Construction and Small Business & Startups

Former moulding executive pays it forward

Steve Johandes starts advisory firm to help owners, family offices look beyond the now.

February 9, 2018
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Steve Johandes has witnessed plenty of change in the business world over the years, and now he wants to pass on the insights he has learned.

Johandes wrapped up 27 years in executive leadership at the former Zeeland-based Empire Moulding & Millwork after the company went through a couple of ownership transitions and became part of Novo Building Products in December 2016.

As one of the partners who purchased Empire in 1993 when he was just 26, Johandes served the company in various roles, including part owner, shareholder, CFO, CIO, EVP and SVP, as the company grew and changed hands through private equity acquisitions.

After retiring from Novo in March 2017, Johandes started 100x, an advisory firm that helps “legacy-driven” CEOs, owners, family offices, private equity firms and executives focus on “what’s next” for their companies.

He said his experience teaming up to buy Empire with Tom Highley Sr., then 51, and Steve Grossman, then 38, helped set him on this path.

“I got that experience of what it was like to work with a ‘dad.’ Tom Highley Sr. became my business dad,” he said. “In this next stage, I thought, ‘I’m now 51, and I can do that in this next chapter.’ It was perfect timing.”

Highley, who is now retired and living in Florida, said Johandes’ “huge contributions” after the partners bought the business included “technical and financial management” skills.

“He’s a very bright individual; he can be very creative in problem-solving and is a person of high integrity,” Highley said. “If he doesn’t have a solution, he always finds one.”

By the time Johandes left the moulding business, he said he helped grow the company from a $40-million business with 100 employees to a $400-million business with 800 employees.

His goal with 100x is to help his clients think about their legacy, not just in terms of valuation, but in terms of values.

This comes into play especially in his work with family offices, which are high net worth family-controlled investment groups that acquire all or part of other companies.

Most family offices he works with were formed when a family built up a multimillion- or multibillion-dollar business, sold it, then started investing in other companies.

Johandes said he encourages family office clients to see the big picture in their investment decisions.

“For most of the companies I work with, they’re focused on legacy,” he said. “When I look at legacy, I define it in the way the companies I work with see it: It’s not about their name so much as what happens when they’re no longer around.

“They have a bigger purpose, and it can be a combination of faith, family, companies, leadership development and community.”

He said in his experience, reputation and revenue go hand in hand.

“If they convey the proper values and keep that long-term thinking in addition to short-term thinking, the numbers always follow,” he said.

Johandes said his advisory services draw from his perspective on M&A, financing, deal-making and raising capital.

Another aspect of his 100x practice is keeping his skills sharp through serving on advisory boards; currently, he sits on the boards of Comfort Research and Feyen Zylstra and is a past board member of Kamps Pallets.

He also is chair of a Grand Rapids chapter of Vistage Worldwide, a peer-to-peer membership group for executives and business leaders. He heard about Vistage through a fellow board member at Comfort Research, Jeff Hutsell.

Hutsell said Johandes’ driving force is helping others, and that is why he started 100x.

“The reason Steve succeeded in Vistage and the reason I believe he will succeed in (100x), as well, is he cares more about helping the other person rather than just acquiring their business,” Hutsell said.

“The ‘always be closing’ mantra, he doesn’t do that. ABC for him stands for ‘always be coaching.’”

Johandes said he takes inspiration from the relationship-based approach of Vistage as he works with 100x clients.

“When I work with a family office, I’m not just going in as a facilitator; I’m going in and meeting with them individually and working with them to say, ‘How can I facilitate and draw the best ideas out?’”

He said because of the open-ended nature of that process, he tends not to take on “one and done” projects but works on a client-by-client basis to negotiate fees and terms of the advising relationship.

In the case of a family office, he first works one-on-one with members at the top level of leadership, “looking for common anchor points,” then brings the group together to have trouble-shooting and goal-setting conversations.

Often, Johandes hires a graphic illustrator to create a tangible product — such as a large poster containing the brainstorming results or a time-lapse video — to help the group see how their ideas came together.

Whether meetings happen weekly, monthly or quarterly, his goal is to have the leadership teams think at least a year in advance of where they currently are, as the first step toward becoming a “100-year company.”

Johandes’ ultimate goal is to have an impact on at least 10,000 employees.

Now, via his peer group, board service and 100x advisory practice, he has reached 20 companies in West Michigan.

“I’m giving back what’s been given to me,” he said. “I had these great leadership influences in my life, and if I can help others have access to those resources, that would be great.”

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