50 Years of Growth at Johnson Investment Counsel

Photography by Daniel Smyth

The word counsel in the financial investment industry is easily overlooked as just another piece of jargon. Many financial firms use the word, but how many actually practice it? Tim Johnson, the founder of Johnson Investment Counsel says, “Our firm name is Johnson Investment Counsel, and that’s what people want: honest, objective, long-term focused counsel.”

Since 1965, Johnson Investment Counsel’s main strategy has been to help people. Fifty years later, this focus has not changed. In fact, Johnson says, “As we plan for the next 50 years, I’m comforted by the fact that despite our growth, we have never lost sight of the most important thing – our values. We’ve grown, gained employees and earned clients. All this has been done while maintaining a culture that prizes truly serving people.”

Johnson never intended to start a financial business. “People would talk to me all the time about finances and investments,” Johnson says. “They needed help so I would advise them. There wasn’t any grand strategic plan to build a business, it was really about assisting others. I started getting institutions that needed guidance. I started hiring more people and over time it built.”

In 1970, Tim moved to Cincinnati to take a position as a professor of finance at the University of Cincinnati. While Tim lived his dream of being a college professor, his reputation in the investment management business continued to grow. Whether speaking to a group of students in a classroom, conducting a seminar or meeting one-on-one with a client, his focus was on providing others with knowledge and counsel that could improve their lives.

The firm grew as a result of Johnson Investment Counsel’s focus on helping people. Today, the firm manages more than $8 billion in assets and has over 100 employees, with clients in 46 states. Johnson Investment Counsel is the largest independent wealth management firm in Ohio. Johnson says, “If we focus on servicing the needs of our clients, the business will grow.” This is why counseling the client in respect to their overall financial situation is the firm’s preferred practice. “Otherwise investing is done in a vacuum. If all we do is tell them how P&G (Procter & Gamble) stock did today, big deal. We are here to serve people; that’s our main goal. The business will take care of itself.”

New Leadership

In October 2013, after over 48 years as the president of Johnson Investment Counsel, Tim Johnson appointed Jason Jackman as the new president and became chairman of the board. Jackman represents the future, but don’t expect him to bring fundamental changes to the firm.

“The values here will not change at all,” Jackman says. “But we can always continue to get better. We can continue to invest in the research process and the technological infrastructure of the organization, adding new, integrated and sophisticated service experiences for our clients.”

Focus on Technology

The change in leadership comes at a time when the rapid dependence on technology influences how Johnson Investment Counsel’s Portfolio Managers interact with the next generation of clients. “We focus on all of our clients’ needs,” Jackman says, “whether they are in their 90s or were born in the 90s.”

What specific technological aspect will the firm focus on? “We are investing in the client interface,” Jackman says. “We are investing in ways to help our employees spend more time on high-end investment and planning topics and relationship development, and less time on the day-to-day stuff. We want to free up the wisdom of our portfolio managers to benefit our clients.”

Point of Difference

Jackman points out that Johnson Trust Company is a differentiating factor for the firm. “Over the years, we realized we were missing opportunities to help clients if we only offered investment management, so we broadened our services,” says Jackman. Johnson Trust Company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson Investment Counsel. The Trust Company delivers integrated trust services providing estate and charitable gift planning and executor and estate settlement services. Clients also benefit from on-staff attorneys who help counsel them in knowing what is needed from their estate planning attorney.

“Counsel is a big deal,” Johnson says. “Not many other firms are giving true counsel. Our clients will tell us the heartache in their family. We are on the same side of the table with them. Helping people over many decades, that’s where the real joy comes.”

The clients’ interests must come first,” is a sort of Hippocratic Oath of the financial world. This idea sets the tone for how Johnson Investment Counsel’s portfolio managers interact with their clients.

Life Planning

Jackman relates how the counseling approach influences strategic business decisions, especially concerning the firms’s Life Planning service. “What we’ve found is that we could set up a perfect retirement plan for our clients. They can live comfortably – sometimes even bet- ter than when they worked. While they are financially set, some feel miserable and have an unfulfilling retirement.

They’ve lost their “mojo” if you will because all their lives they have defined themselves by their work. People are looking for a mission beyond work and we need to help them look beyond financials and determine what will make up that fulfilling, satisfying retirement.”

With this end in mind, Johnson Investment Counsel engaged former P&G executives to help their clients on the cusp of retirement walk through what a successful, fulfilling retirement looks like. “We love to see our clients as fulfilled and satisfied as they can be,” Jackman says.

As leadership changes to the next generation and the future holds unknown challenges, Johnson Investment Counsel is determined to stay focused on the financial needs and overall well-being of people. To accomplish this, they continue spending quality time with their prospects and clients.

“Financial counsel takes time,” Johnson says. “We spend a lot of time at the front end with our prospects and clients. It’s always about people and everyone is different. Every time a client comes in we figure out that dif- ference.” That’s the customized approach that the firm has practiced with care for the past 50 years under the wise leadership of Johnson and plans to do the same thing for the next 50 with Jackman.


Johnson Investment Counsel, Inc. is headquartered at 3777 West Fork Road, Cincinnati, OH 45247. Johnson also has offices in Columbus and Dayton. You can reach them at 513.661.3100 or visit their website at www.johnsoninv.com.