Supplier Family Business of the Year - WOV-IN
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On Fridays, Jeri Johnson makes her three children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. The siblings – Jessie, Jeff and Joe – are especially happy as they munch and chat, for though they eat lunch together daily, mom's PB&Js are the pinnacle of the week.
None of this may seem that remarkable until you consider that the Johnson kids are all accomplished adults. That, in fact, they're the president (Jessie), CFO (Jeff), and director of production (Joe) of Wov-In (asi/92980), a fast-growing supplier firm founded by their grandfather, Edwin Johnson, some 60 years ago. For the siblings, mom's weekly sandwich stop-in is an embodiment, in fact, of the tight-knit, caring family spirit that filters down from the Johnsons to permeate all aspects of their Jackson, WI-based operation. "Being a close family really sets the tone for the atmosphere of the whole company," says Jessie Johnson, noting Wov-In employs about 80 people. "Everyone here cares about each other. We have many long-tenured employees. We have people who retire and come back for picnics and birthdays and to see their friends."
When Edwin Johnson started the business, the company focused on webbing for military tie-downs. The scope expanded when Edwin's son Thomas came on board. Thomas, as daughter Jessie tells it, came up with the technology to imprint on webbing. That opened the door to the broader imprinting market. Soon, the Johnsons were conducting business in the ad specialty space. Even as children, the business was a prominent part of the lives of Jessie and her brothers. "There were lots of dinner table discussions about what was happening with the organization," she says.
While Jeff, a certified accountant, worked for another company before coming to the family business, both Jessie and Joe joined Wov-In after completing their degrees. In 1998, the siblings' parents sold them the business. Much more than legacy figureheads, Jessie and her brothers are at the forefront of daily dealings, leading Wov-In to greater success through ventures like Promopet (asi/79698), a hot-selling brand that offers products for pet owners, such as doggie bandannas.
While Jessie admits she occasionally takes a good-natured ribbing from outsiders for working side by side with her little brother, she believes the closeness the three share as siblings affords a distinct business advantage. "It's important from a communication standpoint because we can be much more honest about everything," she says. "It's also an advantage from a strategic standpoint. We're not trying to build up a few highlights for our personal resumes so we can go somewhere else. We're looking to grow the business for the long-term good of the company. We make decisions that align with a bigger perspective."
And, that commitment over the long haul may continue to the next generation of Johnsons. "We have five children under the age of five now – we're a fast-growing family," says Jessie. "There will have to be a discussion when the time comes, but it's a nice opportunity. We would love to see them get involved." – CR