable brands. Taking a gig at Crooks & Castles, he would soon find himself among the tastemakers shaping the inception of Los Angeles streetwear’s golden age. According to the exec, finding stories to tell by way of such brands was easy to do.
“If you live in a community that’s a melting pot...authenticity is in your DNA,” he tells host Los Antonio.
He notes, however, that it’s a very keen balance between authenticity and business that allows for the breaking of the mold and the formulation of true success. Such acumen arrived during his time as part of the creative marketing team at Young & Reckless. This is where he would first meet Nipsey Hussle, fostering almost a decade’s worth of friendship that would eventually lead to Nip’s recognizable partnership with the PUMA brand.
“When you work with people that are authentic and true to something, it’s a match made in heaven,” he recalls of the late rapper. “It’s seamless.”
In the conversation, Johnson also notes the importance and massive difference that it makes when a brand is also committed to being a space where this authenticity can flourish. He goes on to note the maneuverability of PUMA despite being his first “corporate” job.
“Almost all major companies have had something go really wrong and I think that’s because they don’t have enough people of color, of our cloth, of our demographic,” he details of the structure that PUMA gets right. “I can’t go make a decision about something going on with Germany or people in South Africa if I’m not from that.”
He adds: “I think as long as you have people that understand that and are from that, it helps put you in a better place. If you put people in position and you believe in what they’re doing and their capabilities, it helps eliminate a lot of that stuff.”
Of course, when put into such positions, Johnson underscores the importance of making the absolute most of the opportunity whenever you’re in the room.
“I want to learn as much as possible from people there; people that might’ve been there previously,” he explains of the process. “Everything is an opportunity and how you can make your impact will determine your trajectory. You have to make the most of your opportunity.”
He adds to the formula by stressing tenets such as “staying true to your word, delivering at the highest level as much as possible, and admitting when you need help.”
This responsibility of paying success forward, of course, is not limited to major corporations by Johnston’s standards as he details his decision to break into mentorship, citing a common theme of legacy above all else.
“I can’t stand people that are stingy with what they know...each one teach one.”
According to Johnson, the accumulation of wealth is nice to have as opposed to the strong necessity of leaving behind a legacy of strong character: “You can’t take none of it with you.” Still, for all his success, Johnson never quite imagined that it would actualize in such a manner, facilitating artist relationships and marketing strategies for one of the world’s biggest brands.
“I originally moved out here to do music. We had some semi-success. Things didn’t work out how you envision it and it crushed me for a while,” he remembers. “But music and culture were always the core.”
The greatest takeaway from his journey is the art of the pivot as he took a love for music and artistry, and leveraged it into the ultimate position where he can empower artists and still make a major impact in the music industry. This resulted in Johnson partnering with Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Phillip Lawrence and A&R heavyweight Malik Rasheed on CMNTY RCRDS (pronounced Community Records), which also partnered with Warner Records for the signing of talented new artist RMR.
“You have a path in your mind kind of made up and when things don’t work out you look at it as a fail. It just wasn’t God’s plan,” Johnson closed. “He wanted me on this side of things...it could have gone a million different ways. I don’t have the answers of why it went this way, but I know I put in the work.”