Approaching 100 years, Johnson Feed looks to future

April 19, 2018

This piece is presented by Prairie Family Business Association.   

Johnson Feed Inc. knows how to adjust with the times.

The business began 98 years ago in Fairview as a dray service delivering coal and other supplies to farmers and townspeople by horse and wagon.

It expanded into Johnson Hatchery in the 1940s, selling and delivering commercial feed for all livestock.

Now, it is a distributor of  a wide range of products and trucking services, with offices and truck shops in five locations: Canton, Sioux Falls, North Sioux City, Vermillion and Waterloo, Iowa. It has a fleet of 320 trucks and 435 employees.

The company recently received the 2018 Heritage Award from the Prairie Family Business Association, recognizing decades of successful family business growth.

Johnson Feed is entering its fifth generation. Family members working in the business are fourth-generation co-owners Mitch and Todd Johnson and fifth-generation family members Jordan Johnson, a lead dispatcher in the operations department, and controller Josie Johnson. She shared a bit of what it has taken to achieve a legacy of family business success.

Jordan, Josie, Martha, Mitch and Todd Johnson

How do you explain to people who don’t know your company what it does?

We are a service business, transporting many different types of products all over the United States. We are also a distributor of salt products, twine products and pet food products.

Describe the culture of Johnson Feed Inc. What kind of place is it to work?

We are a family-run company and that is the culture we emphasize in every aspect of our business. We create an environment where everyone involved feels like they are part of an extended family. This is how we treat not only our employees but our customers, vendors and the community as well. It shapes the decisions and direction we move the company.

You have multiple generations of your family working together in your workplace. What are some strategies you use to balance business and family?

When we are at the office, we like to say we are a business that happens to be run by a family. We have all been placed in positions where we feel we can reach our full potential and have the biggest impact on the company. We all operate in different aspects of the business, and this allows us to bring our expertise and specializations back to the meeting table to make effective decisions. When we are away from the office, we try our best to focus on family and relationships.

What have been some of the keys to your successful transitions through the generations?

Hard work and strong leadership. All of us share similar motivation, and our individual interests align with that of the company, which makes it easy. We learn from our successors and take their knowledge and experience and use that to forge new paths and stay up-to-date. We celebrate our victories with each other and are also able to critique and give advice more freely than a lot of other businesses.

Congratulations on your recent honor from the Prairie Family Business Association.  How has the association helped support your family business goals?

The Prairie Family Business Association has helped us tremendously. Most importantly, they have given us a platform to connect with businesses who have faced similar challenges, and we are able to share in those businesses’ immense amount of knowledge, experience and advice. They also connect us with business professionals who share their advice with us more liberally than they would outside of the association.

What is next for Johnson Feed Inc.?

Our future is bright, and we are constantly working to improve and stay ahead of the times. We have a new generation looking to take over the business in the next five to 10 years, so the near future will be transferring the knowledge of the current ownership to the future ownership.

Prairie Family Business Association is an outreach center of the USD Beacom School Business.

Approaching 100 years, Johnson Feed looks to future

For almost 100 years, Johnson Feed has adjusted its business with the times. Learn more about this homegrown business entering its fifth generation

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