JA Topeka Business Hall of Fame: Lonnie Williams

By Lisa Loewen
Photo by Rachel Lock

People say the key to success in business is to be passionate about what you do for a living. While Lonnie Williams is successful, he isn’t passionate about trash. But he is passionate about people.

_MG_5230 copy 2_385x257Lonnie Williams, along with his family, owns L&J Building Maintenance Services, LLC, a Topeka-based company that provides building maintenance, mechanical construction and sanitation services across five states. His people skills and ability to manage others, however, are a result of a 30-year career with the State of Kansas Juvenile Justice System, mentoring troubled youth.

Business on a Whim

Williams’ building maintenance business actually began on a whim. Williams was talking with a friend over a pizza and a beer in 1986, when his friend mentioned he needed someone to clean his office building. Williams replied, “I can do that.” The next day he and his brother showed up to clean the building, and the rest was history.

Lonnie kept his job at the state for the next two years and worked part time cleaning the office building. With the help of his wife, Jill, who has a PhD in Social Welfare, he slowly began to add more cleaning jobs to his schedule.

“Playing” in Business

Williams kept working the two jobs until one day a business owner he respected gently accused him of just “playing” in business. So when a friend asked for his help on a federal maintenance contract in Omaha, Neb., Williams decided to stop “playing” and jump into the business with everything he had. He quit his job with the State and spent the next six months in Omaha helping turn the operation around.

“It was during one of the largest snowstorms on record,” Williams recalled. “I stood at the window and watched as one snowplow would push the snow one direction and another snowplow would push it right back where it started. It was like watching the keystone cops. I went down and fired them on the spot.”

That job led to another six months in Wichita, where he helped save another federal maintenance contract on the U.S. Courthouse.

At that point, Williams’ reputation for running a tight ship caught the attention of the U.S. General Service Administration. They asked him to bid on the federal contract to maintain the Charles Evans Whitaker U.S. Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.

A Family Business

With 44 employees providing services across five states, almost all of L&J’s business is on federal contract. The company provides janitorial and building maintenance services to numerous U.S. Federal Courthouses in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

In 2004, a joint venture created L & J Building Co., which provides mechanical construction services to Veteran Administration Medical Centers within the region. In 2008, the company expanded into sanitation services at three United States Army Military Bases, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Williams mentors other small business owners and is involved in numerous joint ventures.

“I am always looking for investment opportunities in undervalued businesses,” he said. “I will probably be stay in business until they throw the dirt in my face.

Advice:

“You have to learn that you alone are responsible for your own business. You have to swallow your pride and get off of square one.”

– Lonnie Williams