[2011 Leadership Winner] Jeff Johnson

Features - 2011 Leadership Awards

With dogged determination and a positive mindset, this “wingman” knows how to foster trust among his team.

October 19, 2011
PCT Magazine

There are hundreds of ways to face serious obstacles in your life, but Jeff Johnson, vice president and operations manager of A-Active Termite and Pest Control Company in Virginia Beach, Va., sees only one way: positively. And over the years, Johnson has and is facing obstacles he could never have imagined. Meanwhile, he continues to exhibit an attitude so positive and inspirational, it's contagious to all who know him.

Johnson's earliest challenge, one he can hardly remember, came when his father left the household; Johnson was just two. For several years, his mother struggled to make ends meet and later met the man Johnson calls Dad, Mike Johnson.

"During those early years," Johnson says, "we took things in stride during that period and did what we could to get by. Sometimes, it was a challenge, but we survived. We knew if we were going to survive as a family, it was going to be up to us to make it happen."

Proving His Mettle. Because they did not have a lot of discretionary spending money, Johnson learned at an early age that if he wanted things, he would need to earn the money on his own. "At the age of seven I would load groceries for tips at the local Safeway Super Market and a buddy of mine and I ran a paper route for spending cash. I can remember always looking for a way to make an extra quarter or buck. I used to love winter and spring as these were good opportunities to earn money either shoveling snow or mowing lawns," Johnson recalls.

This work ethic continued into his teen years as well when, in 9th and 10th grade, he took brick laying courses at the vocational tech school and in his second year during the summer Johnson was building townhouses in Alexandria. "It always felt a little awkward being the youngest guy on the job site and having college kids much older than I was, hauling the bricks and cinder blocks to me up the scaffold, and I took a lot of grief from them. I also learned it was great having money in my pocket but it wasn't any fun with the back aches and being so tired you did not want to go out and spend it. So I decided a mason's profession was not for me," Johnson remembers.

School was never at the top of Johnson's list when he was young. "I was at high school because I had to be," he recalls. "It just seemed like the stuff they were teaching me wasn't going to help me later in life. I tried to stay under the radar. I wish I would have put more effort into school, but at the time I wasn't interested and I did just what was necessary to get through."

But that's no longer the case today. "I consider myself a high achiever now. In those days, I could hardly wait to get out of school and go to work to start earning a paycheck. I knew we didn't have the money for me to go to college, nor did I have the grades. Besides, I loved the independence of earning my own money and buying the things I wanted. People didn't have very high expectations of me, but I've always liked to prove people wrong."

After high school, Johnson joined the Marines. "I remember when I sat down with my parents to let them know I had joined the USMC, their first words were laughingly 'you sure are a glutton for punishment.'" And two weeks later he was in Paris Island, S.C. And he recalls how proud his parents were when he graduated boot camp and came home in that crisp uniform as a young man instead of a boy. The military had a profound effect on Johnson. Discipline and an enduring love of country and the troops that protect our freedom on a daily basis are just two of the takeaways from that experience.

"Joining the Marine Corps matured me quickly. I benefitted from seeing other people who were successful and mimicking their behavior. I learned if you help people get what they want, you'll get what you want," he explains. He learned the latter from reading self-help business books, including several from Zig Ziglar.

A Career in Pest Control. After a couple of jobs with limited advancement possibilities, Johnson answered an ad for a termite technician job with a regional company in Woodbridge, Va., Paramount Pest Control. After about a week of begging for the position, Johnson was given a chance, and his career with the company flourished over the next 11 years. He was promoted to branch manager, then district manager, and in 1992 was selected as Branch Manager of the Year.

Johnson stayed with Paramount from April of 1984 to 1995 and during his employment there worked in three different branch offices and led two different districts. He also held a variety of positions during his tenure: termite technician, pest control technician, salesperson, sales manager, service manager, branch manager and district manager.

Joe Lupini who worked with Johnson in his early years in pest control, says, "Johnson is like a son to me and exemplifies his love and dedication to the pest control industry in everything he does."

Johnson explains, "I love the pest management industry because it allows me to train, support and watch our team members develop while we are helping our clients. I strongly believe that pest management truly improves the quality of our clients' lives. Seeing their success is part of my success. I have seen many of our team members buy their first homes, put their kids or themselves through college and still have enough time for golf and fun. These are the things that are very special to me."

In 1995, Johnson joined A-Active as general manager, being promoted four years later to vice president of operations. June 2011 marked his 16th year at the company. Johnson cites A-Active's nearly zero employee turnover rate as one of the qualities that makes the company unique. He believes this allows employees to build relationships with each other and affords them the opportunity to participate in training events that ultimately benefit clients.

Toward that end Johnson stepped up his game once again in 2010, when he studied for and achieved the Entomological Society of America's Associate Certified Entomologist designation.

Johnson describes the corporate culture at A-Active as both family- and results-oriented, and one with extreme trust. "We don't allow the 'familiarity breeds contempt' philosophy to set in. And in order for that to work, you must have an extreme amount of trust in your team."

According to Johnson, his career now involves the development of the next company leaders. He gives credit to owner Kevin Kordek and his wife Mary Beth, Chuck Roach, Keith McCormick and Billie Burnette for developing the company's outstanding corporate culture to date.

His aspirations for A-Active have never changed. He has always wanted the company to be respected, to be a company that provides incredible service, has an awesome reputation, and does not focus on being the biggest but rather the best. He wants to create new opportunities for the team members and contribute to the community they serve.

In the early years when Kordek and Johnson were just entering the industry, they were friends and always got along. They both claim that they are best friends with the same values, goals and vision for A-Active. Kevin was the best man at Johnson's wedding and is godfather to Johnson's son. "We refer to each other as wingmen because we always have each other's back and best interest in mind. It's hard to imagine not working with Kevin who has been a role model, mentor and a great wingman for 27 years," Johnson says.

Likewise Kordek is quick to sing Johnson's praises. "We each have different strengths which compensates for the other's weaknesses," Kordek said. "It is rare for two people to grow so synergistically both professionally and personally and to go through life with someone with the honor and courage that Johnson exemplifies."

In addition to his many duties at A-Active, Johnson freely donates time to the Virginia Pest Management Association. In fact, one of Johnson's proudest accomplishments is being elected president of the association, but his pride in the organization doesn't stop there. "I'm inspired by the fact that VPMA has certified over 1000 PMPs in Wood Destroying Insect Inspections for real estate closings through the hard work of many people. We have created a Master Technician training program that is held around the state, and our State Technical Meeting last year experienced over a 25-percent growth due to the quality of this meeting. I love to be a part of something that means so much to Virginia PMPs and there are a lot of companies out there that will admit to being better companies or technicians due to the educational efforts through VPMA."

Family Ties. Johnson's son, Michael, and his wife, Amy, are the joys of his life. As he tells it, he and Amy worked at Paramount together and became best friends before they got involved romantically. Johnson became a parent at the age of 37, a fact that he believes makes him a more patient father. "I don't think I would have been thinking about the things that were important in raising a kid at 22," he reflects.

The family is active at their church and has taught teen confirmation classes. His son is one of his best friends, and seeing him turn into the respectable young man he is today is one of Johnson's proudest moments.

Johnson's determination to overcome challenges has never been more evident than in the war he has waged recently against cancer, having been diagnosed with a rare form of the disease. Undergoing chemotherapy, Johnson's resolve is steadfast. "I am going to fight this with every ounce of energy I have, and if I run out of energy, I will rely on all the prayers and support I have from my friends and family," says Johnson. "I have learned that I have an immediate family and I have my Pest Management family."

Furthermore, says Johnson, the love and support of friends astounds him. "I want everyone to know how much their prayers mean to me. I could not be as strong as I am or imagine going through this without them. Kevin and I have grown closer and closer and I have come to realize through my battle with cancer that Kevin has been one of my biggest supporters in this challenge. I know I am not fighting this alone."

As with everything else he does, Johnson is facing this battle head-on. "You can't sit back and dwell on the negatives (of being sick). I'm going to kick this thing in the butt." And so he will.