To James Johnson, Concessions Manager in our Sports & Entertainment line of business, a smile is the key to creating unforgettable hospitality experiences. Whether it’s the energy of the crowd, his consistent career growth, or the employees he leads, there is always something to be happy about in James’ world.
Teamwork isn’t just for the players on the field. For nearly 18 years, James Johnson has been working in arenas and coliseums across California. He spends most of his time working with the Oakland A’s and the Oakland Raiders, managing large-scale operations and ensuring that game day is a blast for tens of thousands of fans every single time. When you speak to him, it quickly becomes clear that he has worked hard every day he’s been at Aramark and, due to his work ethic, has an impressive career trajectory to show for it.
“I started out as a vendor here, walking up and down the aisle screaming, ‘Peanuts! Lemonade, here!’” Johnson says with a smile. “Then I moved up to vendor prep. After that, I became a vendor supervisor, then area supervisor, then assistant manager, and finally I became concessions manager.” Around the stadiums where Johnson works, his willingness to go the extra mile and his upbeat attitude have become the stuff of legend. No matter the problems he and his team are trying to solve for 40,000-50,000 fans on game day, he can always be found with a wide smile on his face.
“I like the people here, I like that it’s a fun environment. It’s like a home away from home.” Johnson says his positive approach to his work has made him a better manager, a better problem solver, and, even at times, a better counselor for his team members. “When I walk in, I want people to know that I am there to help. I will do my best to get their problem solved with a smile on my face. So I’m always willing to help you. And I want you to help me if I need it, because that’s how it works. Teamwork makes the dream work, and we all need help sometimes.”
Johnson’s zest for life extends beyond his team members to the fans in the stadium as well. Whether he’s working for the A’s or the Raiders, he tries to spread joy wherever he goes.
“Just being around the fans is awesome. When the A’s are doing great, it’s a whole vibe and I’m walking down the concourse giving fans high fives. Even when we’re losing, we feel that together, too. Working here is like being in a big community. I love this job and that I can take care of my four kids and my wife by doing it.”
Due to Aramark’s love of promoting from within and rewarding great work, Johnson is adamant that anyone can find the kind of career growth and fulfillment that he has.
“All you need is a positive attitude. When times are rough and things get stressful with 40,000 or 50,000 people in the stands, you just can’t let it overtake you. Honestly, you just have to keep on going. And if it takes a little overtime, then stay and work with the team until the job is done. We pull long hours here but it’s worth it in the end.”
When asked if he has ever met any of the players, Johnson chuckles. It’s clearly a question he gets a lot. “No, nobody is allowed to interact with them.” He pauses before adding, “But I have been on an elevator with Shaquille O’Neal, and man, that man is humongous!”
At the end of the day, James Johnson is an inspiring presence for his fellow Aramark teammates and the fans he creates unforgettable hospitality experiences for. And in his words, all it takes is a smile.
— James Johnson, Concessions Manager
Hear more from our conversation with James in the Q&A section below.
How do you approach being a people leader?
Since I became a manager I feel like I really could take ownership of everything I'm in charge of. I have more goals and more achievements to focus on to get the job right and it makes me feel good. I love walking to any stand in the building and people know I'm there to help. So if you have a problem, they don't have to fake it with me. I will do my best to get your problem solved with a with a smile on my face and I go back and double check to make sure you're cool, and most the time they're always happy. I don't care if I gotta clean toilets with you. I will do whatever it is to make your job happy - to make my job happy - so we are all happy. Whenever I do any hiring, I let them know that I've been there for 30 years, and I enjoy my job, and we're like a family here. We like to be happy on this property, it's not always happy times because nothing's 100% happy, but I just want them to know, if you work in my department, I'm doing the best I can do to make sure you have a nice time at work.
In your experience, how does Aramark reward people for their hard work?
It’s simple. If you do the job right and do the job well, they will promote you. They just want a solid management crew. And they really care about you. Some companies don't care about you. But here at Aramark, we will worry about you and your professional and personal life. I'm not calling myself a counselor, but if you’ve got a problem, I always make myself an open door for people. I’ve seen people stay here a long time. Some of them end up leaving but they always seem to come back. I think that’s a good sign that Aramark is a great place to be.
Do you have a special memory from a particular game or moment at work?
When Brad Pitt was filming Moneyball here about six or seven years ago, I actually got to be a part of that movie. I got a little scene in the in the background. I was a vendor in the background. It was a fun time, just feeding all the actors and how they were moving the crowd around the building to make it look like the stadium was full. But it was never more than like two or three hundred people here at any time. But when I watched a movie, it looked like it was a full house!
Where do you think you get your positive attitude from?
It's just natural. Both of my parents always worked forever. I come from a working family. And I just always worked and worked. We were always overachievers because for some reason, we all just really enjoyed putting in a hard day’s work. I feel honored by having this people story. Because my mother, my father, my sister, and myself, we’re just the Johnsons, as I say. It feels good to be recognized like this.
As a manager, how do you deal with disagreements or conflicts within your team?
Be a good person and have a heart. Listen, there are two sides to every story. And sometimes I can help you see the other person's point of view. Because sometimes we get tunnel vision and don't see that other side. That’s how I solve a lot of problems here.
August 18, 2021
To James Johnson, Concessions Manager in our Sports & Entertainment line of business, a smile is the key to creating unforgettable hospitality experiences. For nearly 18 years, James has been working in arenas and coliseums across California.Read More