Adam Torres and Tom Johnson discuss Ducks Unlimited and Texas FFA.
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Ducks Unlimited was on site for the 95th Annual Texas FFA Convention in Dallas, Texas. In this episode, Adam Torres interviewed Tom Johnson, Founder of Encino Landscape, Inc. Explore Ducks Unlimited, Texas FFA, and the book Tom recently released, Mission Matters: Mission-Based Leaders Share Inspiring Stories on Leadership and Success (Texas Leaders Edition Vol.1).
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About Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. Ducks Unlimited is the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres and I’m so happy to announce this is the second day I’m covering the 95th annual Texas F F A convention, and my guest today is Tom Johnson. He is the founder of Encino Land. He is the liaison for Ducks Unlimited to the Texas F F A and Texas F F A Foundation.
And he’s also, I’m proud to announce an author in our recently released edition or volume one of our Texas Leaders edition of Mission Matters bestselling series in. Hey Tom. Finally we get to meet in person man. Welcome. Finally. Finally. Nice to meet you. Alright, Tom. So we got a lot to talk about, so. Lots of, uh, just so you know, lots of entrepreneurs, executives, business owners watch this show.
Tom built a business from scratch. We’re gonna talk about Encino landscape. We’re gonna talk about, of course, ducks Unlimited and of course the main event Texas f f a, and really what that means to you. Uh, just to get started here, Tom, Texas, f f a convention. Why are you here? Well, uh, you know, the main thing is being a volunteer production limited.
Several years ago, they tapped me, uh, tapped me to be the youth and ed. Uh, chairman here in Texas and I grew up, uh, through the F f A program and Oh, you remember? I was. Okay. Yes. And so, um, knowing that a lot of our projects are done on farms and ranches, uh, not only here in Texas, but all throughout the United States and Canada and Mexico, I said, what better group to get in touch with at an early age, uh, than the f f A students?
Uh, because. If we can imprint them and let ’em know what kind of organization we are at a young age, when they do become our ranch owners, our, our farmers, our lawyers, uh, all the people that are in power. Uh, they’ll know who we are then and what kind of work we do. So, I, uh, I didn’t have the privilege of being a, an f f A member.
I didn’t even know about the organization. I’m so sorry. So sorry. I, I am as well. I really am. No, the more, I, I have like this, this thing where I, I meet individuals and I see where you will get into your business in a moment, but like you’ve grown a business. All these things like. I wanna stay in those earlier years, just a little bit longer.
Um, like what did, what did that mean coming up through the ranks in f f A for you? You know, I don’t think at the age that we’re in high school, uh, even in these students that are here right now, yeah, they don’t really realize yet the impact it does have. Uh, I mean, The things that you learn, uh, through that program, the parliamentary procedure, the leadership, the speaking skills, yeah.
Everything that they can take advantage of carries own into the real life, uh, of, of all through your adulthood. So, um, you know, I, I started out, my brothers and sisters were, uh, in the f f A and we showed cattle and, and, uh, pigs and stuff. So we. We came up through that and, um, I was there all four years.
Wow. And I remember coming right here to Dallas for my first F F A convention back in the late eighties. We actually stayed in the Sheraton where I’m at right now. That took you back? Oh yeah. It brought back, uh, good memories, uh, of all that. But, uh, man has, has this really grown, uh, I mean, we didn’t. I can’t tell you how many it was, but I would say there were six or 7,000 kids Wow.
At that time that attended the state convention and now they’re up to over 15,000. And I’ve been coming for the last six years, and when we first came it was probably about 12, 11 or 12,000. So to see it jump. This many, uh, kids, that many thousand in just that few years is, is incredible. But I grew up, through, through the program, I was on the par parliamentary procedure team.
Like I said, I’d done speaking events. All that has helped me, uh, into my adult career. Yeah. And I, and one of the things that, that, that stat I didn’t know had grown that fast, by the way. So that stat’s pretty unique to me because if you think about like some of the other organizations, I won’t name any, but let’s just say other.
90 year plus organizations that maybe are on the decline in terms of membership and they’re having a hard time attracting new members. Um, even though they were doing a lot of good, I think that speaks a lot to the, you know, infrastructure, the administration, like everything that FFA is doing and the magic really, right.
I mean, they. To, they went through, uh, COVID. Yeah. And they, they didn’t miss a beat. That’s amazing. I mean, kids, yeah. A lot of schools wouldn’t let, um, the students attend the convention. Mm-hmm. But the numbers were not down that much. Mm-hmm. I, I mean, it, it was still a huge convention and still a lot of kids got to attend, so nothing held ’em down.
They’re still growing stronger and stronger and stronger, and it’s just crazy to see the number of students and the members that Texas has. I mean, Texas leads the state. Uh, in membership or the nation, I’m sorry, in membership. It just continues to grow bigger and bigger. Bigger. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Um, I wanna switch it up a little bit here.
Okay. So the relationships. Now you mentioned, you know, being in that, in that Sheraton like many, many years ago and being back there kind of full circle Right. As an adult, right? Right. Like what about the relationships? Any of those kind of carry over through the years? They do. Uh, they do, they do carry over and, you know, when I speak to the kids, uh, now that are interested in going to college mm-hmm.
I, I tell them it’s not necessarily about those grades that you make or that degree you get, but it’s the connections you make in college. Yeah. Uh, you heard the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Oh, yeah. Well, there’s also a second part of that, that it’s who knows you because you may know them and they don’t have a clue who you are, you know?
So if, if they don’t know who you are, then uh, it does no good to that if you don’t, if you know them. Mm-hmm. So those relationships that they build here, Uh, can carry on for a lifetime. Yeah. And, and it can benefit both, uh, both parties. Yeah. Yeah. I can see that. Especially at entrepreneurship. So let’s, um, maybe let’s kind of go towards the entrepreneurship route a little bit.
So, Encino landscape, like, so at what point did you kind of feel that it was time to go on this entrepreneurship journey? Well, um, I knew from a very early age that I would work for myself. Um, some of this is in the book, by the way. Everybody that’s watching that was in book, what you call a setup. So some of this is in the book and you’re good.
Uh, we’ll put a link so you can grab a copy. Go ahead, please. I, I, I knew that, uh, I, I, I was gonna work, work for myself, uh, pretty much, uh, at that time, uh, my family trained race horses and, and we ran in Louisiana and, and here in Texas and. Hmm. And, um, so at a very early age I moved to Louisiana with some horses and started training there.
But I, I just, I, I thank God he smile. The good Lord smiled on me and got me outta the race horse business and I’m gonna leave that there. And so me and my dad started a, a company together and, uh, we were together 12 years doing the same type work. Mm-hmm. But, uh, in 2000, I, I branched off on my own. Uh, dad was kind of ready to retire and, and, and, uh, be done with, uh, work in general.
So I, uh, started Encino landscape. Yeah. And, uh, started it out very small and, uh, Today, 23 years later, it’s now a, a, a multimillion dollar landscape company. We do primarily work for the highway department. We do more concrete work now than we did landscape. But landscape was what brought me at the time. So, uh, I just branched out, still do landscape, but like I said, more is, more is along the lines of concrete work.
Yeah. But, um, I I, I, I still today, I’m, I’m not kidding when I tell, tell you that I still use things that I learned. Through the ag program. Like for instance, I tell the welding teachers that I still can weld. Now it may look like a dirt dober run across it, but I still can weld, uh, and fix things on the farm because of what I learned.
Wow. In the Ag department, uh, I would’ve not learned how to weld. Uh, you know, I couldn’t ever picked that up out in the, uh, in the field that I was in, but learning it in school, Hmm. I can tinker with the tractor. Uh, even though they’re different today than they were back when we learned how to work on ’em, I still.
Have that basic knowledge of what I learned in, uh, ag mechanics or, uh, working on tractors there. Yeah. Do you think any of the kind of things that you learned growing up through the ranks in the Texas F A F F A kind of translated to entrepreneurship, any lessons learned? I do, I do. I think, um, you know, especially the contest that they have here, it, there’s two types.
They have, they have individuals, and then they have teams. Mm-hmm. So the, the kids that are in the, in individual, uh, contest, they learn to stand on their own two feet and participate on their own. Yeah. Uh, and, and they’re out there by their self. You know, so that, that gives you a lot of confidence. It, it teaches you to, to learn from your mistakes and try to better yourself.
And so those things there that you learn at a very early age that I like, just like I said earlier, that they may not realize it today. Yeah. But in 20 years from now, they’re gonna say, you know, that that was a lot of help. Yeah, I can see that. Yeah. And I think about some of my younger experiences and just a little businesses or things and just thinking about like everybody, like it’s kind of like, I think of the f f A, kind of like a Mastermind, right?
Right. Like you have your, your, you have your chapters, you have, you get to come to. These, uh, larger events and, and you get to come to these competitions as well and you get to meet each other and you meet people from all different, all different parts of Texas, right? So it really unites people, whether they were on social media originally, they met in person.
Like I feel like it just becomes this ecosystem. It it, that, that is true. And I, I tell, I’ve got guys that are helping me in the booth, uh, down there that’s never been to the F F A convention. They weren’t in F F A and, and one of like, they’re probably having my first experience. Oh yeah. Like what is this?
I told yesterday, I said, I told ’em, I, our little ambassador, I said, uh, take these guys to the floor. I could hear it thumping inside. Yeah. I knew a session was in Yeah. I said, take ’em to the floor. Yeah, let, let ’em experience that. And they said, well, tell us about it. I said, no sir, I’m not telling you anything.
You go experience and you come back and you tell me. Yeah. So I got tickled. The guy came back and he said, I walk in that building. He said, my hair stood up on the back of my neck and I was like, oh my God, this is like a mosh pit in here. Yeah. I’ve never seen this many kids. He was so excited when he came out and, uh, he’s down there now.
Just, he, he just can’t say enough about the kids. Yeah. He’s really in, uh, and, you know, bragging on about Yes sir. No sir. The manners. Yep. Uh, how they’ll come up, shake your hand, look you in the eye. And those are things that they’re taught. Eye contact, not Yes. That’s, that’s taught at home and at school.
Absolutely. And, and so, uh, the ag department does a really good job of training these kids on how to speak to people. Yeah. Uh, which is, is really, really good. They’ll shake their hand, uh, you know, look you in the eye. Uh, all that is learned, or a lot of it’s learned through the ag chapters, so they were impressed, so to say the least.
Hmm. It’s amazing. Yes. Um, yeah. Let’s spend some time on Ducks Unlimited. Okay. So, and I know you’re, you mentioned you’re the, the, uh, liaison for Ducks Unlimited, right? To Texas f f a. Like, tell us a little bit more maybe about the organization for those that are unfamiliar. Well, uh, ducks Unlimited is just a little bit younger than the, uh, the F F A, uh, I think we’re in our 90th year.
Something right there. Close 90 years young. Yeah. Yeah. 90 years young. 90 years young Membership level is about the same. Yeah. Uh, but Ducks Unlimited. We do, uh, wetlands and, and, uh, waterfowl, um, restoration. Uh, and you know, it also benefits a lot of other wildlife and even humans. Uh, I always tell the kids about, Here in Texas, uh, and live in this area about how the Trinity River flows down and goes to down, uh, east of Houston.
And there’s a lake between here called Richland Chambers. And, and that actually helps filter and capture the water to release to Lake Livingston, which is 70% of, uh, owned by Houston for their water. Yeah. And so we’ve done a lot of work around rushing Richland chambers to, uh, install some shallow water areas where plants will grow that will filter that water.
Before it goes down and, uh, that resonates to ’em, you know, ’cause they know where that is. They’ve seen the, the swamps that we call ’em around there. They, and so they understand what they do. But we do a lot of work here in Texas, along the coast. We do a lot of work up in, uh, uh, all up through the Midwest in the nesting grounds that we call.
Uh, but it’s just a, a great organization that we are proud to say that 86 cents of every dollar that we raise. Goes towards our conservation programs. Wow. Wow. Yeah. That’s a, that’s a, that’s a, that’s huge of money. That’s huge. Yeah. That’s a large percentage. Yeah, that’s huge. You can go look at any other nonprofits and they’re not near that much money going straight to the programs.
Mm-hmm. Especially with that large of an organization. That’s, that’s right. That infrastructure, that’s infrastructure, that pedigree. That’s, that’s amazing. That’s right. And our, our strength, I, I can measure it during covid when a lot of other conservation groups were having trouble. Hmm. Uh, ducks Unlimited.
We had 660 employees. We laid off about 60 employees, but our fundraising numbers did not shrink. Yeah. We still were able to, uh, keep doing projects. We didn’t have to cut back. Wow. We were still able to fund projects that were on the books. Uh, and now we’ve come out, uh, bigger and stronger than ever.
Amazing. Yes. Very amazing. So I want you to talk maybe to the, to the business leaders. As I mentioned before, a lot of entrepreneurs, executives, um, decision makers watch this program if they’re not already involved with the Texas F F A. Why should they consider? Well, I, I can tell you these, these kids that are here, uh, at the F F A, uh, they’re learning leadership skills now, uh, and, and their valuable leadership skills.
Yeah. Uh, Those are the kind of kids that you want to get in front of. The ones that are already, you know, are in the training trenches at an early age. Uh, those are the ones that are going, that we know are gonna go on. I mean, we, it’s proven that these kids are, most of ’em are gonna go to college. Most of ’em are gonna get good degrees.
Most of ’em are gonna be involved, uh, in the agriculture field. Uh, some form or other, or other areas where it would benefit the, the, the leadership stuff they learned here at an early age, it would benefit their company. Yeah. I know. That’s the reason we’re here is we, we know that these kids are, are, are the future.
They’re, they’re gonna be the judges, the politicians, they’re gonna be the landowners, they’re gonna be everything, uh, that will control that happens. Mm-hmm. These kids will be part of that. Oh yeah. And so if we can get our brand in front of ’em at an early age. Uh, about the work we do well when they do become successful and they do have some extra cash to spend and they’re invited to one of our fundraisers, they will know what we do and they will know how we help, uh, our environment.
Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah. Good. Good stuff. Good stuff. We got, we got, we do have to talk about the book for a little bit. We got gotta plug this. Come on. Volume one of the Texas Leaders edition of Mission Matters. Man, I’m so thrilled and excited to have you and the other leaders from Texas. Part of this, and by the way, this is the very first book that we’ve ever done with a.
State theme. So had to be Texas first. Right, of course. Has has to be Texas. They need, Texas needs their own book, of course. So a lot of different things that you could have written about, you shared parts of your story. Like, like what was the inspiration for your writing? Uh, you know, I think the reason I would, was thrilled to be a part of it was I probably have one of the few.
If not the only one that was, uh, an author in this book that did not go to college. Yeah, I, I, I didn’t want to go to college. I, I could have went to Texas a and m I, uh, the, the money wasn’t a problem. I could have went to any school I wanted to, but I, I didn’t want to go. I, I wasn’t college material. Uh, I didn’t think I needed a piece of paper to tell me what I needed to be, uh, or to prove myself to anyone that that was my personal trip.
Mm-hmm. And, and so I think it was good to show those kids that. Maybe can’t afford to go to college. Even that you don’t have to go to college to be successful. I can name you many. Oh yeah. Billionaires that quit college. Mm-hmm. You know, you can too. We know lots of them that, uh, I mean some of the richest people in the world.
Don’t have a piece of paper. Mm-hmm. And so, I hate to be frank, but that’s the way I am. You know, I tell people all the time, listen, I, I have dealt in registered animals and I said, I’ve had a lot of registered animals that have papers that are not worth ader. You know, so just because you have a piece of paper doesn’t mean you’re gonna be successful.
I mean, yes, it, it’s gonna tell a potential employer that yes, you stuck it out 4, 5, 6 years in college and you, you, you have a piece of paper in a field that you, uh, want to go into, but it doesn’t really tell that employer that. You’re gonna stick with it, you know that you are a hard worker and that you, you have common sense.
It doesn’t tell you those things. Mm-hmm. So, um, I, I think I’m in u a unique in that way that I, I didn’t go to college and I didn’t have to have a piece of paper to make me successful. Or, or, or say, you know, anything about me. Yeah. I, I’ve done it through hard work and just grit and drive and not taking no for an answer.
Yeah. And one of the things that I, I notice in your, in your chapter what you wrote about, it’s really this idea of persistence. Like it’s this, this theme that goes through the, it’s this theme that goes through, like nothing’s handed to you, nothing. Like you’re, nothing building, as you mentioned, I think 23 years, right?
Yes. 23 years. A a, actually, it, it. Uh, since 1988, I’ve been doing the same work. We were, I was with my dad for a while and then started on my own, but 30 something years I’ve been in the same business. Yeah. And so, uh, I, I’m just one of those that, even the guys that I work with in Ducks Unlimited as a volunteer, they’ll, they’ll tell you, don’t tell him no.
’cause he don’t know what no is and I don’t If I think I have a good idea. Yeah. If I think a plan will work. Yeah. I will not take no for an answer. You know, I’m like, who are you to tell me? No, you, you didn’t, you didn’t even come up with this idea. You’ve never tried it. Yeah. You know? Yeah. So, you know, ta telling me, no, you might as well not, you might as well say yes because that’s, I’m gonna try.
I’m not scared of failure. I’m not scared of failure. Uh, you will fail. Uh, if you’re scared of failure, you’ll never try anything. Mm-hmm. And you cannot be scared. To fail and be successful. Yeah. Because that’s just part of it. You’re gonna fail at some time, but you gotta pick yourself up and and go again.
Yeah. Speaking to, so we spoke a little bit to the, let’s just say the more senior level and tenured level executives and entrepreneurs out there and why they should be involved, um, with Texas f f A and Ducks Unlimited. But speaking to the, the, let’s just say, just getting started entrepreneurs for a bit, like, what kind of advice would you give them in today’s environment?
Well, I would say just what I said, uh, have a lot of grit. Um, you know, I would say o one advice I give to the students, uh, you know, is they’re trying to figure out what they wanna do in life and stuff. Yeah. And let’s say for instance, they, they come to me and they, they wanna be a, a plumber. Mm-hmm. Well, Don’t go to the coffee shop and talk to, um, you know, an electrician if you wanna be a plumber.
Yeah. Because everybody has an opinion on everybody. Oh yeah. But whatever you want to be, go visit with people that are already in that field and don’t ask them about what are the pluses? Ask ’em what are the minuses, you know, what are the tough things, uh, to get started into whatever field they choose to go into, because, Somebody, everybody has an opinion about everything, but 90% of ’em are wrong.
You know, they, they, we all think we know everything, but we don’t. So anybody that’s getting started in a business or anything like that, I would tell them to go talk to people that are already in that type business and ask ’em for not only the good things, but the bad things too. Yeah, that’s great. Well Tom, really appreciate you making some time out today during Enjoyed it.
Appreciate it for this conversation and really to talk to all the leaders out there on, on Texas F f a, um, also Ducks Unlimited and why to get involved. If people want to follow up and learn more about Ducks Unlimited, what’s the best way for them to do that? They can to go to our [email protected].
Yep. Uh, there’s a ton of information there, uh, for them to become a member even, but they can learn a lot of information [email protected] or they can hear about one of our local events and attend one of those. Fantastic. And we’ll put, we’ll put that information in the show notes so everybody can check it out.
And, uh, perfect. Tom, just wanna say again, thank you for coming on the show. Enjoyed it. Appreciate it.