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Johnson & Jennings hammers down benefits of local ownership

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While many San Diego construction companies over the years have made it their primary goal to grow or merge with large national firms, one local company has built its reputation on being the exception.

Jackie Jennings and Tom Johnson

Johnson & Jennings General Contracting, which focuses primarily on tenant improvement construction, was founded in 1981 by owners Jackie Jennings and Tom Johnson. The firm has chosen to remain privately owned for the last 23 years, having grown slowly but steadily to its current team of 34 employees.

"We've chosen to remain privately held because our clients enjoy working directly with our executive team and experienced field workers," said Jennings, president of Johnson & Jennings. "We've received steady feedback from our clients over the years that they appreciate the fact that we're headquartered in San Diego, and that we maintain a personable, family-oriented atmosphere here. Our management team is very involved and accessible. Too many of our competitors have 'gone corporate' by becoming publicly held and/or expanding to a size where management dictates policy, and red tape prevails. At Johnson & Jennings, we've made a conscious decision to concentrate on the local market, and to remain privately held so we can chart our own destiny."

According to Johnson, CEO of Johnson & Jennings, maintaining private ownership has helped the firm and its clients to avoid having to deal with the layers of bureaucracy that can be a concern for larger, publicly held companies.

"We're able to remain hands on and provide clients with the best service possible," he said.

"We're fortunate to have a seasoned, loyal team of project managers, superintendents and support staff who care passionately about our clients and their projects," said Keith Schonewill, general manager of Johnson & Jennings.

The firm's extensive project portfolio includes the $3.1 million build-out of the broadcast studio for NBC TV 7/39 at 225 Broadway in downtown San Diego; the $2 million remodel of Nicholas Applegate's downtown offices; the $3 million build-out of new law offices for Latham & Watkins; and a $1 million remodel for Nokia.

The firm is also contracted for ongoing tenant improvements by Sentre Partners, Union Bank of California, San Diego National Bank, among others.

Outside the tenant improvement arena, Johnson & Jennings recently completed the $7.4 million renovation of the historic Francis Parker Lower School in Mission Hills -- a project that included the construction of several new campus buildings.

Current projects for Johnson & Jennings include the $1.1 million renovation of a 42,544-square-foot office space on behalf of Dunham & Associates, a registered broker-dealer and investment adviser, located on Vista Sorrento Parkway; the $360,000 renovation of office space for HRA Medical Management, within the Pacific Center in Mission Valley; and the $1.2 million expansion of the law offices of Gordon & Rees LLP, located in the SBC building at 101 W. Broadway in downtown San Diego.

"Johnson & Jennings has always taken a results-oriented approach to projects, fueled by an unwavering commitment to construction excellence and integrity," said Donna Vargo, executive manager at Johnson & Jennings. "Our clients have come to trust and appreciate this approach."

As 2005 nears, Johnson & Jennings proceeds to focus on its areas of specialization and continues on its path of slow but steady growth.

"The belief that bigger is better is true in some cases, but sometimes bigger is just bigger," Jennings said. "As a privately held contracting firm, we're able to execute projects more efficiently and effectively. But it's the quality and integrity of those projects that matter the most to us -- and to our clients."

Kutch is principal of Kutch & Co.

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