Built on Respect

The John G. Johnson Construction Company

In the construction industry, loyalty is earned, and after seventy-five years in business, the John G. Johnson Construction Company (JGJ) thrives on repeat work. Satisfied clients return for the expertise in construction management, design-build and general contracting from this subcontractor and bid package specialist.
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JGJ is one of Ohio’s most respected commercial builders with a large portfolio showcasing its new construction and renovation projects. Its decades of experience make it the first choice for commercial, worship, hospitality, healthcare, education, municipal and multi-family projects.

The company’s many accomplishments are founded on honesty, listening to customer needs, adhering to budgets, timelines and safety regulations while remaining open and flexible. This has resulted in over eighty percent of the company’s work being for repeat clients.

JGJ recently achieved an all-time high of over $60 million in revenue and is growing by ten percent annually. It gains even more work by expanding its brand awareness.

“Our success comes from taking care of our customers,” says Marty Weber, president and co-owner. “When they call, we say ‘yes.’ We’ve done work as small as a $1,200 lintel replacement, and our biggest contract on record is $35 million. ‘No job too big or no job too small’ certainly applies here.”

It is precisely this willingness to perform exceptional projects for all clients and to take on smaller jobs that earns it respect. “We wanted to take our history and expand on it and make the business about the people, not necessarily about us,” Marty says.

“We really had some good core values as a company and wanted to find other people that could share that vision with us and grow the business in a way that everyone would benefit financially, professionally and enjoy what they did,” says Marty. He joined the business in 1991 soon after graduating from college with a marketing and management information systems degree from Ohio University.

He remembers being present at one of his first bid openings, where he was just twenty-one, and everyone else was sixty-five and older. “Everyone was looking at me like I was this little pup!” he says, laughing.

JGJ was incorporated in Ohio in 1943 by John G. Johnson. The family-owned company bearing his name started by building entire streets of bungalow-style tract housing in the Mayfield and Lyndhurst areas of Ohio. It grew steadily, expanding into other areas, including commercial construction. One of John’s sons, Leonard, an electrical engineer, took over the company in the early 1960s.

Over time, JGJ embraced emerging markets, including multi-family, hospitality, senior living and long-care nursing. Marty and his brother Mike, who serves as vice president and co-owner, had a strong hands-on background and knew they could expand into other areas. “We had always done that,” says Mike.

JGJ had historically been fairly conservative, taking on public bidding and lowest-dollar project types. The brothers were further motivated when the first changes in 134 years came to the state’s construction reform. Known as Ohio Construction Reform (OCR), House Bill 153 significantly altered how public improvement projects were completed.

“We found by negotiating work, we could tell a better story, and if we had twenty minutes with a client, we had a really good shot,” says Marty. The business found that it was also negotiating more work after the OCR in 2011.

“There was a paradigm shift in attitude, and we capitalized on it. We have benefited as a company and been able to bring in amazing people. The company is just a shell and a name; it’s the people that make the difference. We want growth out of our business and our revenues, but we also want growth interpersonally, and we find that to be more rewarding. You can keep more people that way because if they feel valued, they are going to give you their best value.”

JGJ’s professional and personable staff treat client projects as if they were their own. The company has forty-one staff members, and about seventy-five percent of its work is handled by trusted subcontractors.

“Our subcontractors are highly valued, and we strive to have a really strong partnership with them,” says Matt Large, business development manager. “We help raise them up in terms of ability, work with them and recognize our subcontractors as an asset.”

The company acts as a general contractor, construction manager at risk and design-builder. The majority of JGJ’s work today is construction manager at risk (CMAR), a type of project delivery that works well with medium-to-large projects. The company has also established long-term relationships with dozens of architectural firms.

The John G. Johnson Construction Company is known for taking on projects such as schools and churches but broadened its reach to include other markets about a decade ago. It now works on a mix of projects, including independent and boutique-style hotels up to six floors.

“We have also incorporated some mixed-use projects, such as hospitality with restaurants or coffee shops within them or mixed-use developments in which there is an apartment on top and retail or tenant space, offices or restaurants,” says Marketing Manager Jessica Kern. The company is also engaged in adaptive reuse, such as transforming older manufacturing buildings into apartments.

All of this has led to numerous awards for its work, such as the Celebration of Preservation, Excellence in Exterior Restoration Award presented by the Cleveland Restoration Society and American Institute of Architects (AIA, Cleveland Chapter) for its work on the Wayne County Courthouse Exterior Preservation Project.

JGJ plans to celebrate its upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary throughout the entire year, holding an internal volunteering or teambuilding activity each month and hosting a large event on May 26.

Although the company has been in business for decades, JGJ remains true to the ideals of its founder, enjoying mutually respectful relationships with customers, employees, subcontractors and architects. With some long-term clients, the firm relationship and level of trust means that negotiations for new projects are unnecessary. All that is required to make a new contract is changing a project’s name, date and dollar value.

“We want to foster a culture here that is going to benefit the company and also benefit individual employees,” says Marty. “The emphasis is on the people who work here. The business is a great name, but it’s just a name on paper that was incorporated in 1943. What really makes us are our people, and our people are what drive this organization. Sure, a contract is important, but our number-one goal with a contract is putting it in a drawer and never looking at it again.”

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 18, 2019, 7:50 AM EDT