Robert LeGrand "Bob" Johnstone III
“I’m blessed to pursue my passion as a business.”
March 8, 1934
Birthplace: Glen Ridge, New Jersey
When he was 23, Bob Johnstone didn’t get the job as manager at Bob Derecktor’s boatyard. “You’re too smooth, you need roughing up,” Derecktor had told him. Johnstone was relieved. “Sailing was my love, my escape into peace, God, the wind and waves,” he said. “I was concerned about making it my business.” After Princeton and the U.S. Army, went to work for Quaker Oats.
But the signs were there. He and his wife, Mary, often chartered from Bob Hinckley, and Johnstone always gave Hinckley a long list of how to improve his boat. As CEO of Quaker Oats subsidiaries in South America, Johnstone promoted Sunfish as an ideal, fun way to learn to sail. Back in Chicago, again using Sunfish (and Hobies), he started Sail Wilmette through Parks and Recreation – a radical idea – and it took off.
Later, as Director of Market Strategy and Analysis for Quaker, Johnstone advocated performance when the company wanted to develop a leisure product. “The great French skier Jean Claude Killy was promoting Rossignol skis,” Johnstone recalls. “Even beginners wanted them so they would look good.”
Lured away from Quaker by AMF-Alcort, Johnstone told them they needed a follow up boat to their Sunfish, so people could share their newfound joy with their families, wearing street clothes. His bother Rod was finishing a 24-footer in his garage that Bob thought was the answer. AMF couldn’t see it, so Bob left and started J/Boats with Rod. Bob was President in charge of marketing and operations. Rod was the designer.
They asked Everett Pearson to build the quick, 24-footer. Pearson asked how many they wanted. “The O’Day 25 had sold 250 its first year,” Bob says. “So I told Ev, 250! We sold 750 J/24s the first year. Buckminster Fuller bought one. It’s such a thrill when someone so respected honors your creation.” The J/24 was the first of 21 J/Boat designs to be awarded Boat-of-the Year or win Sailboat Hall of Fame honors. Fifteen thousand J Boats of all sizes have been built, including about 5,700 J/24s. Harvard Business School has a case study on J/Boats.
After he passed the company on to the next generation, Bob Johnstone started MJM Yachts, a line of luxury motor yachts for older married couples – himself and Mary included. “The boats are easy to handle,” he says, “and of course being beautiful was priority #1.
- Roger Vaughan