Woody Johnson

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Woody Johnson
Woody Johnson Photo.jpg
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
November 8, 2017 – January 20, 2021
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byMatthew Barzun
Succeeded byYael Lempert (acting)
Personal details
Robert Wood Johnson IV

(1947-04-12) April 12, 1947 (age 74)
New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Nancy Sale
(m. 1977; div. 2001)

Suzanne Ircha
(m. 2009)
ParentsBobby Johnson
Betty Wold
RelativesChristopher Johnson
EducationUniversity of Arizona (BA)
Net worthIncrease US$10.7 billion (As of February 2021)[1]

Robert Wood Johnson IV (born April 12, 1947) is an American businessman, philanthropist and diplomat who served as the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2017 to 2021. He is a great-grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I, founder of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals. Since the 1980s, Johnson has been known for philanthropic work, including donations to medical research. He is the founding chairman of the Lupus Research Alliance Alliance for Lupus Research, and a past chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and has lobbied for increasing funding for lupus and diabetes research. He is a trustee emeritus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.[2]

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, who is vice-chairman.[3]

A longtime Republican Party donor, Johnson was a supporter of Donald Trump's presidential campaigns, and was appointed by Trump to the post of ambassador to the United Kingdom. During his tenure as ambassador, Johnson negotiated the US-UK trade relationship as the latter withdrew from the European Union. As the U.S.’s representative in London, Johnson also oversaw the construction of a new U.S. Embassy which was opened in Nine Elms, London in 2018.[4] Political appointee US Ambassadors leave post when the appointing US President's term of office ends. Johnson left his post at the end of the Trump presidency on 21 January 2021. On departure he posted on the Twitter website that he had been conferred the Freedom of the City honour by the City of London.[5]

Early life, family, and education[edit]

Johnson is heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune,[6] which was founded by his great-grandfather, Robert Wood Johnson I.[7] 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.[8]

Johnson graduated from the University of Arizona.[9]



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.[10] 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.[10][11] Forbes valued the team at $3.2 billion as of September 2019.[12]

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.[13][14]

Johnson's brother Christopher took over as CEO and acting owner in 2017, while Woody Johnson served a four-year term as US Ambassador to the United Kingdom.[15] In January 2021, Christopher stated that Woody would return as principal owner and chairman of the Jets, after the end of his term as ambassador.[16] Christopher is expected to become vice-chairman of the Jets.[17]

In June 2021, Johnson stated his excitement to work with coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, whom he praised.[18] He expressed optimism about putting together a winning team in 2021, after the Jets had experienced setbacks during his absence.[19]

The Johnson Company, Inc[edit]

Johnson was the chairman and chief executive of The Johnson Company, Inc., a private investment firm.[20] 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, made transactions on the Isle of Man that lessened their taxable gains. In a statement, Johnson said his lawyers had advised him that the transactions were legal. To settle disagreements with the Internal Revenue Service, Johnson agreed to pay the amount of taxes they determined he owed in 2006.[21]

Johnson was the committee president of the Pre-Commissioning Unit for the San Antonio-class ship USS New York.[22]

Political fundraising[edit]

Johnson's first official Ambassador portrait

Johnson has given more than $1 million to various Republican candidates and committees. Between 1997 and 1998, he donated $130,000 to the Republican Party, along with donating $22,583 to George W. Bush's 1998 gubernational re-election campaign of Texas. He was later a major New York fund-raiser for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.[23]

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.[24] In 2011, Johnson endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.[25] In September 2013, Johnson hosted a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee (RNC) at his home in New York City.[26]

By 2016, Johnson had known Donald Trump for about 30 years, with the two men having social connections.[27] Nevertheless, in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Johnson initially endorsed Jeb Bush over Trump.[27] In June 2015, Johnson was named the national finance chairman for Bush's campaign.[28] On several occasions, Trump singled out Johnson in a speech attacking Bush for accepting "special interest" money from donors.[27][29] In May 2016, after Trump became the presumptive nominee, Johnson endorsed Trump for president.[30][27][6] 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.[27][29]

Johnson had by August 2019 donated $1.5 million to Trump's campaign and inaugural committee.[31] In February 2020, Johnson gave $575,000 to a fundraising committee for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, and $355,000 to the RNC.[32] In May 2020, he gave $1 million to America First Action, Inc., a pro-Trump super PAC.[32]

On January 8, 2021, Johnson released a statement condemning the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, and calling it a "dark day" in US history.[33]

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.[34][35] On June 22, 2017, Trump nominated Johnson for the position.[36][37][38] Prior to becoming ambassador, he had no diplomatic experience,[6] but he was a firm believer in the importance of US-UK ties, due to his interest in military history and the post-war partnership between the UK and the US.[39]

Following a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,[40] Johnson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 3, 2017,[41] by voice vote.[37] 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.[42]

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".[43] 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".[44] Johnson was criticized by several British 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".[45][44] Minette Batters, president of the UK National Farmers Union, agreed with Johnson's claims that chlorine-rinsed chicken was safe for consumption, but stated that factors such as animal welfare and environmental protection also had to be considered.[46] Batters commented that accepting US agricultural products produced in ways that would be illegal in the UK would "put British producers out of business". The US National Farmers Union maintained that US methods of meat production were "safe", describing criticism as "fear-mongering".[43]


During Johnson's tenure, Britain withdrew from the EU. Johnson advocated for a bilateral US-UK trade deal post-Brexit, in line with President Trump's hopes during that time.[47] Johnson had a private dinner with Queen Elizabeth II at Winfield House on March 14, 2019, just two days after British Parliament rejected Theresa May's Brexit plan.[48]

In June 2019, he further stated that a post-Brexit deal between the US and the UK would cover "all things that are traded", including the NHS and agricultural sector.[49] In January 2020, Johnson stated that the US was never interested in the NHS, but reiterated American interest in a free-trade deal with the UK.[50]


Johnson advocated for closer agricultural trade between the US and UK, and the deregulation of US food exports to Britain.[51] 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".[52] 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". Johnson was criticised by several British 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".[53][54]

Minette Batters, president of the UK National Farmers Union, agreed with Johnson's claims that chlorine-rinsed chicken was safe for consumption, but stated that factors such as animal welfare and environmental protection also had to be considered.[55]


Johnson, on behalf of the Administration, advised the UK to ban Huawei from being used in the nation's 5G networks after departing Prime Minister Theresa May approved the company in early 2019.[56] Johnson claimed that Huawei could represent an economic and security risk, comparing it to "letting a kleptomaniac move into your house."[57] US spokespeople warned that allowing Huawei to play a role in British 5G networks could damage the exchange of intelligence between the US and UK.[58] Under pressure from Johnson's office and the Trump administration, the British government announced its decision to ban Huawei's 5G equipment in July 2020. Johnson described the controversial decision as a "a win for fair trade and human rights."[59]

Allegations of "inappropriate or insensitive comments" to embassy staff[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.[60][32] According to the New York Times, half a dozen current and former embassy employees said that Johnson made staff members uncomfortable by making remarks about their appearances or race.[61] One diplomat said he made disparaging remarks about Black History Month.[62] Before these allegations, Johnson was known for diverse hiring as owner of the New York Jets, including black head coaches Herm Edwards and Todd Bowles, along with minorities in front-office jobs.[63]

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.[64] 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.[64] Johnson denied that he had "treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way."[64]

In January 2021, an investigation by the State Department's Office of Civil Rights found that the allegations were "unsubstantiated".[65] Official correspondence circulated which stated that claims that Johnson had made comments regarding race, sex or religion were not substantiated.[66] In June 2021, Johnson addressed the claims, saying "the highest levels of the state department [...] conducted an extensive survey and all of the allegations and concluded that none of it was substantiated." Johnson said that "this goes against my history and everything I’ve done for my entire life [...] it was something that was really very hard on me to listen to all that stuff but it’s done. It’s complete."[67]

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.[6] 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.[6][68] Lukens stated that he had warned Johnson that an attempt to further the president's personal financial interests in this way would be unethical.[61][68]

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.[6] Johnson said that he complied with "the ethical rules and requirements of my office"; Trump denied that he had ever spoken to Johnson "about Turnberry."[69]

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.[70] He started a research foundation, the Alliance for Lupus Research, after his daughter Jaime was found to have lupus.[71]

In 2009, Johnson married Suzanne Ircha Johnson, a former actress and equities managing director at Sandler O'Neill & Partners.[72][73] They have two children.[74]

Johnson has homes in Bedminster Township, New Jersey, and Manhattan, New York City.[75] Johnson has resided in Palm Beach, Florida, since 2020.[76]


Johnson is known for philanthropy, especially donations to medical research. He raised money and lobbied to increase federal funding for lupus and diabetes.[77] Johnson is also a trustee of the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Charitable Trust. He is the only member of the Johnson family to be invited to join the board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.[23]

Diabetes research[edit]

Johnson was the chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He and his wife became involved with diabetes charities after his daughter Casey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1988.[23] In 1994, he co-wrote the book Managing Your Child's Diabetes with his wife Nancy, and Casey.[78] As of 2000, he had donated $12 million to the foundation. Johnson was a chairman on the Council on Foreign Relations, and successfully lobbied Congress to approve a five-year, $750 million package for funding diabetes research in 2002.[79]

Casey died of diabetic ketoacidosis on January 4, 2010.[80] On October 24, 2012, Johnson wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled "The Folly of Defunding Diabetes Research", which urged Congress to approve long-term funding for the Special Diabetes Program.[81] He visited the University of Birmingham in 2018 to discuss the university's diabetes research and research library.[82]

Lupus research[edit]

Johnson is the founding chairman of the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR).[83] He founded the organization Alliance for Lupus Research in 1999 after his daughter Jaime was diagnosed with lupus,[84] and he realized that there was a lack of research in that area.[85]

As of 2018, the Lupus Research Alliance has raised more than $200 million for lupus research.[86]


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External links[edit]

Media related to Woody Johnson at Wikimedia Commons

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