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Carol Johnson, the former Dex (then US West Direct) sales executive who led the high-profile turnaround of the Sensis sales culture, has announced she is leaving the Australian directory publisher at the end of May to return to the United States. Her replacement has not yet been named.

Johnson first joined Sensis as chief operating officer back in 2007, following a stint leading a turnaround effort at Singapore Yellow Pages.

Johnson is given a large share of the credit for helping Sensis invigorate its sales culture and the performance of its core print Yellow and White Pages products. Johnson’s approach combined a hard-nosed emphasis on execution with softer motivational elements. Key components of the program included a major increase in call measurement, the elimination of discounting, promotion of usage, focus on distribution, and instilling a belief in the core product throughout the organization.

Here is how the press release announcing Johnson’s departure described her legacy:

Implementation of her Sales Effectiveness and Usage programs resulted in world leading results with Sensis achieving 7.2 percent total revenue growth in FY08 versus 4.2 percent the previous year.  Significantly, print revenue growth was 5.4 percent.

In addition, Sensis’ first half year report ending December 08 reports another world leading revenue growth achievement of 5.9 percent (including all major campaigns) representing 1pp improvement over the same time the previous year.

As Johnson and fellow American ex-pat JoLynne Whiting make their way back to the States following their tenure at Sensis, two big questions remain. Will the systems and sales culture they helped put in place carry forward? And will the improvements they helped achieve be lasting? Until these questions are answered, it is certainly fair at least to say that Johnson helped make a positive difference in the financial performance of Sensis during her tenure.

Update 5/28/09: We just learned that Johnson is being replaced as COO by Gerry Sutton, who was general manager of information technology.

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