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Responsibility. Accountability. Self-sufficiency. Perseverance.
As the CEO of J.D. Kreps Financial Group, Jonathan Kreps feels blessed to have learned the value of such important traits at a young age. But as a boy, the adversity that led to those lessons appeared to be anything but a blessing.
“It was a tough situation, but I didn't know any differently. So I just did what I had to do to help my mother and me get by", Jon said.
Indeed, the situation Jon describes as "tough" would be every bit a challenge for an adult, much less a young boy.
Jon’s mother, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis before he was born, was legally blind and confined to a wheelchair by the time Jon was 8. Although Jon’s father offered financial support, he had left Jon and his mother when Jon was 13.
"I was forced to step into the role of the man of the house at a very young age," Jon recalled. "I had to pay the bills, balance the checkbook and take care of everything around the house."
When he was 9, he became a paper carrier for the West Central Tribune. Waking six days a week at 5:30 a.m., Jon was a motivated young entrepreneur.
"If I delivered all 70 papers on my route by 7 a.m. every day for a month straight, I earned the 'Honor Carrier Award', and was recognized on the back of the A-section of the paper," Jon recalled.
Jon consistently met the 'Honor Carrier Award' requirements and eventually earned the coveted "Master Honor Carrier" status indicative of 36 months of outstanding service to his customers.
"The experience was a real character-builder and a motivator," Jon said. “You saw names of other carriers on that A-section list and you wanted to keep up."
Despite his sterling record, Jon admitted the job wasn’t without its challenges, especially in the summer. While his friends were still having fun playing video games or going to movies, Jon would head home early to help his mom and get to bed.
"Growing up, nearly all kids will bend the rules - or at least try - with their parents, but I really didn’t", Jon said. “First and foremost, I had to be accountable to my mom because she needed me. But I also needed to be accountable to my paper customers."
By then, Jon had identified the secret to success as an entrepreneur: Treat your customers well and they will take care of you.
"I always got great tips at Christmastime because I did a great job delivering papers 300-plus days a year."
When he was 14, Jon and his mother encountered more adversity.
Following a car accident in which his pelvis was crushed, Jon spent six weeks in the hospital. Unable to help his mother pay the bills and take care of the house, Jon was happy when a woman befriended his mother and offered to help.
She brought Jon’s mom to the hospital every day to visit and graciously took responsibility for Jon’s mother’s finances.
But two years later, Jon was horrified to discover a line of credit the woman had surreptitiously opened in his mother’s name. She used it to defraud Jon’s mother out of more than $40,000.
"It was a surreal experience at age 16 to work with the detectives and court system on the case," Jon recalled. “It was definitely not the kind of thing most kids my age were dealing with. But God looked out for me and helped me through it".
Despite the personal setback, Jon maintained his entrepreneurial spirit.
At 15, he leveraged the strong customer relationships he had made as a paper carrier to start a lawn-mowing business.
Jon inserted flyers advertising his lawn-mowing services into his newspapers, and many of his first customers were satisfied newspaper subscribers. He augmented that base by approaching local businesses.
“I went door-to-door to businesses to introduce myself and my services, he recalled. “I wasn’t afraid of rejection; I just moved on to the next business and did the same thing."
Applying the lessons he learned in his newspaper job and building a customer base of more than 40, Jon used the money he earned to pay for his college education.
“My lawn service customers were loyal because I did a great job and took it seriously", Jon explained. “I always mowed straight lines, blew the grass clippings off the sidewalk and trimmed around the trees. There were no secrets or shortcuts to success. It came down to hard work and doing what I said I would do for my customers."
In December of his senior year of high school, Jon’s mother’s health had deteriorated to the point where she required full-time nursing home care.
Forced to sell his mother’ house - the result of the devastating effects of the fraud perpetrated against his mother, Jon found himself living alone during what should have been one of the best years of his life.
Jon moved into a home owned by his father, who told him he could live there until he graduated from high school, at which point he would need to either pay rent or buy it.
"So a week after my senior year of high school, I bought my first house," Jon said.
Four years later, after graduating from St. Cloud State University with a degree in finance, Jon set out to establish his most important entrepreneurial venture yet: J.D. Kreps Financial Group.
"I had known since junior high that I wanted to go into financial services", Jon said. “I had an aptitude and, more importantly, a passion for it."
And while the experiences that Jon had endured as a young man were often times very painful, he knew the lessons he learned would serve him well as a business owner.
"When you encounter the hurdles that I did growing up, starting a business from scratch at age 23 isn’t quite as daunting as it might normally be", Jon explained. “And when someone tells you no or you meet a roadblock along the way, you don’t take it personally or get down. You just move on and persevere."
Now the owner of a thriving financial services firm with a full-service professional staff, Jon still draws upon what he learned as a paper boy and lawn service proprietor.
"I didn’t take shortcuts then and sure don’t take them now", Jon said. “I still do what I tell my clients I’m going to do and work hard to earn their trust every day".
"As difficult as it was, I feel blessed to have had those experiences when I was young, because I think they’ve made me a better financial planner, a better father and husband, and a better person."