Meet the Team
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Noel, CPA | email
Kevin is a graduate of Arizona State University (1990), where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. Even prior to graduation, he began his career in the accounting and finance field which allowed him to put his coursework into practice. Kevin brings over 35 years of varied experience to Johnson Consulting Group which includes both private and public companies ranging in size. His areas of expertise include Corporate Finance & Accounting, Financial Statement Preparation and Reporting, Accounting System Implementation, Audit & Tax Preparation, Budget & Forecast Modeling and Government Regulation & Compliance Reporting. Kevin’s industry experience includes healthcare, software, technology, real estate and manufacturing/distribution.
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.
Chris Cruger | email
Chris has been involved in the funeral industry for nearly 20 years with roles with both public and private companies. Chris began his career in the industry with Service Corporation International in the mid 1990’s working in Corporate Development throughout North America and then was a large part of SCI’s international expansion. He left SCI, returning to his East Coast roots, to join R.H. Donnelley Corp and then BestHalf.com before returning to SCI as Director of European Corporate Development in 2000. Chris then became Managing Director and then Vice President of Business Development. In that role he oversaw SCI’s Corporate Development, Real Estate, Construction and several operating units. Chris has also worked with some of the most prestigious independent funeral operators working on transaction and strategic planning matters. He has some of the most extensive acquisition, divestiture, strategic and financial planning experience in the death care industry. His unique experience with both public and private death care companies provides him with an understanding of operational and financial matters to the death care profession. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Lehigh University.
Brandi Cunningham | email
Brandi graduated from Purdue University and joined Johnson Consulting Group after nearly six years with the Indiana Funeral Directors Association where she acted as Member Services Director. She brings over ten years of sales and marketing experience to the Johnson Consulting team and will be leading the marketing and business development initiatives in effort to amplify the continuous growth JCG experiences.
Kelly Herdt | email
After spending four years in the Unites States Marine Corps, Kelly Herdt graduated in 1993 from the Kansas City Kansas School of Mortuary Arts. He began his career as a trade embalmer serving the greater Kansas City area for four years. After learning the trade industry, he then when on to work for several funeral homes and would later own two funeral homes and a crematory in Western Kansas. As Kelly’s funeral experiences increased, he was given the opportunity to start a lending program for a large national insurance company. In this role, Kelly developed and managed the funeral lending program to become one of the largest direct funeral business lenders in the industry with more than 100 million dollars originated in funeral home and cemetery loans. Mr. Herdt’s strong background in funeral operations, banking and finance gives him a great understanding of how to help funeral business borrowers achieve success in the financing arena. Kelly Herdt is a Kansas State, licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer.
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 recently 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.
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.
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.
Melanie Moore | email
Melanie graduated from the University of San Francisco, School of Management with honors. Her prior work experience within finance and accounting comes from both private and public sectors. This experience has given her the understanding of the many aspects involved with effectively running a business. She is an excellent asset to Johnson Consulting Group as she completes the financial analysis necessary to assist our clients in all areas of the funeral business.
Kevin Roos | email
Kevin earned his Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Northern Arizona University. Previously, he managed the finances, homes, and supplier networks for over 150 corporate executives relocated overseas. His understanding of financial concepts and business acumen complements his work ethic, which allows him to meet project deadlines. Kevin’s attention to detail and ability to simplify complex information assist in his role at Johnson Consulting Group.
Dina Gray | email
Dina graduated from U.C. Berkeley, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. She brings her extensive customer service and data management experience to our Family Survey program. With a diverse background including positions in the residential mortgage industry, healthcare wellness benefits, and mutual funds servicing, Dina enjoys using her data administration skills and attention to detail to assist our clients.
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.
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.
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.
Deborah Pollard | email
Deborah has degrees in Accounting from W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and in Mathematics from NAU. She has had a successful career in the computer industry including operating system and app development as well as project management. Deborah joined Johnson Consulting with several years experience in individual and small business tax preparation. As an accountant with Johnson Consulting Group, Deborah is responsible for accounting, bookkeeping and reporting for our client base.
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.
Marcus Giebel | email
Marcus earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Colorado State University. Prior to Johnson Consulting Group, he worked in various funeral homes aiding managers and directors with the completion of memorial services and other mortuary operations. Marcus’s experience in the funeral industry coupled with his strong analytical skills and knowledge of financial concepts allows him to effectively troubleshoot and resolve complex issues for our accounting client base.
Kari Daly | email
Kari graduated from Chadron State College in Chadron Nebraska with a degree in Legal Studies and from the University Of Nebraska College Of Law with a Juris Doctorate. Kari’s experience in the legal field helps as she assists Johnson Consulting Executives, handles office human resource needs, and manages the administrative needs of the office.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.