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.