Daughter’s love for Clemson inspires Tom Johnston to give back
Perseverance isn’t a character trait that’s necessarily taught in college courses, but something that all college graduates will need to achieve success, says a Clemson supporter who built his company from scratch more than 30 years ago.
With hard work, determination and some risks, Tom Johnston built Allegro Industries into a booming business, now located in Piedmont, South Carolina. His company makes safety and ventilation equipment.
Though he said South Carolina is a pro-business state, one of the risks he took was moving his company and his home to the Upstate after his daughter chose to go to Clemson University for her undergraduate degree.
“The number one thing that I attribute my success to is willingness to take risks. Most people are afraid to death of risks,” Tom Johnston said, reflecting back on 30 years of business. “You can’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t take risks.”
After graduating with a business degree from California State University, Fullerton, he joined Survivair, which manufactured firefighter breathing apparatuses and industrial safety respirators. This gave him the background and knowledge he needed to begin his own company, Allegro, in 1987 in California.
He started making asbestos testing equipment. However, the federal and state governments stopped asbestos removal projects and his market vanished overnight.
“I had to reinvent myself and my company,” he said.
The market had shifted to safety equipment and ergonomically-crafted products. So, he invented products in this line and called them Allegronomics.
While growing his business, he also grew his family. Through his work, he met his wife, Laura, who managed the sales associates through a third-party company that Tom worked with. Their family continued to grow when they had their daughter, Lindsey.
When Lindsey applied to colleges, she looked only at colleges on the East Coast. She applied to Boston College, Clemson and a dozen others. She chose Clemson because of the warm welcome and hospitality she received on her visit and the opportunities she saw.
“Lindsey had come from a high school of 300 students – all girls at a Catholic school,” Tom said. “I was nervous that Clemson would be extremely impersonal. It turned out not to be. A number of professors helped her. She embraced the whole Clemson experience.”
Once Lindsey came to Clemson, her parents moved to the Upstate with her. Her father relocated the company and a dozen managers and their families to continue his business.
As a freshman, Lindsey instantly connected with her advisor. She was an English major and wanted to write for a living. Because of her advisor’s advice, she changed her major to communication and double majored in English.
As Lindsey’s passion for Clemson grew, so did her parents’ as well as their involvement with the University. Their daughter’s advisor asked Tom Johnston to volunteer for various activities.
“He started calling me and saying ‘I have something I’m doing with some of the fraternities and the re department and I need someone to go on TV in a suit,’” Tom said. “I would always say, ‘Yes.’”
He also said yes, when it came to supporting the Department of Communication’s activities – including the speech and debate team.
Those were his first gifts to Clemson University, a college he wasn’t a graduate of, but where his daughter gained immeasurable experience.
“When we were approached about an endowment, we thought this is something that we should do because the school launched Lindsey’s career,” he said. “We were so happy when Lindsey chose Clemson. It was easy to see that Clemson is special and a cut above the rest.”
Clemson played a significant role in Lindsey’s training, which led her to a full-ride at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, where she received her master’s degree in health and medical journalism. Now, she works as a health communications specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Johnston family is “All In” at Clemson. Tom now serves on the External Advisory Board for the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences and continues to support the Department of Communication. He and Laura also attend all the home football games.