After 14 years working with Overstock.com, the e-commerce giant's chairman of the board was asked to leave the room during a board meeting last month.
But the board would return with good news, ultimately deciding to offer Johnson the chance to take over as president of Overstock subsidiary Medici and formally lead its efforts to reimagine finance using technology inspired by bitcoin.
In Johnson’s first interview since taking the reigns, he explained that his goal for the company and its blockchain projects isn't to change what CEO Patrick Byrne set in motion when he became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin, but to accelerate it.
Johnson told CoinDesk:
This shouldn't come as a surprise to those familiar with Johnson's work.
Hired in 2002 to serve as the company’s general counsel, Johnson quickly moved through the ranks to become the fifth member of its executive team. During this time, he would help lead Byrne’s widely covered charge against Wall Street trading practices.
Johnson was president of Overstock in 2014 when the company decided to first support bitcoin, and he says his interest in the disruptive power of the technology has only increased.
As president of Medici, Johnson plans to help steer the direction of tØ, a blockchain post-trade settlement platform of which Overstock owns an 81% stake.
Johnson will also oversee management of startup investments including Bitt, which earlier this year launched an encrypted version of the Barbados dollar; and digital record-keeping startup, Peernova; both of which Overstock owns a minority stake in.
If these projects seem a far cry from traditional retail fare, Johnson is enthusiastic about the challenge.
"I’d been in the selling sheets and toasters business for years, but the idea of being part of something as disruptive as Medici really got me excited," he said.
But Johnson's tenure could ultimately prove a pivotal one for the project.
While Medici has been working with regulators to create an alternative to traditional financial institutions, those very institutions are now looking to adopt the same technology through pilots and proofs-of-concept.
Overstock, however, has a lead out of the starting gate. In December 2015, the SEC approved tØ’s amended S-3 filing, giving it the ability to issue public securities using blockchain technology.
To stay competitive in the increasingly diverse space, Johnson says he plans to continue Byrne's history of having a dialogue with SEC chair Mary Jo White and other regulators.
"We’re not going to build something and hope that it doesn't get regulated out of use," he said. "I don’t want to say we’ll be working hand in glove, but close to that."
Big news on this front could also be on the way. Earlier this month, Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne told investors to expect n "historic" announcement regarding Medici in September. Though Johnson said he couldn’t elaborate on the nature of the announcement, Byrne told CoinDesk he was "impatient" for the company to "pull the trigger".
However, he said he's confident Johnson’s will be the right executive to do just that.
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