Fred Johnson was 26 years old when he decided to take a leap of faith and start Eagle Environmental with two partners. Johnson is now celebrating the company’s 23rd anniversary and has become the sole owner. He created a work environment where learning and having fun are not mutually exclusive. The company’s mission statement is simple: “Happy employees, happy customers. Make a little money. Do that every job.”
Eagle Environmental is a full-service environmental clean-up company specializing in asbestos and lead abatement as well as mold remediation. What started out as a small operation has now blossomed into operations in seven states. The company delivers top-quality services ranging from small residential jobs to multimillion-dollar commercial projects. The company goal is to align the talents, skills and abilities of its employees with the needs of its customers.
What occupies your time outside of work?
“I am a board member and former chairman of the Mali Rising Foundation. The foundation brings education to kids, especially girls, in rural villages in Mali, South Africa. They build schools in rural villages to give educational opportunities to those who otherwise would only get a third- or fourth-grade education.
“I am also on the global board of directors for the Entrepreneur’s Organization. We try to run the business of the world’s most influential community of entrepreneurs. This year, I have the privilege of working with the Middle East, Pakistan and Africa.”
Why is culture so important to you and what was a turning point for you?
“It was around 1999. I was starting to recognize huge gaps between employee skills and their performance. Some would do really well, but others with the exact same tools and opportunities would fail miserably. I began working with a gentleman who really understood people, psychology and culture.
“I recognized that people that aren’t performing well [do it] because they don’t really understand all the pieces. They grasp the steps to get the work done, but they need the human element, the emotional and intellectual pieces that are interwoven with any job task.”
How do you keep a strong company culture?
“Doing good work is important, but connecting with your customers and understanding the unspoken expectations is more important. To certain customers, the tiny things are more important than the great big things, and we need to really listen and learn how to understand what those things are.
“Our process is called ‘Culture Training’ and we’ve been immersing our teams in this training every Wednesday morning from 6:30-7 a.m. since April 2003. You cannot just sprinkle culture on people. You can’t just mention cultural elements in passing; it has to be full immersion.”
How do you view your responsibility as founder and president?
“It is very simple: Align the talent, knowledge and experience of your employees with the customers’ needs. If you’ve aligned them, you get excellent results and both the customer and employee are happy. The profit takes care of itself.”
What do you do if an employee does not fit in your culture?
“It’s all about alignment. When people with toxic personalities come into a positive environment, they either realize they need to change to be part of the team or they have to leave. In a way, creating this positive culture sustains itself. A good fit is key.”
What does a career path look like at Eagle Environmental for a new employee?
“You start out as a laborer and work your way up from there. Every single person in senior management all started that way. Every one of them was a dollar-an-hour worker and went out and did the work and they excelled at it. They took other positions within the company and climbed the ladder.”
Why is education so important to you?
“I am excited about the promise of education. I remember when I was a young laborer and frustrated because I didn’t have enough money for school. I thought if I became a multi-billionaire, I would like to start a university and make it free for blue-collar kids who can’t afford it. I never did that, but I started my own Eagle Mountain University.”
What is your personal ambition?
“My ambition is to educate every employee that walks through my door in the hope they will leave here a better person. If they choose to leave, they will have been taught by the best and worked with the best.”
What is the key to your success?
“Recognizing each employee has their own unique talents and building on those. We focus on strengths, not weaknesses, because strength is where you can grow best.
What is your favorite quote?
“‘Education is the most powerful weapon we have against poverty.’ Education is not necessarily going to a university; it is learning from the environment around you.”
What are your hobbies?
“I love to ski and travel. I also enjoy just hanging out with my kids.”