The Road to Success

Tab 1

November 11, 2015

Willis Johnson Jr. often gets asked about the secret to his success. And it’s no wonder why: In 1982, he opened a small auto salvage yard in Rancho Cordova, California, and over the next 33 years transformed the business into Copart, a multibillion-dollar global auto auction company with locations in the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.


A Life Full of Lessons


Willis graduated from high school but never went to college, preferring the worksite to the classroom. He credits much of what he’s learned about building and running a company to his father, Willis Johnson Sr., who he says is probably the smartest man he’s ever met in business.


“A lot of my lessons were learned from when I was a kid, being raised by my father, an independent entrepreneur who couldn’t read but could start a business on a whim,” Willis says. “Everything my dad said, I just lived on. I thrived on everything he did, and I just wanted to learn, learn, learn.”


He did exactly that, absorbing countless lessons and pieces of wisdom — including learning from second chances, not feeling sorry for yourself and being relentless — by watching and joining his father on various business endeavors. Each night, Willis’ mother would read his father newspaper classified ads, and Willis Sr. would listen for business opportunities. This routine led him to dabble in a little of everything, including pouring concrete, laying bricks, clearing snow, running a cattle ranch and, eventually, running a wrecking yard.

Tab 2

November 11, 2015

Two of the most important lessons Willis Jr. learned from his father are mantras he has also passed on to the next generation of Copart leadership: “If you take care of the business, the business will take care of you” and “Take care of your pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”


Thanks to these values, which speak to the importance of work ethic, financial stewardship, customer service and an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, Willis has been able to rise to unbelievable success from humble beginnings, taking care of his family, employees and customers along the way.


Embracing Change


Due to Willis Sr.’s entrepreneurial nature, the family moved a lot in pursuit of new business opportunities, which meant Willis Jr. learned to embrace change early on.


“Change became normal for us, a way of life,” hesays. “Before I was 5, we moved from Oklahoma to Southern California to Yakima, Washington. We had to learn to adapt. I think it made us stronger.”

Collecting Cars for the Love of It.


It certainly prepared Willis for what was to come.


After high school graduation; a year of service in the Army during the Vietnam War; getting married and starting a family with his wife, Joyce; and working as a floater for a grocery store chain after leaving his father’s auto dismantling yard, he found the little salvage yard that would start it all.


From that first 7-acre yard, Willis expanded to additional businesses, including self-service auto recycling yards, a salvage auto auction and a parts store. In 1994, he decided to take the auction company public and sold the other ventures to focus on growing Copart. Going public raised the money necessary to expand across the United States — and eventually internationally — as well as develop systems and cutting-edge auction technology to put Copart at the forefront of the industry, linking buyers and sellers of auto parts and vehicles around the world.

Tab 3

November 11, 2015

In February 2010, Willis retired as CEO, and he and Joyce relocated to Tennessee. While he is still chairman of the board, Willis is enjoying spending time with his family, raising cattle and working on his car collection.


“I started collecting cars in the early 1990s,” he says.“I have a passion for collecting old cars and hot rods because that’s the business I’ve been in my whole life.”


Willis’ collection now includes 150 automobiles, mostly hot rods and restored classics, stored in three buildings totaling 70,000 square feet.


“I like working on cars, driving cars and looking at them,” he says. “You don’t get into this for the investment.”


Legacy of Hard Work and Faith


“If you work hard, you can do about anything you want,” Willis says. “I have always taken care of all of my family and employees with the success of Copart.”


He also adds that faith has been a guiding force in his business success.

When he purchased that first auto salvage yard in Rancho Cordova, he and Joyce went to all four corners of the property, praying and dedicating their work to God, something they continued to do with every new location they acquired.


“I didn’t go to college,” Willis says. “How do you take a guy who went to high school, give him a junkyard, and he turns it into a multibillion-dollar company? That’s unheard of. And to say I did it all on my own — well, I just don’t think I’m that smart. Things just happened, and the Lord gave me common sense to see the future in our business and foresight into the best place to put our investments. My nickname is Lucky Dog, but it isn’t just luck. There’s something guiding you. And to me, I think this company and my family have been blessed.”


Now Willis brings his values of common sense and foresight to the stewardship of his family’s wealth, says Nathan Fowler, The Private Client Reserve Wealth Management Advisor who oversees U.S. Bank’s relationship with the Johnson family. “Willis is an outstanding example of what a determined, principled and hard-working entrepreneur can accomplish in America today,” Fowler says.


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