I met Rick Johnson at a nondescript restaurant on Detroit's east side. It was October 2003, and Rick, the founding editor of Automotive News Europe, had just returned to the U.S. after 17 years as an ex-pat. Before launching our European brand, he had been the Tokyo bureau chief for Automotive News as well as its first full-time reporter in Europe.
Like me, he had been plucked from our Detroit newsroom at a young age for an overseas assignment. We had a lot in common.
On that day, Rick was jet-lagged. His furniture was still on a boat. And I was one day into my new job as a marketing reporter for Automotive News. He was my first editor. And I couldn't have known how masterful the connection would be.
In business, people come and people go, but some have a style that sticks forever.
Last week, Johnson celebrated his 35th anniversary and his final day at Automotive News. He retired Friday, March 1, without much fanfare, as was his style.
And, aligned with that, if in recent years you rarely saw his byline on this "final" page or anywhere else in each week's issue, you need to know that this publication had his name written all over it.
His talented hand and meticulous eye were everywhere. For the last six years, in his tenure as print editor, he left his mark on every paragraph. But he has done so much more than that.
The leaders he profiled in his 2005 book, Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry, all toiled for companies Rick covered as a reporter in Detroit, Frankfurt and Tokyo.
His skills as a writer and editor led to better prose from every member of the staff. He was a storyteller's storyteller.
His ability to spot trends was unmatched. In 2015, Automotive News produced an award-winning series titled "Industry on Trial" — an examination of the viability of the business we cover each day. It received global acclaim. All of it conceived by Rick.
Some of the most popular pages of this newspaper each week also reflected his signature: Cars & Concepts (Page 6), Opinion (Page 12) and this page, Final Assembly, which he created.
It's where his knowledge of the industry, his sense of propriety and his sense of humor were always on display.
Finally, a personal note. Last summer, Rick approached me with some news: He was planning to retire on his 65th birthday, in October.
I couldn't stand for it. So, in typical fashion, he agreed to stay an extra four months — to help us find ways to keep doing all of the things he's taught us to do through the years. I respected him too much to ask him to postpone his plans again.
This issue is his final one. But his imprint will live on. Happy retirement, Rick.