As register of deeds for Davidson County––and the first African American and woman to hold that position––Karen Johnson has proven her ability to effectively campaign for political office and succeed as a key member of the county’s leadership. She attributes much of her success to her time in Trevecca’s MBA program, which not only provided the tools and support to thrive in the political arena, but helped separate her from other candidates to get elected.
In fact, it was Johnson’s MBA classmates at Trevecca who first inspired her to consider running for public office.
“I thought my trajectory was ultimately going to be in a corner office as senior vice president of human resources for a Fortune 500 company. That was my dream, but God saw otherwise,” Johnson said. “Many of my classmates said, ‘we see you as mayor.’ Before that I never saw myself in the political arena, especially at the level where I am now.” – Karen Johnson
In her first foray into politics after receiving her MBA, she was named to the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Metro Greenways Commission and the Board of Parks and Recreation. The experience from those appointments has continued to serve her to this day. However, it hasn’t all been easy. At one point she ran for an office and lost, but the resilience she had learned at Trevecca kept her going.
“I had learned from my master’s program that I had to be relentless and look at failure as an opportunity to improve,” Johnson said. “Trevecca taught me that when I didn’t do well, I should look at it as a chance to learn and grow, and that is what has propelled me to where I am now, to every level within the political arena.” – Karen Johnson
That relentless spirit served her well, and even when her goal of becoming county register seemed elusive, she was able to fall back on the reputation of her degree and years of service to the community to garner the trust of voters.
“With this election, it was an uphill battle. I had no money, all I had was my MBA and my history of service,” Johnson said. “My education was a deciding factor for voters. People saw that I had the background necessary to do an excellent job. That higher education in business made me stand out, no one else who was running had that. The voters put their trust in me to manage this operation and be service-minded, and that came from the knowledge I acquired at Trevecca.”
The importance of ambition and education was instilled in Johnson at an early age. It was taught, and lived, by her parents.
“My father had a doctorate and was the chief financial officer at Fisk University and my mother was a librarian with a master’s,” Johnson said. “I grew up with the idea that the more education you could obtain, the more opportunities there would be available to you. My parents also taught me that no matter what you do in life, the one thing that can’t be taken away from you is your education. That always stuck with me.” – Karen Johnson
When she was searching for an MBA program, she explored a range of options and settled on the one that best lined up with her needs. Trevecca met all of her requirements for a school where she could thrive.
“I was looking at multiple universities like Cornell because of their programs in human resources, but when I saw Trevecca’s program, I knew that is where I needed to be,” Johnson said.
She appreciated that Trevecca was a smaller school that still offered the resources and technology she needed to succeed. Ultimately, her time at the University offered classes and a community that she values to this day.
“I really loved my experience at Trevecca. I loved my classmates, I still keep in touch with many of them,” Johnson said. “Many of them have gone on to get their doctorates but I went into the political realm so a master’s was perfect for me. I wanted to learn to look at finance and economics and that’s what the program gave me.”
As register of deeds, Johnson is the custodian of legal documents pertaining to property, but her job extends further. The property attached to those documents reflects the lives of real people, and she is determined to work for the good of all of her constituents, armed with years of public service experience and a degree that has transformed her views on business and service.
“I am very passionate about everybody being able to access a good quality of life. It’s my experiences, the support of the people around me and my passion for community and helping people that have ultimately led me here,” Johnson said. “In this political space, it is really important to have people who are instilled with that sense of service, and that’s something Trevecca does: instill service to others in their whole curriculum. That helped me to grow more than anything.”