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Title: General Counsel and Vice President of Legal and Governmental Affairs Location: Waco Age: 38 Cut Off at the Litigation Pass Legend has it that James M. Johnston Jr. once won a standoff with a black bear. Perhaps the bear knew that Johnston’s mother nicknamed him after one of her favorite movie stars: John Wayne. Living up to that moniker, Duke Johnston has stared down his share of opposing parties. But as a franchise specialist with The Dwyer Group, he favors relationship-building over a shootout. “Early on, I noticed that when a dispute actually made it to litigation, you couldn’t preserve the relationship,” he says. And that can be a big problem when there are several years left on a franchise agreement. “Our business is built on relationships with franchisees,” says Dwyer Group CEO Dina Dwyer-Owens. “Duke has mastered that.” Johnston credits former general counsel Shelley Weatherbie with showing him the ropes. Weatherbie, now a partner in Williams Mullen in Washington, D.C., says she hired Johnston as a fairly green trial lawyer in 1994. She says she couldn’t recruit any of the experienced franchise lawyers from Dallas to Waco, so she looked for the next best thing. “I wanted somebody who just had some sense. We weren’t going to pay for experience at that point,” she says. She found Johnston, who in three years reined in the company’s litigation issues and developed compliance models to keep it that way. Johnston says the system works: “Now we focus strongly on the relationship and dispute resolution. Most of our disputes anymore don’t make it to litigation.” Johnston says he has thought about moving on but never did, because the dispute-resolution work had him hooked. So when Weatherbie left in 1998, Johnston was primed to take over. He now handles legal work for at least six franchising companies at any given time, and he also handles personal business for the Dwyer family. He regularly speaks before Congress regarding the heavily regulated franchise industry. He completed the negotiation program at Harvard Law School and is in the process of earning his MBA at the University of Dallas. “The beautiful thing about it all is [that] Duke really cleaned up our company by putting preventive systems in place. We have a very clean business,” Dwyer-Owens says. Johnston not only is a standout lawyer, she says, but he is a key team player on the business side. And she’s not the only one singing his praises. In 2003, equity firm The Riverside Co. acquired an 86 percent interest in The Dwyer Group. Dwyer-Owens recalls how one of the Riverside partners, who was accustomed to using big-name firms, called her and admitted that Johnston could have cost-effectively handled more of the transaction. “He said, “You have got somebody incredible in Duke Johnston,’ ” Dwyer-Owens says.

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