By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.
For Johnna Struck, the owner and president of Changing Places Moving, it took a really bad experience — her ex-husband deciding to leave her and their three young children, age 6, 9 and 12 — for her to find out what she was really good at, and what she could do on her own.
Since Struck took over running the small, Waterford moving company that she had started with her ex-husband, it has grown from about three trucks and less than 10 employees, to nine trucks and 35 employees, including two women.
In addition, Struck works with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit charity, leading other women in efforts to build homes for women.
“For me,” she said, “it took a dramatic situation to find what I’m capable of doing, and to find out, honestly, how to give back.”
Struck, 52, grew up in Waterford and studied accounting — at the urging of her father — at Oakland University. She married and started a moving company. Her ex-husband drove one of the trucks; she kept the books.
In the divorce, she bought out her ex-husband’s share of the business.
“I used to hear people say, ‘I found my passion,’ and I’d look at people and say, ‘Passion? What is that?’ I didn’t know what that meant,” she said. ” But, you have to find it. I found mine by not knowing, and was forced to take a negative path where I had to sink or swim.”
We talked to Struck, who has remarried, about finding her passion for business — and got her advice for others.
QUESTION: Why did you buy your ex-husband’s share of the business?
ANSWER: It was right after 9/11 and I didn’t think we’d be able to sell the company for more than just the assets. I also didn’t want to walk away, and, I think, more than anything I enjoyed working for myself and I didn’t want to go back to the office to be a pencil pusher. I wanted to have a schedule I could raise my children. My hours could only be between 9 and 3 because that’s when my children were in school. I remember my divorce attorney saying, “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” And I said, “Here’s the deal: I know how to get the checks to the bank. I know how to talk to my men. What else am I going to do?” We signed the papers, and them I came home and thought: “I’m so in debt. What the hell was I thinking?”
Q: At any point did you think it was too much risk?
A: I did. But, I knew no better. I just had faith. I thought: I’ll make it work. I’ll work harder and run faster. I also opened my self to networking, which I had never heard of before. I joined several chambers of commerce and real estate companies. Realtors know when clients are moving. I got out from behind a desk and put myself out there and the company stared growing. I also joined Habitat for Humanity, and started paying down debt.
Q: Is it common for a woman to own a moving company?
A: It’s very unusual. Most women own moving companies because it was handed down to them in the family. My lawyer kept focusing on, “What happens if your truck breaks down?” I said, “Call a mechanic.” What happens if one of your employees doesn’t show up for work? I said, “I’m going to run it like a business. I’m going to be the owner, not the operator, anymore. I’m going to be in the office managing it so we don’t have employees calling off and we don’t have equipment breaking down. We’ll set up plans, schedules.” That’s what I focused on.
Q: Do you have advice for other business owners?
A: The bottom line is: Whatever you do, you have to have passion. What I learned about myself in this is not only did I have passion to earn an income for my family, but I had passion for all the men who were employed by the moving company. I wanted all of them to be successful. Whatever you decide to take on, have a passion, and have a passion for the people who work for you.
Q: One thing I’ve found in talking to entrepreneurs is a pattern: Comfort can keep them from realizing their potential and they often find their career, or business, takes off when there is discomfort — or pain.
A: I agree. Otherwise, you stay status quo. Who wants to take on debt? Who wants to take on risk? Those are negative. Who doesn’t want a comfortable life? But, if you are feeling super comfortable or if you are just doing the mundane, going through the motions, it’s time to ask yourself: “Is it time to take a risk?” A positive word for it is an adventure.
Title: Owner, president
Education: Oakland University, bachelor’s degree in accounting
Family: Husband, Bob Struck; son, Aaron Goodwin, 25; daughters, Alexis Goodwin, 22; Allison Goodwin, 19
Hobbies: Snow skiing, golf, acrylic painting
Car: 2015 Cadillac CTS