Taking control of your future

HANCOCK – Being an entrepreneur is a way of putting your future under your own control, Jonathan Julien told Finlandia University students Tuesday.

Julien said much of his drive as an entrepreneur comes from wanting financial security, citing his father’s experience after the financial crash of 2008.

“I don’t want to be relying on somebody else – whether it’s going to be Social Security, or a pension that’s going to disappear, or a 401k,” he said. “I see these people in their 80s biting their fingernails at night because their 401k is disappearing. … I want to be in a position, when I’m 80 years old, that I’m watching these businesses grow that I developed over my career.”

Julien, owner of LJJ Construction, spoke to the Finlandia University student College Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) Club at a free public event Tuesday afternoon.

Julien got his start at 15, when he bought a snowplow truck with money he’d gotten from a summer job working at sawmills. He picked up a contract with an industrial company in the area, then began plowing. Most days, he would get up at 4 a.m. and keep going until 8:15 a.m., often missing part of his first class.

“I had no mindset of necessarily being in business for myself the rest of my life,” he said. “At that point, it was a good way to make money.”

While still in high school, Julien was working 30 to 40 hours per week in construction, leaving school by 2:30 p.m. at the latest. For the last two years of high school, he dual-enrolled at Michigan Technological University for classes such as calculus and physics.

“As long as you got an A or a B in the class, nobody said anything, which is what I did,” he said.

After graduating high school in 2008, he incorporated Julien Properties, LLC. He found a cheap piece of land, and in the pre-crash atmosphere of summer 2008, put together a business plan and got a loan.

“I had no collateral. I had nothing … but I had a great idea,” he said.

That idea was a duplex, which he built with a small crew. He then applied for another loan for another duplex on the property, which he also got.

He continued to run the small company while going to MTU as a construction management major, getting up at 2 a.m. to plow snow and staying up late to study. During college, he began his biggest project at the time, a townhouse on College Avenue. The project required a zoning variance, requiring hours of research into what was a new process for him. It eventually passed.

Under his sole ownership, Julien now has 120 bedrooms and 20,000 square feet of business space. That number expands to 132 bedrooms and 40,000 square feet when including his partnerships, such as the Continental Fire Co. in Houghton.

Julien said people running companies should surround themselves with people smarter than they are about a particular area.

“That’s one of the things about being an entrepreneur, is sometimes you need to look for help, you need to not do it all yourself,” he said.

“You need to find employees that can help you do it. … Probably the key to my success is that I found really good employees, and I made sure we took care of our really good employees.”

Shigenobu Kakudate, a Finlandia senior majoring in international business, said the talk was inspiring.

“It was very mind-blowing that he started a company at such a young age and still keeps going,” he said. “It makes me want to do something like that, too.”