Meet the Team
Jake Johnson – President and CEO | email
Jake Johnson has rapidly advanced into senior leadership roles and gained respect throughout the funeral and cemetery industries. He is known as an innovator, change agent and thought leader. Jake’s success is based on his unique ability to identify simple solutions to complex business problems and communicate across all levels of the organization, instilling positive morale, empowerment and employee ownership to drive service excellence. His strong foundation in accounting, financial analysis and EBITDA forecasting is complemented by technology savvy and broad general management qualifications in business development and operations. As President & CEO at Johnson Consulting, Jake provides strategic direction and marketing innovations that laid the groundwork for the company’s rapid growth, gaining recognition as the premiere total solutions provider within the funeral industry. In his former position as Executive Vice President and General Manager at Palm Mortuaries and Cemeteries, he provided key operations leadership to the Palm Cemetery Division. Jake began his career at Keystone Group Holdings (now Dignity Memorial Network) as Associate Director, Corporate Development, where his financial analysis and forecasting expertise was foundational to the firm’s growth. Jake’s educational credentials include a BSBA degree in Management with an emphasis in Accounting and Financial Analysis from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rounding out his financial portfolio, he is a licensed Real Estate Agent and licensed Investment Advisor representative. Jake is also a member-ameritus of the Funeral Service Foundation Board.
Tom Johnson – Founder | email
Tom has pursued a highly successful career in multi-site funeral home and cemetery management, as well as acquisition and divestiture activity in the death care industry. After beginning his career in banking and then serving in several key positions with Batesville Casket Company, he became President and CEO of Pierce Brothers Mortuaries & Cemeteries in Los Angeles. There, he grew the company from 17 locations to a total of 64 funeral homes and 14 cemeteries, making it, at the time, the largest regional independent funeral and cemetery operation in the United States. When Pierce was sold to SCI, he left the company and founded Prime Succession, which grew from no operations to 146 funeral homes and 17 cemetery locations in only three years, becoming the largest national independent operation in the country. After Prime Succession, Mr. Johnson started Johnson Consulting Group, which has become the premier consulting company in the death care industry focusing on mergers & acquisitions, business valuations and appraisals, accounting services, management services and training, and business financing. Mr. Johnson’s expertise in funeral home and cemetery management, combined with his strong background in banking and finance, gives him a unique understanding of operational and financial matters relating to the death care profession.
Al Asta | email
Al graduated from Cypress College of Mortuary Science in January of 1982. A Summa Cum Laude graduate, he was also Valedictorian of his class. He began his career with Whitney & Murphy Funeral Home, a large volume funeral home in Phoenix, AZ. In 1984 Al was involved in a Forethought Life Insurance pilot program as a sales agent. In this role he developed sales materials, phone scripts, training materials and product development. After approximately one year in working on that project, Al was named Manager of Whitney & Murphy. After a successful tenure at the funeral home, Al was promoted to General Manager of Prime Succession Inc. Phoenix, Arizona operations, which soon grew to include the company’s operations in Texas, Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas. In 2000, Al was promoted to Regional Vice-President, with diverse and varied corporate responsibilities. Al’s experience leading businesses through rapid growth and transition as well as difficult financial times will allow him to relate to our client’s challenges, regardless of their nature. Even during the toughest financial periods, Al’s region maintained morale, quality of service and profitability. Al’s experience managing multiple locations and supervising location managers, along with his practical experience as a licensed funeral director make him a very productive operational consultant to both large and small volume single and multiple location firms.
Berny Gaarsoe | email
Berny brings extensive experience to Johnson Consulting’s financial services. He graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. Having served as chief financial officer for several large corporate companies, his areas of expertise are Corporate Finance, Accounting Systems – Implementation and Financial Statement Preparation, Tax Planning, Risk Management, Human Resource Responsibilities, and Governmental Regulation Compliance. Berny also has extensive death care industry experience having created the financial management systems for two large funeral home and cemetery companies, including Prime Succession where he was responsible for finance, accounting, budgeting, reporting, auditing, human resource and risk management functions. Under Mr. Gaarsoe’s direction, Johnson Consulting has created a web based bookkeeping system, employing proprietary death care industry software that will allow independent funeral homes to control cash flow, create accounting reports, and maintain budgets.
Cyndi Henry | email
Cyndi joined Johnson Consulting Group in 2010, bringing with her an extensive background in Accounting and Finance. In her previous roles Cyndi has made an impact in the Accounting profession by process improvements and client communication. Prior to coming to JCG, she was recruited to develop and implement an Accounts Receivable process for a national company, which resulted in the recovery of over 1.5m in outstanding receivables. As the Accounting Manager, her solid accounting practices, business ethics and leadership provide the clients and staff with the accuracy and integrity that they require and have come to depend on. As Johnson Consulting Group continues to grow, Cyndi is developing process improvements, both internally and externally, to maintain and ensure the highest level of standards for our clients.
Karen McCurdy | email
Karen McCurdy is a graduate of Florida State University (1991), she received a Bachelor of Science in Real Estate. Upon graduation, Karen began a career in appraising both commercial and residential properties. She continues to maintain her real estate broker’s license and State Certified General Appraiser License. After appraising for 3 ½ years, Karen accepted a position with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as an Appraiser Specialist. She reviewed statewide appraisals related to the acquisition, sale, lease and disposition of all real property. In addition, she performed desk and field reviews of proposed properties for state acquisition.
In May 1996, Karen began a career with Thomas-Pierce & Company as a Project Manager. In 1999, she was promoted to Sr. Financial Analyst. Some of her responsibilities include evaluating the operating and financial performance of client companies, assisting in negotiating the sales of client businesses and working through client transactions. Karen enjoys the challenge of working with the diversities of each business and assisting each client in meeting his or her individual needs.
David Adams | email
David graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1977 with a degree in Mortuary Science. He served as a partner/licensed Funeral Director/Embalmer at a firm in Southern Illinois. In 1984 he joined Batesville Casket Company, a leading manufacturer of burial and cremation products. During his 25+ year tenure with Batesville, he served in a variety of sales and management positions. These roles enabled him to gain experience, knowledge and in-depth understanding of sales and merchandising strategies, industry demographics, and the complexity of the changing funeral industry market. David also gained invaluable experience by serving as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at a leading funeral/cemetery complex in the Greater San Francisco Bay area. For the past four years, David expanded his professional resume by serving as the Director of Corporate Development for a publicly traded acquisition company. Throughout his career, David has gained extensive knowledge and diverse experience with all aspects of the death care industry.
Bill Cutter | email
Bill graduated from Ball State University in 1976. He spent eleven years in various sales management positions with Batesville Casket Company and then spent several years as Vice President of Corporate development with Service Corporation International. This experience helped grow his expertise in all aspects of the death care industry, and ultimately teamed him with Tom Johnson as Vice President of Corporate Development at Pierce Brothers Mortuaries and Cemeteries and Prime Succession Inc. before going on to serve as Director of Corporate Development at Equity Corporation International. Bill has over 32 years of funeral service experience and has been instrumental in the successful acquisition and divestiture of hundreds of funeral homes and cemeteries.
Todd Lumbard | email
Todd grew up in his family’s funeral business, Brockie Donovan Funeral Home in Brandon, MB., and learned his work ethic, attention to detail, and honesty and integrity in business from his father, Jack. However, Todd’s passion and talent for hockey led him to a goal-tending career with the Notre Dame Hounds, Brandon Wheat Kings and Regina Pats, before being drafted by the New York Islanders. When Todd’s hockey career came to an end, he graduated with honors as a Funeral Service Professional. In 2004, Todd acquired Speers Funeral and Cremation Services in Regina, SK as a perfect fit for his belief in providing high-quality, locally-owned funeral service to a community. In 2006, Todd was elected to the highly-respected position of president of Selected Independent Funeral Homes. Todd is involved in several boards and committees such as the Wascana Country Club, the Canadian Club of Regina, Regina Eastview Rotary Club and the Funeral and Cremation Services Council of Saskatchewan. JCG is proud to have served a number of Canadian firms, and has made a commitment to elevate the standard of services in Canada by affiliating with Todd Lumbard, who will work exclusively with Canadian firms.
Greg Hilgendorf | email
Greg has a record of proven success in business growth and development in the death care profession. As the owner of a successful multi-location funeral home business, his firms dominated market share and were renowned for their unparalleled customer service. In 1992, his business was the first acquisition by Tom Johnson and Prime Succession. Following progressive advancement within Prime Succession, Mr. Hilgendorf became Senior Vice President of Operations and Officer of the then fifth largest funeral home and cemetery company in the country, operating 150 funeral homes and cemeteries in 19 states. After Prime Succession, he joined The Alderwoods Group where, in his first eighteen months, he led his market to an 18% increase in operating margin and as Regional General Manager was responsible for the operating performance of 33 funeral home and cemetery locations in three states. From practicing funeral director to funeral home owner to corporate executive, Mr. Hilgendorf’s ability to deliver exceptional customer service and maximum business performance is a valuable asset to the clients of Johnson Consulting Group.
Jeff Casey | email
Jeff joined Johnson Consulting Group to assist in their management consulting efforts. Jeff brings over thirty years of funeral home and cemetery management experience to the Johnson Consulting team. Jeff is a graduate of Cypress College of Mortuary Science in Cypress, CA and began his career in 1980 with Pierce Brother Mortuaries and Cemeteries in Los Angeles. After Pierce Brothers was acquired by SCI, Jeff continued with SCI to serve in various local and regional management positions including Regional Vice President in the Western Region. He continued his career with Prime Succession in California and Florida, where he was the General Manager of Fred Hunter Memorial Services in Hollywood, Florida. In addition to his duties with Fred Hunter’s, he served as a Regional Vice President, leading the Prime Succession Florida locations. Jeff’s local, multiple location and regional experience, along with a keen customer service focus, provide distinctive insight as an operational consultant.
Bob Ekins | email
Bob joined Johnson Consulting after 20 years of experience with three of the industry’s leading companies. After graduating from Spring Hill College in Mobile Alabama with a Business Management degree, Bob began his funeral service career with Batesville Casket Company. His roles included sales territory responsibility, national accounts, cremation specialist and selection room design including merchandising. In 2002, Bob joined Forethought Financial Services as Director of Business Development. His responsibilities included assisting funeral home and cemetery owners with solutions for existing trust funds and new preneed insurance business. The role evolved into client relations with multiple marketing partners across the country. In 2011, Bob was named Vice President of Sales for Trust 100, the oldest and one of the largest marketing partners to assist client funeral homes with Advance Funeral Planning. These career experiences have made Bob the ideal asset for Johnson Consulting Group to be responsible for client relations and business development.
Lisa Elliott | email
Lisa graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in 1990 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and began her career as a Financial Analyst with Thomas-Pierce & Company. While there, she evaluated the financial, operational, labor, demographic and competitive market aspects of funeral homes and cemeteries to assist clients with valuing, buying and selling those businesses. Thereafter, Lisa spent the next twelve years performing financial modeling and forecasting, data analysis and management consulting for many different industries, including senior housing, employee benefits reimbursement, higher education, employee classification and compensation, and the public sector. In 2012, Lisa returned to the industry as a Senior Analyst of Corporate Development for Foundation Partners Group, assisting the company with analyzing funeral homes and cemeteries for potential acquisition. A few years later she joined Johnson Consulting Group on the Mergers & Acquisitions Team, utilizing all of the skills she acquired while performing similar responsibilities in the funeral industry early in her career.
Katie Berg | email
Katie graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. She works with clients and her fellow analysts to complete each financial analysis accurately and efficiently. Her analytical thinking and attention to detail make her a great asset to the Johnson Consulting Group team.
Lou Eberle | email
Lou earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from The University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. Upon graduation Lou began his career in the Banking industry. He was involved in corporate planning efforts, budgeting and retail branch profitability analysis for a large multi-state financial institution. Lou’s most recent experience includes various financial positions in two large healthcare entities whose operations include hospitals, surgery centers, freestanding emergency rooms and physician practices. In these positions he gained experience in the areas of budgeting, variance analysis, cost accounting, profitability studies and large capital investment analysis. Lou is responsible for financial analysis support for the Management Services leadership team and JCG client base.
Brandy Sipos | email
Brandy graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. While attending ASU, she started her own small business, which is still in operation, to help pay for college. Her prior work experience includes preparing, analyzing, and evaluating internal and external financial statements. As an accountant with Johnson Consulting Group, Brandy is responsible for providing accounting and bookkeeping services to our accounting client base.
Nate Larsen | email
Nate graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. His prior work experience involved preparing, analyzing, and evaluating internal and external financial statements. As an accountant with Johnson Consulting Group, Nate is responsible for providing accounting and bookkeeping services to our accounting client base.
Grant Reynolds | email
Grant graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Arizona State University. Prior to Johnson Consulting Group, he worked in the banking and personal finance industries. Currently he is studying for the California Certified Public Accountants Examination. As an accountant with Johnson Consulting Group, Grant is responsible for providing accounting and bookkeeping services to our accounting client base.
Scott Gardner | email
Scott graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, and a Master’s Degree in Accounting. He has prior experience in the banking industry as a claims analyst. Scott also has extensive accounting experience in the private sector where he has worked as a bookkeeper and as a financial manager. His responsibilities included oversight of financial reporting, implementation of internal controls, and assisting management with strategic planning. Scott’s understanding of business and accounting assist him greatly in his accounting role at Johnson Consulting Group.
Niccole Delgado | email
Niccole graduated from the University of Phoenix with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. Niccole is a current member of the Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society in Business Administration. Her past work experience in the credit and banking industry as an SR Rapid Cycle Test Analyst provided her analytical and strategic decision making, as well as teamwork skills. Her innovative ideas help strengthen customer relationships, improve processes, and fortify the company brand. Niccole’s dedication to Johnson Consulting Group’s core values and mission to provide the highest quality services, will ensure she is not only meeting, but exceeding, our clients’ expectations.
Mike Orr | email
Mike joined Johnson Consulting Group in 2015 and holds degrees in Accounting and Finance. He has worked in both the public and private sectors as a consultant and controller. His experience includes preparation, analysis and presentation of internal and external financial statements. Mike also has experience working with payroll and identification/implementation of process improvements. As an accountant with Johnson Consulting Group, Mike is responsible for providing accounting and bookkeeping services to our accounting client base.
Lynne Jejna | email
Lynne comes to Johnson Consulting Group with an extensive background in the finance/accounting arena. Her prior work experience encompassed preparing and analyzing monthly financial statements. She has worked closely with her client base to foster an invaluable partnership. This experience has afforded Lynne the essential skills needed to better serve her clients.
Allison Benedict | email
Allison graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Arizona State University. She gained her professional experience at a local credit union applying her knowledge and skills in check processing, accounting, and risk management. She works closely with her fellow accountants to provide accounting and bookkeeping services.
Stephanie Scarim | email
Stephanie comes to Johnson Consulting Group with a work history in billing, finance, and customer service, as well as an education in Accounting and Finance. She works closely with our Senior Accountants to ensure that our clients receive the highest quality of accounting services. Her dedication to providing accuracy and integrity in our client’s accounting processes makes an excellent addition to the JCG team.
Jordan Palazuelos | email
Jordan comes to Johnson Consulting Group with a background in customer service management and merchant risk analysis. He works directly with our Accounting clients and internal staff to provide assistance on the technological side of the business. His primary role is to assist with the new client set-ups and updates within the different POS systems. He is currently working on his Accounting degree to expand his knowledge on the field. With his experience, Jordan strives in providing the best customer service support for our Accounting Help Desk, making him an excellent addition to the JCG team.
Tess Flores | email
Tess comes from a professional background in business administration and executive support. She has extensive experience in a variety of administrative tasks including accounts receivable and payables, correspondence, marketing, billing and project management. Her role includes office assistant, customer surveys and special projects support. Her main area of focus is in JCG’s management services department with client and organizational support.
Dale Espich | email
Dale Espich began his funeral service career as a field rep for Batesville (top 15%) in Washington/Baltimore and Michigan (1965-1977). He co-founded Professional Funeral Management and was President/CEO (1977 -1981). From 1981 to present he has consulted with over 500 funeral service companies of all sizes. A graduate of DePauw University with a double major in Economics and Psychology, he has presented countless workshops on communication and profitable pricing to funeral director groups throughout the U.S. Dale has worked with funeral businesses ranging from 40 to 5,000 calls annually in virtually all areas of Management, including Financial Analysis, Cost Analysis, Business Evaluations, Profit and Pricing Planning, Accounts Receivable Control, Arranger Training and Motivation, and Casket Merchandising. His precise evaluations have been invaluable to funeral home owners during his successful negotiation of over $200 million for sales and transfers to public companies, employees, competitors and family members. He has also published countless articles on business valuations, management analysis, and casket merchandising. Dale has been happily associated with his friends at Johnson Consulting Group since 2004.
Rich Sells | email
Rich has spent thirty extremely productive years in the funeral and cemetery industry where he held several senior level executive positions. He is well known and respected for his many accomplishments during those years. Twenty seven of those years were with Service Corporation International (SCI), the world’s largest owner and operator of funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories. There he held senior level executive positions in operations and is renowned for his accomplishments in the Pre-Need sales arena. As part of his responsibilities, Rich devised and led the construction of the traveling replica of the Vietnam Wall Memorial. He also headed up several other initiatives to honor and care for the Homeless Veterans. In addition to his many accomplishments while at SCI, he also served as President of the International Cemetery and Funeral Association (ICCFA), a 6,000 member trade association, as well as a Hall of Fame recipient for ICCFA,. Rich earned a BSBA degree from Washington University in St. Louis and is a CPA. He is considered an expert in all facets of funeral home and cemetery operations.
Bob Horn | email
Bob Horn began his career in the funeral industry more than 44 years ago with a small family-owned mortuary. During the mid-1960s, he was involved in organizing International Funeral Service (IFS), and served as Vice President of the pioneer “multi-unit” funeral cemetery company that operated over 120 locations nationwide. Prior to co-founding Keystone Group Holdings, a multi-state funeral acquisition and operating firm, Bob was Chief Operating Officer and Partner of Prime Succession, Inc., following 10 years as Executive Vice President of Pierce Brothers. A strong proponent of the team concept, Bob believes his role is to provide the goals and the momentum that keep the company working together and moving forward. Bob provides the leadership, the strategic thinking, and the clear vision that foster this environment of success and growth.
Ken Knauss | email
Ken Knauss is truly one of the innovative leaders in the funeral and cemetery profession as the past owner and chief operator of Palm Mortuaries and Cemeteries in Las Vegas Nevada. Palm basically dominated the Las Vegas market under his leadership, handling over 7,000 families a year, and was truly a pioneer and innovator when it came to PreNeed marketing. Mr. Knauss’s ability to stay ahead of the growth of Las Vegas through strategic construction of funeral homes and cemeteries also secured Palm’s position in the market and was certainly responsible for the continued growth of Palm. In late 2009, Mr. Knauss sold his company to Service Corporation International where he remains in an advisory position. He was also an owner for many years of Great Western Insurance company where he served on the board of directors. He also served on the board of Pioneer Bancorporation in Las Vegas until 1999. Ken Knauss brings all these abilities to Johnson Consulting Group where he can assist funeral directors and cemeterians in almost every aspect of their business, especially as it pertains to growth and development of both funeral homes and cemeteries.
Charles Merrick | email
Charles has been a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer in the State of Arizona for over fifty six years. A graduate from Arizona State University in 1955 and from San Francisco College of Mortuary Science in 1956, Charles began his career as a partner with Whitney and Murphy Funeral Home in Phoenix, Arizona. After 21 years with Whitney and Murphy, Charles joined Service Corporation International. As a General Manager for Service Corporation International, Charles was responsible for all aspects of the operations in Mortuary, Cemetery and Cemetery Sales Staff Service. As the regional Vice President with Service Corporation International, Charles was responsible for 38 cemeteries throughout California, Nevada and Arizona. Finally, as Director of Funeral Revenue for Service Corporation International, Charles Developed sales programs, casket sales, and oversaw revenue for North America. Currently, Charles is the consultant on a new Mortuary/Cemetery in Marana, Arizona. Charles has been happily married to his wife Beatrice for over fifty five years during which time they have enjoyed their four children.