Jason T. grew up in a small town in Northern California. He did well in high school, after which, he decided to join the U.S. Marine Corp. He served from 1991-97 through multiple tours in Desert Hope, Desert Shield and Desert Storm and received an Honorable Discharge and earned more than a dozen medals.
Jason expected that his attention-to-detail, discipline, strong work ethic and management skills that he developed in the Marine Corp would make him a sought-after candidate. Instead he found that companies and society did not look favorably upon the first Gulf War or the service men and women involved. When Marines receive an employee handbook, they follow it and perform really well, sometimes to the chagrin of their peers. Much to his surprise, people thought he worked ‘too hard,’ either because they didn’t understand or they suspected he had ulterior motives. He found they would do the bare minimum of acceptable work.
Since leaving the Corps, some of the retail jobs in Southern California included:
- Jason managed ground reclamation, or clean up after a gas station closes. He managed $70 million in accounts for a year and a half until his division shut down.
- Jason became the first male Victoria Secrets salesman at Southcoast Plaza. He broke every sales record in ten months. Men trusted him with their credit cards and gave their girlfriends a $500 limit a month. Women would put on corsets, model for him and ask if their boyfriends would approve. But Jason wasn’t promoted. He believes his manager liked the bonuses she received off his sales and the BMW she bought during his tenure.
He finally thought he found his niche at a boating company that sold kayaks. Jason was a combat water specialist in the Marines and used Klepper kayaks to mark mines so the larger ships could sail. (Kleppers are wooden foldable kayaks used by the military because they don’t set off mines.) Jason created a retail arm called ‘boats in bags’ and increased sales from $365,000 to $2.5 million in 4 years. He was underpaid and didn’t have benefits, but the owner led him to believe that he would sell company for sweat equity – Jason’s 80-hour work weeks. Jason thought that he was building a future for his family, but when he returned from a vacation, there was a termination notice waiting for him.
Frustrated, he and his wife Cassandra talked about why he was good at his job and what he wanted to do with his life. Cassandra realized Jason had entrepreneurship in his blood when he increased kayak sales sevenfold. He spent most of his youth renovating his mom’s bed and breakfast. He is good with hands and was the one who decorated the entire apartment.
He decided to study interior architectural design. He finished a three year curriculum in two years. He graduated with high honors, an AS in architectural interior design, an AA in liberal arts, an AutoCad certificate and a marketing certificate. He was impassioned about what he learned – environmental and universal design – designing for the entire life of the product and user, like cost effective materials that weren’t toxic and special considerations for people with disabilities.
He graduated in 2009 at the height of the economic recession when there were no positions available. He thought about starting his own firm, but wasn’t quite sure where to start and was worried about carrying his financial weight in his family.
In the summer of 2010, his wife — who runs the entrepreneurship training program at Goodwill of Orange County — said, “You’re going to work for yourself. Take our Future Business Owners class and work on the business plan for ‘Designs Done Right.’” The 15-week course provided valuable information about starting a business. Each class had a guest speaker that was a teacher and a networking resource.
Around the same time, Jason joined the American Legion to reconnect with his military life. One day the American Legion leaders were complaining about parking issues, checking IDs and other security issues. Volunteers were supposed to be on the job, but they would get drinks or wouldn’t show up. Jason chimed in, “We’re vets, we know how to guard a gate.” He had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. With the help of his class, he developed a business plan and presented it to the board. Four months later, Semper Fi Security was born.
Semper Fi Security provides many services such as; parking control and greeters to ensure proper membership and sign-in of their guests. The company has added new clients and has nine employees, mostly guys who just left the service and go to school. Jason often says that the greatest part of owning a company is that he provided opportunities for his fellow veterans, who sometimes have difficulty adjusting to civilian life.
Jason is excited about the success of Semper Fi Security and wants to grow it into a private security company, a natural for veterans because they are certified with weapon and security clearance. He continues to be active in Goodwill’s Services by participating in the follow-up membership program, ‘Goodwill Business Connections’. Also, he shares what he learned from his business course with his staff so that one day he can hand over the daily management and follow his passion – and follow his dream to “design a better world.”