Onward & Upward

B.E.'s 2000 Small Business Award winners are flying high. Here's why.

in 1985. He stopped not because he had a problem but because he foresaw having one. “I took alcohol out of my life and my career took off.”

Nearly a decade later, so did Johnson’s Houston-based Continuum Healthcare Systems Inc. (CHS). It is now in full swing, with expected gross billings of about $20 million in 2000.

A native of Hallsville, Texas, Johnson retired in 1991 from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of active service.

He believed that he possessed more knowledge in the area of substance abuse than those he worked for as a civilian. This led him to start his own company, which focused on treating behavioral disorders. That endeavor eventually failed.

He reentered the job market and landed a position as director of chemical dependency services at a Houston-based hospital. Johnson guided his department through a successful reaccreditation and, “to be honest, I whipped everything into shape and got bored,” he says.

He left after a year to take over a nonprofit treatment program that worked with inner-city youths in Houston. He grew the organization’s contract base, cut the budget to free up money for residential-treatment facility renovations, and within a year was named CEO.

While on vacation, he got a letter from the board informing him that he had been fired. “I believe the board was racist,” says Johnson. “They didn’t approve of who I’d hired and refused to fire.

“That turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me,” he says about his dismissal in
1994. The foundation for Texas Serenity Institute, the forerunner of CHS, had been laid.

He took out a $110,000 loan and used 30 acres of land as collateral, which had been in his wife, Linda’s, family since the 1800s. The transaction caused “many sleepless nights,” remembers Johnson. “I’d gotten the loan from a venture capitalist who wanted the property more than repayment.” It was the first bill he paid off.

Johnson turned Texas Serenity into a for-profit business while forming Southwest Healthcare Services. “We realized that one day this thing might go national,” says Johnson. So he established CHS, and Southwest became a subsidiary.

By 1997, CHS began showing signs of “significant growth” and Johnson collected his first paycheck.

Johnson transformed a nonprofit organization-launched with a $110,000 loan-into a vertically integrated healthcare system that has grown 100% a year since 1998. CHS employs about 300.

“A personal relationship with God, a belief in myself, and my wife, Linda, are my ingredients for success.”

The Rising Star Award acknowledges exceptional achievement by an individual who is under 35 and in the early stages of his or her business or professional career. Outstanding skills, professionalism, and perseverance are what establish this entrepreneur as a future leader.
Anthony Kirkland
Owner of Mass Sound Recording Studio
Can a horrendous contract lead to success?

Ask 26-year-old Anthony Kirkland about his work life, and he’ll start by telling you about the time he was a teen disc jockey, operating under the handle DJUT (UnderTaker). It didn’t take long for word to spread about Kirkland’s work.

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