While some executives take off to a Florida beach vacation to relax, C. Paul Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of First Colonial Bankshares, takes a road much less traveled. When he needs to unwind, this top honcho flies his Cessna 340A out of Chicago to his llama ranch in Lander, Wyo.
Once on Popo Agie, Mr. Johnson's 4,000-acre ranch, a transformation takes place. The Chicago CEO puts on his worn denim and slips into his cowboy boots and 10-gallon hat; around his waist he wears the leather belt branded with his nom de ranch: Colonel.
With his Lincoln Town Car a thousand miles away, he cinches the saddle, mounts his trusty steed, Apache, and gallops into the hills.
And when he returns to his bank, 60-year-old Mr. Johnson takes with him a little of that frontier spirit, managing his army of bankers and scouting the Chicago area for opportunities.
But talk of acquisitions seems far from the mind of the white-haired banking cowboy as he washes down Apache, or attends to other ranch duties.
Popo Agie, a retreat for the Johnson family and friends, is also a business. The Johnsons own about 40 llamas, including the grand champion, Rick, whose stud fee tops $ 1,000.
Back at the ranch house, Anne Johnson, the executive's wife, is busy preparing for the Rocky Mountain Ilama rendezvous, which her enterprise, Wind River Llamas, is sponsoring.
During the rendezvous, the normally serene Popo Agie rings loudly with the brays of Llamas and the clang of trailers and pickup trucks plastered with bumper stickers like "Spit Happens," and "Llamas - A Lifestyle Investment."
On the first day of the festivities, held at Lander's Old Timer's Rodeo, Llama cowboys from as far afield as Nebraska enter their wooly offspring in contests, including the ever-challenging public relations llama obstacle course.
During the race the Colonel runs from obstacle to obstacle using his camera to capture Ilama history in the making. Ms. Johnson, as the organizer of the happening, runs from the broadcasting booth to the Ilama ranchers and back again, making sure all goes smoothly.
Not every day on the ranch is as busy as the Llama rendezvous. Most of Mr. Johnson's vacation days are spent pursuing some of his more sober hobbies: archaeology and photography. He combines the two on his morning walks.
"I do some of my best thinking out here. And when I'm flying back I put the plane on autopilot and jot down my ideas," he said. "My employees must dread my return."
When prodded, Mr. Johnson will turn his thoughts to the business of banking. He has a lot at stake in $1.6 billion-asset First Colonial.
His 10.7% share of company stock, valued at about $40 million at current market Price, makes him the largest shareholder. And having built the company from a $65 million bank 20 years ago, Mr. Johnson is not yet ready to heel to the acquisition frenzy.
"We're having fun with what we are doing," he says.
Not until after he guides his twin-engine craft into suburban Chicago and glides his Lincoln onto the Kennedy Expressway does he recapture the mantle of corporate cowpoke.
"After any good vacation, I only go back with a better frame of mind," says Mr. Johnson, who is Plotting a safari in Botswana for later this year. "But I can get back into it," he snaps his fingers, "just like that."