What was it like growing up in Frankenmuth, Mich.?
TJ: When you tell people you grew up in Frankenmuth, people kind of don’t believe you. It’s akin to growing up in Las Vegas or Brigadoon. Certainly, it always had a tourist vibe – it was very easy to find a summer job. I dipped ice cream, made fudge, taffy, and caramel corn. I also received a high-quality education – the district there is still rated very highly. It was also very insular and rural at the same time.
We were German but we weren’t from one of the families who originally settled the town – that was a delineator. It was a safe place to grow up, but also very homogeneous. Frankenmuth didn’t have traffic lights until I was in elementary school, and we didn’t get a McDonalds until I was in the eighth grade.
The town was so different from how I was at my core. I had a lot of good times, but it made me realize not everyone led the same life as I did. I lived a very sheltered life up until the fifth grade when I transitioned from Lutheran school to Handley Elementary School in Saginaw. It was then that I began to learn that the world was much bigger than I had known before.
My father was started his career as a teacher – he taught history and shop – welding, auto repair, drafting, woodworking – skills he did his best to pass on down to me. He also was president of the teachers union, which explains a lot of my love for public education. For a time, he taught high school classes during the day and worked a grinder for a small manufacturer on second shift to make ends meet and learn a new career. He later transitioned those skills into becoming a manufacturing engineer for General Motors.
We were very lower middle class until Dad became a salaried executive – I was in high school when he brought home his first company car. My mom also owned a small antique store called Past and Presents just north of town. Needless to say, I spent a lot of weekends at antique shows.
Did seeing your mother as a business owner inspire you to start your own business some day?
TJ: I think it created an entrepreneurial spirit in me, for sure. I learned about sales because I had to work the store. My mom was one of the first in the region to discover and carry Yankee candles so we were always busy on the weekends. I learned how to present an item that she found at some place or show and to get a customer to recognize the value and pay the dollar we were asking for it. I think that was at a critical formative time for me – where I sort of realized the upsides of being a business owner. It was very much a family business, my sister and I both worked in the store.
When you started your business, how did you finally come up with the name Vanguard?
TJ: I wanted to create a company that was comprised of experts; people who had varied experience across the spectrum. Since its inception, we’ve had very senior people working with us so that clients can have confidence in our critical thinking and the work we do. I was looking for words to describe that sentiment on Google and came across Vanguard, which is a military term. Ancient armies would send out a Vanguard to test the mettle of their opponent and develop strategies to defeat them. That was what I wanted to reflect in regards to the team I wanted to create.
What are some of your favorite places in the world to recharge and connect?
TJ: There’s a place out in Whitefish Point on Lake Superior where the waves crash together. It’s about a ¼ mile walk from the National Shipwreck Museum and the Whitefish Point Light – which is now a bed and breakfast. It makes me thoughtful, and I think about the future and life while there. I have a photo of it in my office I picked up at the Lansing Art Gallery.
One of my favorite places outside of Michigan is Cannon Beach, Oregon, and its world-famous Haystack Rock. During the time we lived on the west coast, our family went there three or four times – it’s only about a four-hour drive from Seattle. It’s always a little chilly, but you can see the Pacific Ocean for miles and it’s beautiful.
Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica is also breathtaking. It’s a tropical beach like you envision in your head when wanting to escape the cold of winter - powder white beach sands, blue water, and a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
TJ: I love to spend time with my kids. I really enjoy talking about politics, writing, and studying literature with my son, who’s also a big reader. He’s a junior in high school and is interested in the family business – although so far he’s a bit of a libertarian, different from Dad. I also attend a lot of sports activities with my daughter – she’s played basketball and softball for years. She’s a freshman in high school now so it’s more high stakes for her. I used to coach her basketball team and I’m very proud of the progress she’s made, both athletically and academically. Other than that, I’m a real homebody. If you visit me on a weekend in Grand Ledge, I’m likely in shorts and a T-Shirt in my den watching Netflix or reading.
We also like to travel as a family – we’ve been to most of the states in the union and a couple of places in the Caribbean. We’re planning a trip in 2018 to the United Kingdom, and Hawaii, Alaska, France, Italy, and Japan are on my bucket list. My wife and I enjoy touring Michigan lighthouses and northern Michigan wine country.
I do collect vintage Star Wars figures and I have many of them from 1977 to 1983 – my collection includes some I’ve had since the age of 8. I am working to complete my collection, but it’s a tall order because of the expense. I go to toy shows when they are close to home and look for deals.
How he’d describe himself in five words:
Thoughtful. Tenacious. Entrepreneurial. Authentic. Intuitive.