minutes with...Jim Johans
Friday, January 9
Johans, 58, was a young rebel who tested a wide
range of professions before finding a home in the
Tell me about your childhood. Where did you fit
among your six siblings?
grew up in St. Louis, the s econd-oldest in a
wealthy family. I was the troubled child. I didnít
take things at face value and always challenged
authority. I was never in trouble with the law, but
I had a few brushes. It helps to have moneyómy
father was a dentist. If I didnít come from the
family I did, Iíd be one of the kids who come here
[Northeast Parent & Child].
I know you spent some time in a monastery. Do you
talk about that?
can tell you it didnít make my father happy. He
would tell his sons that we had three choices:
doctor, lawyer or priest. College wasnít under
discussion. Hereís the career roster of my siblings:
anesthesiologist, news anchor, surgical nurse,
dental lab technician, CPA and neurosurgeon.
Consequently, my Catholic father wasnít happy that I
joined a Hindu monastery.
What prompted that decision?
was an awakening. I was working in a gas station
about two weeks before starting medical school. I
ran into a guy whom I knew as troubled but who had
turned himself around. He told me about a book that
had changed his life called ďAutobiography of a
suffered serious depression in college. I had
studied several different spiritual paths, and was
desperately seeking to connect with my creator in a
meaningful way. But I was so wrapped up in the
depression that my existential angst almost drove me
to suicide. I was so skeptical and bitter that I
told the guy [that] no one book could change my
You read the book anyway?
read the book. After that I dropped out of medical
school and entered a Hindu monastery in Los Angeles.
I took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience. I had
the hardest time with obedience. I cooked for 90
people: three vegetable meals a day. Believe me, if
you can get vegetables to taste good three meals a
day, youíre a pretty good cook.
So why arenít you a monk?
had unfinished psychological baggage that drove me
out of the monastery. I stayed six years. There was
a waiting list of three to five years to get in, and
I realized someone could better take advantage of
You also donít strike me as someone who could commit
to a vow of silence.
(Laughs) The people who do stay are more likely to
be quiet and shy. Youíre right. I was restless and
reckless and always looking for action.
What was your next move?
had a chemistry degree from St. Louis University, so
I used it to get a position at Hughes Aircraft in
California. I was chosen to participate in their
corporate leadership institute, and within two years
became leader of Hughesí worldwide commercial laser
business. California is also where I met and married
my wife, Cathy.
left Hughes four years later and purchased a
restaurant in a shopping mall in San Diego. We
called it the Yogurt Tree Deli. I realized the
funnest [sic] part of the restaurant was designing
it, and the rest was a grind. I wasnít making much
to raise a family on, so I sold it for a significant
profit and moved my family to West Virginia on 100
acres in the middle of nowhere.
How did you wind up working in the nonprofit sector?
went back to school and earned a Ph.D in human
services. I worked at a community mental health
center as a family therapist and became their
director of childrenís services. I worked my way up
to executive director of the largest child welfare
agency in West Virginia. From there, I came here.
You have what is considered by nonprofits to be an
unpopular view on taxation ...
Frankly, I think nonprofits should pay some property
taxes. My colleagues donít like to hear that. Look:
In Schenectady, 40 percent of its properties are
exempt from property tax. In Albany, itís 68
percent. It seems like we could all pay some amount,
say 10 percent. Weíre part of the community and
should pay our own weight.
Are you a salesman?
Youíve talked with me. What do you think? I believe
my two greatest strengths are being a persuader and
a promoter. Iíve been criticized, but I can play the
ďshameĒ card with wealthy people. I push the
envelope. I might be slightly overexposed, but I
goal is to put us on the tip of everyoneís tongue. I
can easily get you to write me a $10 check right
now. You know what I really want? I want you to
leave me everything in your will.
Can you separate your spiritual beliefs from your
dedicated to moving the world an inch. Iím not
trying to get every kid to love God. We donít talk
about that. Weíre just trying to get them food,
clothing and shelter.
Do you love everybody?
try to spread more love in the world. Do I act
lovingly every day? Absolutely not. The hard part is
loving the kid who spits in your face.
How do you come to that place?
meditate a couple of hours a day in my meditation
corner at home. I practice the Eastern philosophy of
self-realization. This is a personal thing I rarely
share with anyone, and I certainly donít want people
to think Iím proselytizing. I also donít mind if
they think Iím a wacko. Some do.
Title: President and CEO, Northeast Parent & Child
Serves: 5,500 families a year
2008-09 Budget: $35 million
Family: Married, two children