Johnson Consulting Group was established out of the home of Tom Johnson in Florida in 1997. Today, his son, Jake Johnson, has continued the family legacy of hard work, building relationships, and delivering excellence to every Client JCG serves. We reflected on the last two decades by interviewing Jake Johnson on what this milestone means to him:
What are you most proud of over the last 21 years of business?
We’ve built division centered around ongoing Client services and projects, with a staff that is employed full time running that division which gives me the capacity to offer strategic guidance where needed with a vision on continuous and prosperous growth through all the services we offer. That’s the part I am most proud of. It’s been very hard to grow to where we are now, we had to put lots of procedures and systems in place to segment out jobs, then we had to find the right people, and hold them accountable to drive the right culture, and that is exactly what we have now. We have a great team here!
Talk about that trust and relationship factor more—what does it take to maintain and earn trust from the Clients you serve?
We do what we say we are going to do. Without even really marketing it per se, our reputation is that we are going to give 100% satisfaction. We don’t want any ill will—we want to know what you want to accomplish, and if we haven’t done that, we will adapt to whatever it is that you need us to do. Our focus is growing our clients business, and if we aren’t doing that, then we aren’t delivering.
What are some of the bigger success stories that stand out to you?
There is one particular client of ours that purchased a business for around 7 million dollars. That client then engaged us in our business consulting and survey services. If I had to guess, I bet their firm is now worth over 20+ million. It was a great partnership, and we did our part helping them get the right management and systems in place, and restructured their operations that ultimately made them better in the long run.
As a family business, how can you relate to the many family-owned firms that JCG works with?
A lot of the businesses we work with are going through succession planning right now—the baby boomers are transferring to the next generation of Millennials. That is exactly what I went through with my father, Tom Johnson. It was identifying what it was that my dad could get for the value of the business, as well as knowing what tools and training I needed to run the business. Those are two very different budgets compared to just marketing a firm to the highest bidder. So, we’ve used that same logic when we do those valuations for succession planning with our own clients. It’s a better way to transition from father to son, or whatever their situation might be because both sides know what they are giving up and gaining.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in family business is there is just no filter when you work with family. You end up just saying exactly what is on your mind, it’s not like a regular relationship with your boss or co-workers, emotions are much higher. It’s also difficult to go home for the holidays and unplug, because you just end up talking about work, so knowing how to balance that is definitely a challenge.
How has working with your dad impacted your personal and professional relationships?
My father has a lot of relationships—and I feel I have earned/inherited many of those. Many of those came from the trust and honesty my dad has instilled in this company from the beginning. I have relationships with many of my dad’s friends, and their children, and so on. It’s special. My father has always been a very fair entrepreneur, and I’m fortunate that he was successful early on, and was able to retire early on. For him, it’s about how he could make his family successful, it was never about himself and I admire that.
What are some other principals that you learned from your Father about running a Business?
Always follow up, and do exactly what you say you’re going to do. Never ask the same question twice. Have a professional appearance and pride in the environment. Treat your employees well. And always say no before you say yes so that you really think every business decision through. He’s always had the motto of a work hard/play hard balance, which I think he is very good at, and I’m thankful he taught me, because it keeps your sanity.
How have you seen the profession change over the last 21 years, and what do you foresee coming in the future?
Just in my time in this profession, I’ve seen the way technology has been introduced and the people in our industry are very successful because they have that technological factor. They’ve never been in this space before or owned a funeral home. That is something that is a more recent phenomenon in the last 10 years, and you would never see that level of success in the past unless they owned a funeral home or merchandise company. I think that this success is only going to increase through the technology that’s developed.
How do you see JCG fitting into the changes that are happening within the industry?
We are going to be adding more technology to our service offerings while keeping our knowledge of the funeral and cemetery industry at the forefront. That way our customers get the best of both worlds—great technology, while also knowing they can trust us because of our deep-rooted background in this profession.
Outside of your father, who do you look up to, and what kind of advice have they given you throughout the years as a business leader?
Four people come to mind:
Ken Knauss—Former owner of Palm Mortuaries in Las Vegas. He was a great visionary in his market and was just very professional, organized guy who was very good at returning messages. He saw the future and ran for it, and was very inspirational.
Steve Tidwell—He was my first boss professionally outside of college, he now works for SCI. I learned so much from him about acquisition analysis and deal flow at a very young age, I feel very lucky. He’s very good—also very professional and ready for the morning and always had good sunshine guns. Meaning he can fill a room up with smiles!
Al Asta—Al has been a friend of my father’s for a very long time. Al was one of our first business consultants at Johnson Consulting Group. I enjoy his temperament towards situations, and he really knows how to stay calm under stress. He’s got a great common sense about him.
Ruben Lariz—Ruben was a superintendent at a cemetery that I worked at in high school. He was my first boss. He was a very hard worker and always made sure everything was addressed correctly and could stretch a dollar a mile. He made us work hard, if we finished one job, he would have another one immediately ready for me. I appreciate that he instilled that work ethic in me at a young age. I learned about the importance of taking your time and getting the job done right.
Have there been any key employees that have been key in the Johnson Consulting Group success?
Our team today is so critical to our success, but if I had to go back to the beginning, we couldn’t have gotten to where we are at on the recurring revenue side of our business without Greg Hilgendorf, Berny Gaarsoe, and Al Asta. I would have never been able to grow it myself, there’s just too much to do. All of those guys put in so much time and worked crazy hours to get accounting and business consulting off the ground for us.
Why is 21 years an important milestone for you and the JCG team?
In this profession, trust is everything. It takes a while for that trust to happen. It’s all about personal relationships and trust. We’ve been building this trust for over 21 years (in fact longer if you go back to the start of my dad’s career in the early 70’s in this profession)—it’s not an easy thing to do. Every year that we are around, that trust grows, and now it’s 21 years deep.