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The “J” of M.J. Design: Joel Talks About 25 Years in Business

by Tracey McCurrach, Administrative Assistant

This year, M.J. Design Associates is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In an earlier newsletter, Molly John gave us her thoughts on this milestone. Now, it’s Joel John’s turn.

If you know Joel, you’ve probably heard that he graduated from The Ohio State University! His degree in Landscape Architecture built on his love of plants and design. Prior to starting M.J. Design with his wife, Molly, Joel worked for 6 or 7 different landscape companies. I asked him what motivated him to start his own company. He became increasingly frustrated, he said, with what he saw as bad work and a lack of caring and quality. Plus, most designs at these firms never got installed, with less than 40% of them turning into reality. (By contrast, M.J. Design Associates installs an estimated 90% of their designs). Joel wanted to get back in touch with plants and work hands-on with the designs he was creating. Partially out of this frustration, coupled with a lack of opportunity within traditional firms, M.J. Design was formed.

When asked to reflect on what he is most proud of, Joel quickly answered that he is proudest of the M.J. team and the growth he and Molly have created.

Second only to the people, Joel takes pride in many of the projects they have designed and installed over the years. He has been successful in crafting a career where he gets to create through design, then see his vision come to life through the company’s landscape installations. Often, M.J. continues to maintain and update those projects for years to come.

What has surprised Joel most about the success of his company? “The size we have become,” said Joel.

He did not foresee the company’s growth or resulting size, due in part to his apprehension with what he saw when other organizations got bigger. “They lose their attention to detail, their caring about their clients and the quality of the projects. That was something we were not willing to risk at M.J.”

Joel, like Molly, considers finding good people the hardest part of their jobs. If he had a chance to advise the young man he was 25 years ago, he would warn him that his #1 job would be recruiting. (And that he should take more business classes!) To help with this challenge, Molly and Joel bring dedicated workers from Mexico to this country through the H2B immigration program. They were recently in Washington, D.C., lobbying for changes in this law that would restore the returning H2B exemption. This exemption allows workers who have successfully been employed here to come back without being part of a company’s annual allotment. This would greatly help companies such as M.J. to bring back seasonal workers who have proven to be a valuable part of the workforce. At M.J., these workers are not just employees. They are like family.

As Joel looks to the future, his basic goals for M.J. remain much the same—to strive to always do the right thing: for the clients, the environment, and the design and installation projects that are the heart of the organization.

With his concern for the environment growing every year, being a leader in the Green Industry has become an increasingly important part of M.J. Design Associates. For his part, Joel continues to lead the company he has helped to build and to love plants, his family, and, of course, the Buckeyes!


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