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Generative Success Story:
Herb Johnson

Generative Success Story: Herb Johnson

Herb Johnson, CEO of HVJ Associates

I’m the founder and owner of HVJ Associates®, a Geotechnical Engineering Services consulting company headquartered in Houston, Texas. My company has been the major place for my learning and the learning of my staff. I’m pretty proud of what we have accomplished so far, so let me share some highlights with you of our last several years.

In the last five years, we’ve doubled the gross revenue of our company to nearly 20 million dollars a year, set records for net margins, and improved our company to the point that in two of the last three years we have received the PSMJ Circle of Excellence Award and the Premier Award for Client Satisfaction. The Client Satisfaction award, presented by the Client Feedback Tool, honors A/E/C firms that provide their clients with top quality communications, impressive performance, and cost-effective solutions. In this period we’ve also been acknowledged with one of Houston’s 101 Best and Brightest Places to Work Awards.

We also launched a franchise operation that has spun off two franchises in its first year. The franchise operation is a major innovation we have created a business model that didn’t previously exist in the engineering services industry. Our franchise model is designed to spawn a continuing stream of franchises and is planned to produce a 25X increase in revenue over the next ten years.

These successes are a side effect of something more fundamental and important that we have focused on – learning and a commitment to leadership excellence. These have been a personal focus for me in my career, but have become a central strength in the culture of our company.

In my path of learning, I was the first in my family to go to college. I wasn’t sure how to “make it” so I did an analysis for success that led me to select engineering as my path. It wasn’t a particular passion for me but was a path to what I am passionate about – success in business.

After some years of getting engineering experience, I did my research to select geotechnical engineering services as my field for success. I founded my company in 1985 and found that what made it work was my commitment to make it work. I put all my retirement savings on the line and after a scary six months saw a possibility that I could make it go.

I’ve always been pressing the edge in my business career. For example, I formed an advisory board in 1995 when it was a rarity. I got my first executive coach in 2003 and that was new in my circles. I continued my investment in learning as my lifetime practice to continually improve my possibilities. When I heard about and looked into Generative Leadership I signed up for the 3 years in advance. I wasn’t disappointed and have since sent about a dozen of my executives and managers to the Generative Leadership Program (GLP). This has been a key element in our success and growth as a business.

My personal experience with generative leadership led me to see that I wanted to bring this to my team and my company. I saw my executives and associates grow in their leadership skills and impact. We now have a shared, action-oriented language in our work together. It has cut down our time and costs for training to get our managers up to speed. It’s now a key element of our culture of initiative, responsibility, growth, innovation, learning, and success.

Our learning the human foundations of action and coordination has produced the added benefit of better relations and value in our personal lives as well. Spouses of my team members tell me “Whatever you’re doing to my spouse, keep it up!”

We’ve found that leadership is not just an expertise – it’s a calling to help others work together to create a valuable and satisfying shared future. Generative leadership has given us an “anatomy” of leadership actions that work. It has also shown me that if you want things to change then as a leader you have to change first.

Generative leadership showed me the structure and power of innovation and empowered me to pursue it as outlined in the book “The Innovator’s Way.” It has enabled me to pursue and implement my vision of franchising services that have never been franchised before. It has opened a much bigger possibility for business and for people to grow themselves as entrepreneurs, leaders, and creators of their own greatness.

Generative leadership also introduced me to the power of care – that we find our power and value in what we really care about. Leadership starts with care and then the actions follow. It empowers you in getting to where you want to go. We have learned that communication is not just information flow but a place we can create possibilities and make them happen.

As a business owner I haven’t found anything better than Generative Leadership to empower a company if you are committed to achievement and willing to learn. I’ve found what really captivates me in this process is helping people find their greatness and bring out their best as part of this learning process. The business results follow. What a great game!


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