Duane Johnson sold $4 million in annuities in the past year. If that doesn’t sound like a huge amount, keep this in mind. Johnson spends three hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon hooked up to a dialysis machine while he awaits his third kidney transplant. He only gets to work part time as a result, so he doesn’t sell as much as some other advisors.
But don’t feel sorry for Johnson. He doesn’t. He was excited to let me know his treatments had been shortened by 30 minutes recently, down from three-and-a-half hours. It’s that feeling of optimism that makes Johnson a pleasure to talk to.
The 15-year industry veteran had a big decision to make. It was March 2000 and he found out he had to start dialysis three afternoons a week. He decided he had to find a boss who would give him all that time off and still pay him. Johnson decided the best person to work for was himself, so he started his own business, Duane Johnson and Associates in Menifee, Calif. For the last six years, Johnson has concentrated on the senior market, and it has been a good match.
In just the last five years, his life has been on fast forward.
“Before this business got started, I was actually renting a room from a friend in San Diego,” Johnson says. “Over the past five years, it’s been a whole whirlwind. Within that five years, I met Laura [his wife], started a business, had a baby [Alyssa, 21/2], bought my first house and have a second child on the way [another girl, due Jan. 17, 2007]. It’s just a real testament as to what can happen in this business.”
Now, Johnson spends much of his time planning for the future, when he is off dialysis and can work full time, which may come soon. He’s been called about possible transplants four times this year. He is at the top of the list for a new kidney and expects, with any luck, to have a third transplant by the end of the year. Maybe then he can get back to doing some scuba diving, which he loves to do, and helping even more seniors, which he lives to do.
SMA: What can you tell me about your health status?
DJ: I’ll give you a rundown. I’ve had the problem since birth, renal failure. I actually had my first kidney transplant back in November 1991 that my sister gave me. That lasted a couple years until January 1997 and that’s when my dad gave me my second kidney. It wasn’t until March 2000 that I actually began dialysis.
SMA: So you are coming up on almost seven years. Do you have just one kidney?
DJ: That’s the funny thing. I actually have four kidneys in me because when they put them in, they don’t take them out. They just stick them in the front because they can put them in there.
SMA: So you have four kidneys in your body right now?
DJ: They’ve all shrunk down and shriveled up. None of them work; they’re basically shriveled up right now. That’s why I’m on dialysis.
SMA: How many hours a week would you say you dedicate to your business?
DJ: Let’s see, I would say maybe 15 to 20 hours a week. I do not work weekends. Very seldom.
SMA: Does that short time frame give you any sense of urgency in your seminars and in your face-to-face meetings and your sales process? Or are you as patient as you need to be.
DJ: I’m as patient as I need to be. I’ve always been a very positive, patient person.
SMA: I’m sure that’s gotten you through a lot of this then. Six years ago, you find out it’s dialysis time and you say, “Well, what better time to start my own business?” Did everybody think you were just crazy?
DJ: No, because when I started to do that, I pretty much knew that I was going to be doing dialysis three times a week, so I needed to find something that I could do on my own terms, because it is hard to work for somebody and tell them, “Hey, I need off three days a week.” It’s not going to happen. So I had to come up with something that I could do with my life on my own terms.
SMA: And it’s worked.
DJ: I actually partnered up with a guy and we just started as an insurance agency. It’s what we did. It didn’t take us very long at all to realize that this is not what we want to do because the advertising costs were phenomenal and I kind of told him that we need to look at the senior market. I had heard quite a bit about it, so we actually attended a seminar in Arizona. That’s how I kind of got started. I met my mentor there who had been in the business 35 years. He took me under his wing.
SMA: So you had to find a boss that was understanding and decided you were the guy?
DJ: I was it. And I needed to make a good living for my family.
SMA: Any moments of doubt since then?
DJ: Never. This past five years has been a total whirlwind of excitement that has changed my life.
SMA: As you’ve changed other people’s lives.
DJ: That’s the beauty of it.