MY MUSEUM MAGAZINE: How does Protective Life’s support of the BMA align with your corporate mission?
JOHNNY JOHNS: We like to say that our mission is clearly set forth in our name—Protective. That’s who we are and that’s what we do—protect and serve people. Since the Company was founded by former Governor William Dorsey Jelks in 1907, we have firmly believed that our mission to create value for shareholders is directly linked to our commitment to serve the broader communities in which we live. Our business is, like most, extremely competitive. We compete not only for sales and revenues, but also for talent. And we compete for high-potential talent with much larger companies headquartered in major cities throughout the country. We firmly believe that our ability to “win” in our industry is directly linked to how successful we are in bringing the best and the brightest to Birmingham. We find that “quality of life” is an increasingly critical issue for families thinking about relocating to another city. It is therefore vitally important that the greater Birmingham community provide a diversity and quality of life that is appealing to smart, ambitious, and highly-educated people. From that perspective, the Birmingham Museum of Art is a true crown jewel. A quick tour instantly reveals not only the extraordinary quality of the collection, but also the careful thought given to its display and interpretation. I like to think that the Museum “punches above its weight” in terms of how it compares to museums in larger cities throughout the country.
MMM: Protective Life was once again voted one of Birmingham’s Best Places to Work by the Birmingham Business Journal. Do you think your employees view support of the Museum and the associated benefits as a factor in this?
JJ: I have no doubt that the high level of employee satisfaction we enjoy is strongly bolstered by our company’s support of many cultural, civic and charitable activities in the Birmingham community. Kate Cotton, who leads the Protective Foundation, does a marvelous job of providing opportunities to our employees to get directly involved, in a hands-on” way, in many of the organizations that we support through the Foundation. We have on a number of occasions invited our employees to events hosted at the Museum and strongly encourage them to get involved as volunteers.
MMM: Protective Life has demonstrated time and again that it truly cares for Birmingham by being an outstanding corporate citizen. In your view, how does your support of the Museum positively impact our city?
JJ: Thank you for your observation about our commitment to the community. Once again, I will say that having a world-class art museum in the city is a huge benefit when attracting talent from around the country, and it also strongly supports the recruitment and economic development efforts of the Birmingham Business Alliance. The satirist H. L. Meaken once pejoratively and cynically called the South “The Sahara of the Bozarts.” The quality of our Museum directly refutes such stereotypical notions outsiders may have about our deep appreciation and enthusiasm for the fine arts in Birmingham.
MMM: As a sponsor of Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward, what do you think is one of the most important things we can learn from this exhibition series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham?
JJ: There are so many things we can learn—so many things to ponder and reflect upon, including the incredible courage and conviction of those who followed Dr. King in demanding an end to the segregated past; the poignant tragedy of the Sixteenth Street Church bombing; the cruel arrogance that motivated the decision to bring out fire hoses and police dogs to intimidate young civil rights marchers; and even the noble efforts made by a few white leaders in the community to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. However, I think the most important lesson to be learned from this era in our history is this: we got through it. We successfully navigated across the bitter divide of hatred and intolerance without violence or additional bloodshed to a much better place today. In fact, I think what has evolved in our City over the last fifty years—a peaceful, collaborative, inclusive, and tolerant community—is almost as important a lesson in history as what occurred in 1963. We have much to regret about that era, but much to be proud of and thankful for in terms of what we have accomplished since those dark days.
MMM: Protective Life supports approximately 170 nonprofits. What are important characteristics you look for when choosing to support an organization?
JJ: We look for organizations that are well-organized, well-managed, have strong leadership, and serve important community needs. We also like to make “catalytic” gifts—contributions that set in motion a chain reaction that will lead to bigger and better things for the organization, as well as the broader community. We also have a special interest in helping children-at-risk, improving education and ensuring that our core cultural amenities continue to thrive and prosper.