Perry Johnson, the founder of one of the largest ISO 9001 certification bodies and consulting firms, announced his intention to run for governor of Michigan in a self-paid advertisement aired during the US Super Bowl.
Johnson became famous in the early 1990s after he flooded the manufacturing industry with free VHS videotapes promoting his company, Perry Johnson Registrars (PJR). The company offered ISO 9001 certification but certified the work of a consulting firm also run by Johnson, known as Perry Johnson Inc. (PJI). As a result, Johnson nearly single-handedly launched the “certificate mill” industry and was met with derision among the somewhat snobbish quality assurance community. Nevertheless, his low pricing and aggressive marketing — featuring his ever-present name, “televangelist” hairstyle, wedding cake topper suits, and visibly airbrushed photos — caught on with thousands of US companies seeking fast certification to ISO 9001.
ISO 9001 certification is supposed to attest that a company has undergone a thorough and independent review by an objective, authorized body, in order to provide trust that it can produce high-quality products. The act of certifying the work of one’s own consultants is seen as an insurmountable threat to objectivity. The term “certificate mill” was coined by Oxebridge to highlight the similarities between “diploma mills” that issue dubious university degrees without proper accreditation oversight.
Johnson fought against the US’ official accreditation body ANAB, then known as “RAB,” which pressured Johnson to stop certifying the work of his own consultants. RAB and other international bodies improved ISO rules prohibiting certification bodies from offering consulting, and Johnson’s accreditation to operate was soon stripped. Johnson fought the cases in court, however, suing a Japanese accreditation body in 2004 after it de-accredited PJR. In that case, Johnson argued the move amounted to “tortious interference in business.” A year earlier, in 2003, Johson sued RAB for the same allegations. Whereas the 2004 case was dismissed after Japan ignored the proceedings entirely, PJR prevailed against RAB, forcing it to rely on their formal procedures and reconsider the acts taken against PJR.
Likely as part of that case, Johnson divested his consulting services. Johnson retained control of the consulting firm Perry Johnson Inc. while handing Perry Johnson Registrars to its prior President, Terry Boboige. The two companies operated out of the same building, with offices across the hall from each other, but were technically separate legal entities. Because Johnson demanded that his name be kept for both companies, many to this day still think Johnson operates both, and that PJR is a “certificate mill.”
Ironically, Johnson was then sued in 2005 by one company, Hurd Corporation, after they were forced to surrender their ISO certificate as a result of the divestiture. Hurd had hired both Johnson companies, and relied on Johnson to certify his own consultant’s work. It’s not clear why Hurd did not simply transfer to a new certification body. The case was settled by the parties out of court.
Johnson then went on to form Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation (PJLA), also known as “Perry Johnson Labs,” which enjoys a relatively good reputation in the laboratory and testing accreditation space.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Johnson companies benefitted from marketing via various dubious and unethical methods. Johnson was one of the first American companies to be sued under new laws against junk-fax spamming, and went on to use prison labor for telemarketing and spam calling. Sources have reported that Johnson continues to utilize prisoners for such marketing, but Oxebridge could not confirm this.
In 2005, FEC records show Johnson had to refund $25,000 in donations to the Republican National Committee, apparently have violated individual donation limits.
Perry Johnson companies are also notorious in the industry for offering the lowest pay for consultants and auditors, often only a few hundred dollars per day, whereas other CBs pay two to three times as much. As a result, Perry Johnson companies have high turnover, and low employee satisfaction.
But Johnson was eventually — if only partially — vindicated. Despite RAB having applied pressure on Johnson to divest his companies, the industry would later move on to quietly embrace the practices they previously deemed distasteful. RAB became ANAB, which now openly allows CBs to consult. The ISO rules prohibiting auditors from consulting have been diluted to allow them to issue “opportunities for improvement” under the guise of “adding value” during audits. ANAB, which was also once forced to divest its personnel credentialing operations, now sells training services, aping what had it once complained about during its war with Johnson in the 1990s.
As a result, Johnson’s practice of certifying his own consultants’ work provided the blueprint for what would become the “certificate mill” model, where conflicts of interest are thrown out the window in favor of issuing rapid, if dubious, quality certifications. Compounded by the refusal by ANAB and other bodies to rein in such conflicts of interest, the certificate mill industry has grown into a massive, and dangerous threat to legitimate certifications worldwide, and a risk to public safety. “Mill” certificates can now be found on products within the medical, automotive, and aerospace industries. One famous mill, QAS, simultaneously runs a consulting company known as IMSM, following the model created by Johnson. In 2018, QAS issued an ISO 9001 quality certificate to a retail furniture store later found to be a front for a heroin smuggling ring.
With Johnson removed from day-to-day operations, and under Boboige’s management, Perry Johnson Registrars went on to improve its overall customer satisfaction levels, and general performance. Despite grumbling from disgruntled, underpaid auditors, Perry Johnson Registrars has not received a single complaint filing through the ISO Whistleblower Reporting system managed by Oxebridge.
Perry Johnson Registrars stepped into controversy again in 2014, however, when it signed onto a dubious certification scheme called “SN9001.” That scheme — ironically born out of a conflict of interest between ANAB and a private consulting firm — aimed to create a specific variant of ISO 9001 for snowplow operators. The SN9001 program was widely ignored, and nearly all the world’s certification bodies refused to sign on; PJR was one of only a tiny handful of companies that agreed to sell the service. It does not appear that PJR ever certified any companies to Sn9001, however.
Despite having made millions based on the use of prison labor and spamming, Johnson has described himself as a “quality guru.” His campaign is relying on various false claims, alleging that Johnson is singlehandedly responsible for every US automotive manufacturing job ever created. The campaign also says, “Perry Johnson literally wrote the book, introducing ISO 9000 quality standards to the American automobile industry.” In fact, the automotive standard QS9000 was created before any Johnson company offered certification. Johnson wrote a handful of books in the 1990s on the topic of ISO 9001, but has largely been absent from the industry for the past 20 years.
Johnson is running as a pro-Trump Republican.
Disclosure: Johnson hired an attorney in 2005 to send a veiled legal threat to Oxebridge after it reported on the conflicts of interest between the two Johnson companies. No legal actions were ever filed, however, and Oxebridge did not cease its reporting on the Johnson companies’ activities within the ISO certification scheme.