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 Jun 1, 2016 @ 09:01 AM

She Wasn’t Planning To Be A CEO, But Life Took Her That Way

Running a business was an opportunity Alice Houston felt she had to take.

Houston became president and owner of Houston-Johnson, Inc., a material management and order fulfillment company, in 2001. Alice and her husband, Wade, had just divested a transportation business they had started. The move left them with a smaller logistics company that provides support in supply chains and distribution for a wide range of companies from automotive to technology. After careful analysis, Alice and her husband decided she would become majority owner and president, in charge of day-to-day business, while Wade would be minority owner and turn his attention to other projects.

“During that process (divesting), I gained a lot of confidence, and I also came to terms with ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ When you look fear straight in the eye, it really isn’t that scary.”

She committed to making Houston-Johnson, Inc. one of the top logistics support systems in the country.

“I wanted to build an organization that the family could be proud of, the customers could be proud of, the community could be proud of. We are in it for the long haul.”

Alice - ForbesAlice Houston. Photo credit: Tim Klein/Northwestern Mutual.

Despite her confidence, Alice had moments of trepidation, especially at the prospect of employing people. “I can remember being scared to death—I mean, literally breaking out in sweat at night. And it wasn’t so much about how we were going to survive. It was the fact that other people were depending upon our decisions.”

She also faced a hurdle with Houston-Johnson, Inc. almost immediately. Traveling to see one of their clients on September 11, 2001, she watched the terrorist attacks unfold on TV and realized immediately that the world had just been altered. Much of the transportation business went into turmoil; and with Houston-Johnson, Inc. still in its infancy, the ability to keep the company not only afloat, but thriving, in the years that followed is what she now calls her greatest success.

“It is amazing even to me and is a demonstration of faith and fidelity to what you’re trying to accomplish and surrounding yourself with competent employees and advisors.”

Her financial backbone was the foundation on which everything else was built, and she credits her Northwestern Mutual advisors with helping open the doors to success.

“I meet with my advisors quarterly, so they’re all a part of the decisions. I have learned from them. They listen and go back and construct the methodology. If I say, ‘I can’t do that,’ they try to understand what is inhibiting me and come back with an alternative solution.”

All of her decisions and dedication paid off in spades. Despite being a small business, Houston-Johnson’s many clients now include Ford Motor Company, Johnson Controls and the PGA of America.

“We compete in a space where the companies are much bigger and more capitalized than we are, but we’re able to do what we do because we’re good at it. We’re not the cheapest, we’re not the most expensive, but I assure you we are the best.”

Life Lessons

Houston was raised in Louisville in an athletic family. Her father was a basketball and football coach and often used sports metaphors with his daughter, such as “Compete hard but cheer as the winner goes by because you respect the game, you respect the rules of the game, and you compete honestly.”

Houston began her career working at the University of Louisville, eventually becoming the associate director of financial aid. “It was at that point that I was exposed to finance, administration, technology and counseling, all of which played a role in my future, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’m not sure I’m even a businesswoman. I’m a woman who happens to be in business.”


At the age of 69, Alice is now moving forward and working with her Northwestern Mutual advisors as she develops a succession plan for her business. She will become chairwoman of the board while her daughter and son-in-law take over. She is looking forward to spending more of her time counseling other young women and men in business with bits of wisdom she has accumulated over the years, such as: “Networking is really important. If you don’t know where to go, the door is closed or, at least, not really ajar,” and “Be honest. You may get the business or not get the business, but you will leave an impression that is a positive one. People want to do business with people they respect.”

Women in Business

Houston has witnessed dramatic growth for women in business.

“I have seen support networks build up. Just knowing that you’re not out there by yourself, that other women have been through challenges, is so important.”

She believes the rules are still somewhat different for women, however: “Business is still about relationships. A lot of business still happens on the golf course, it still happens in the board room, and we are not in those rooms to the same degree. Some of it is we still have the primary responsibility for our homes and our families, so we wear many hats; that’s just a reality.”

Houston has donned many hats herself but has excelled in a world once unknown to her. When thinking back on her life, you’ll often find her referring to sports analogies, many imparted by her father.

“I just want to know the rules. If you give me the rules, I can play the game. In business, it’s resiliency. You have to get over the fear of failure. If you fail, get up the next morning and go to practice.”


Transportation advocates call on Congress to pass long-term transportation bill


Representatives of businesses, civic and non-profit organizations gathered at TARC today to urge Congress to pass a long-term, fully-funded federal transportation bill for roads, bridges, highways, and public transportation.  The current federal transportation bill, known as Map-21, will expire on May 31, leaving the federal highway trust fund insolvent.

“For the past several years, up against the transportation bill’s expiration, Congress has passed short-term, inadequately funded legislation,” said J. Barry Barker, executive director of TARC.  “Today, on National Stand Up for Transportation Day, we’re asking Congress to find a way to invest in transportation so that we can begin to repair our bridges, roads and public transportation networks, and plan for the future.  We’re in dire need of a long-term, adequately funded solution.”

At a news event at its Union Station Headquarters today, TARC was joined by representatives of Motor Coach Industries, a bus and bus parts manufacturer with a distribution center in Louisville; the Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics Network of Greater Louisville Inc. and Kentuckians for Better Transportation, a statewide association; local non-profits including the Center For Accessible Living and YouthBuild who depend on federal transportation funds to access training and job opportunities in Louisville.

To draw attention to the need, TARC also unveiled a wrapped “Stand Up 4 Transportation” bus that will circulate on regular routes for the next several months.

A recent analysis by the American Public Transit Association shows that more than $227 billion in economic productivity is at risk nationally over the next six years without long-term federal investment in public transit.

“On behalf of our company, I’m proud to participate in Stand Up For Transportation Day and support the funding of a long-term transportation bill,” said Scott Robertson, Vice-President of Product Life-Cycle Management at MCI. “I see the benefits of public transit every day – both in our community and in our business. We keep a lot of hard-working Kentuckians and others employed and contributing to our local and larger economies.”
“In Louisville, and throughout Kentucky, a long-term federal transportation bill is vital to our ability to move goods and people.  Our economy and quality of life is dependent on a modern, safe and accessible transportation network and we need a long-term and reliable transportation bill,” said Kentuckians for Better Transportation Executive Director Juva Barber.

The nation faces a $160 billion backlog just to bring public transit and road systems into a state of good repair, according to APTA.  The lack of a long-term federal funding bill creates local funding uncertainty which jeopardizes transportation project planning and discourages private sector investment.  With a lack of a commitment on the federal level, that stifles local business investment and job creation.

“It’s critical that our region’s transportation system can efficiently move our people and products throughout our region and far beyond now, and in the future,” said Derek Bland, co-chair of the Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics Network and Vice President of Business Development for Houston-Johnson, a 3rd party logistics company in Louisville that provides material support services for companies such as Ford, Johnson Controls, Brown-Forman, Martinrea and the PGA of America. “Effectively maintaining and expanding our roadway network is critical as our region’s economy and population grows.”

The impact from the expiration of Map-21 could jeopardize services provided by the Center For Accessible Living, which stresses independent living and self-determination. Public transportation is critical for people with disabilities, many of whom are unable to operate vehicles.

“Since the passage with the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, TARC has worked hand-and-hand with the disability community to ensure its services provide easy access to everything life has to offer,” said Jan Day, Chief Executive Officer for the Center For Accessible Living. “A fully-funded transportation bill ensures they continue to get to work, hospital appointments, have the ability to visit family and friends and reach cultural and educational opportunities within their communities.”

Sponsored by APTA, Stand Up for Transportation Day united more than 240 participating organizations in communities across the country to urge federal officials to support the passage of a long-term, sustainable and reliable federal transportation funding bill.

To learn more about Stand Up for Transportation Day please visit


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HJI recently underwent a 2.1 million dollar project expansion, adding an additional 40,000 sq. ft. to its existing 120,000 sq. ft. space. The team celebrated completion February 13, 2015.


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It doesn’t take long to recognize Alice Houston’s competitive spirit, passion for people and dedication to building a customer-focused operation. “If you want to succeed in business, you need to be willing and ready to compete, while always working to satisfy all of your customers,” she said. “Continually evaluating processes to identify new efficiencies, while integrating technology into every aspect of our operations, allows us to stay on the leading edge and be competitive. This [continuous evaluation] also ensures our processes are scalable and nimble to adjust to a variety of industries and client needs.” Houston.mbn.2012


“It has allowed us to increase our throughput by more than 50%. We are doing a lot less thinking and walking and more picking.” – Condrad Daniels, Vice President of Operations and Technology

System Summary:
Houston-Johnson, Inc. (HJI) is a Louisville-based, ISO 9001-2008 certified, minority-owned company and a WBENC certified women’s business enterprise. Founded in 1987, Houston-Johnson provides logistic services to the largest automotive manufacturers and parts suppliers as a Tier 1 or Tier 2 supplier. These services include sequencing, modular assembly, kitting and rework operations with automotive suppliers and consumer products.

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New KAM Sponsor: Houston-Johnson, Inc. Offers Cost-Effective Solutions to Help Automakers Improve Productivity and Reduce Total Cost
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