My next guest contributor is Tom Johnston, a founding partner in the Franklin Johnston Group– one of the most active and successful development teams on the East Coast. Tom has been involved in the development of 30 apartment communities with an aggregate value of more than $300 million and 5,000 rental residences. While I greatly admire his business acumen, it is his generosity toward the community and his friends that has no peer. In his contribution, Tom cites three people who helped hone his entrepreneurial spirit, but, in turn, helped hone mine. I will never forget laying out my fears about the pitfalls of opening our own business, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I never regret betting on myself.” Those words proved sustaining through the white hot fear and obstacles which may have otherwise derailed our goals. I am so grateful for his advice and moreover for our family’s strong friendship.
Unlike many people, there was not one person or “ah ha” moment that changed the direction of my life. There wasn’t a life changing mistake or tragedy; no pursuit of enlightenment, moment of clarity, passage in the Bible nor prophesy. I am a simple person guided by simple philosophies.
Three people are largely responsible for who I have become–for good or bad– and I never will be able to fully express to them the impact they had on my life. I regret that.
My father, John W. Johnston, was an intellectual, libertarian dreamer who believed in the American Dream. He taught me that I could do anything I wanted to in life and I BELIEVED HIM. From Kool-aid stands, to gardening services, and landscape maintenance–I had the entrepreneurial bug at a young age. He never realized his dream of hitting the big deal, but I was able to because of him.
My grandfather John Shaw was truly the patriarch of our family. He was a Mid-Western, large in stature, Depression Era, World War II man’s man. He taught me there were no short cuts, to work your butt off, and that there is a right and wrong way to do everything. He taught me that doing the right thing is always the only way to live.
Don Knoll was my high school football coach. He was an incredible hard ass from a Western Pennsylvania coal town. He pushed us hard, challenged our toughness and refused to let us to quit. He made me understand that even when I was getting whipped, I can come back, get up and continue to compete. Learning these lessons from Coach Knoll was one of my greatest experiences of my life.