My husband and I have had the privilege of knowing Johnne for over 20 years, including an opportunity to spend time with him and his wife, Linda, on a Caribbean cruise/marriage conference. Our paths have crossed many times and I now work with him at Syverson Strege.
It was a blessing to conduct an in-depth interview with Johnne. I think you’ll find it quite interesting to read his answers to my questions. Enjoy getting to know Johnne Syverson, cofounder of Syverson Strege, in this up close and personal interview!
As a kid, what were you like?
Honestly, I was a good little boy and never caused trouble. I was very thin until age eight. I had my tonsils out and then was able to gain weight. I did OK at school and tried to do what they told me to.
What has been the most rewarding moment or time in your history with Syverson Strege?
My most rewarding time in Syverson Strege’s history has not been one moment, but overall that the company has survived for over 23 years. Most start-up businesses don’t last beyond five years.
Tell us about your motorcycle biking hobby.
I have loved two-wheel motorized vehicles since age 16 when I got my driver’s license and my first Moped. I set the passion aside after Linda and I had kids, but when my kids grew older, I bought a used Yamaha 250. I have also owned a Suzuki and two Hondas. I switched to Harley Davidson about six years ago. A friend had a beautiful yellow Harley with black saddle bags for sale and I couldn’t resist a good deal. Four years ago, I bought a Harley Davidson trike for more stability, at the recommendation of my wife.
I regularly ride with a group of men from my church. When weather permits, we go for a weekly ride on Thursday nights from May to September. We ride about an hour out to a small-town diner for dinner and a ½ hour Bible study, then head back to Des Moines. I coordinate the weekly ride.
We have 35 people on the list, but usually have 12-15 regulars who ride each week. Out of this group, we take a smaller group of about 10-12 annually to locations farther away like Branson, MO, Galena, IL, Duluth, MN, Milwaukee, WI, Arkansas, and the Black Hills. With an even a smaller group of four, I have taken longer trips (1,000+ miles) to Colorado, North Carolina, and the Texas Hill Country. I traveled a total of 3,914 miles on my motorcycle in 2020! It was the ultimate Social Distancing machine!
Tell us how you got your first name.
It’s actually pronounced as one syllable as in “John,” but some people call me “Johnny” which is fine. When my mother was pregnant with me, she worked as a checkout girl in a grocery store. Her coworker was also pregnant and was going to name her child Johnne if it was a boy. But my mother had her baby first and stole the name! The coworker had a girl so it wasn’t a problem.
What is your favorite Bible verse? What is your favorite book of the Bible and why?
My favorite verse is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” This reminds me of the saying, “We plan and God laughs.”
My favorite book of the Bible is Genesis as it talks about creation, provides lots of foundation to my beliefs, and shows how God was always faithful to His people.
In your bio you said, “Life is full of twists and turns.” Describe a memorable twist or turn.
Historically, if you go back to 1989, I was with three others at Chartered Financial Services and we had been approached by the Bryton Company (a multifaceted financial services company where David Strege was their lone Financial Planner) to merge with them.
As we started negotiations with Bryton, one of our four partners at Chartered Financial Services decided to back out of the deal and wanted the other three of us to buy him out and then we could merge with Bryton. That partner turned down three offers from us. After the third offer, the three of us packed up our office furniture overnight and moved it to the Bryton offices.
I had known David’s father, Glen Strege, through the insurance industry. Our Financial Planning division at Bryton became the most profitable segment of Bryton and in 1997, we found that providing financial planning for a fee was not compatible with the other divisions of Bryton which were commission-based. So, we bought out our Financial Planning division from Bryton and started Syverson Strege.
What is your favorite movie?
The Sound of Music.
What is your favorite junk food or snack?
I am partial to salted-in-the-shell peanuts and especially like the ones from Fleet Farm. I use a bucket which I toss my shells into.
What has been the most challenging thing that has happened in your history with Syverson Strege?
The recession in 2008 was extremely challenging, especially when our clients’ net worths went down. When net worth went down, fees went way down. To survive, David Strege and I took a 20% pay cut and the rest of the staff took a 10% pay reduction. Syverson Strege increased their communication with clients during that time when many other advisors were hiding under their desks and not answering their phones.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
I am motivated by being with other people and being productive in ways that help others.
How many years have you been married to Linda? What has been the key to your lasting marriage?
Linda and I have been married 55 years. I have found the key to a lasting marriage is to say, “Yes, dear!”
As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “…a strand of three cords is not quickly broken.” With Christ at the center of our marriage, we have more grace and forgiveness. Our common faith has held us together.
What motivated you to get into the financial services business? Was there anyone who influenced you?
Prior to entering the financial services business, I worked as a restaurant manager at the Happy Chef in both Mankato, Minnesota and Story City, Iowa. God used that experience to teach me how to be in business and how to serve customers, always putting them first.
At the Story City Happy Chef along I-35, I found it frustrating that I couldn’t wave people in off the road…they had to come to me. So later when I considered moving into the financial services industry, I liked that I could call on people to talk with them rather than wait for customers to come to me.
In the early 70’s, I asked a friend in the insurance business, “What does it take to get into your business?” He said, “Be willing to work.” Well, I knew I could do that, since I was already working 80 hours per week in the restaurant, so I started selling life insurance in 1972. Back in the 70’s, insurance companies used to conduct training in estate planning. I learned a lot about estate planning and fell in love with that.
My Uncle Del and my Uncle Mel on my mother’s side were both in the insurance business and influenced me greatly. I noticed two things about them:
1) They were positive, outgoing, uplifting, and always built people up.
2) They always drove nice big Oldsmobiles with air conditioning and power steering!
What is your favorite meal that Linda makes for you?
Linda makes a mean Shepherd’s Pie and that is my favorite! This question reminds me of a meal we used to have when we were just married and very poor. She fixed boiled wieners on buttered bread with instant mashed potatoes covered with cream-style corn!
What is your most memorable vacation?
Our best vacation was the first time we went to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s such a quaint and private island and we just loved it. The most memorable trip we ever took was to Israel. It was not a vacation, it was an experience!
What would you like as an epitaph on your tombstone?
“A life that mattered.”
Tell me about your family.
I have three children and nine grandchildren. Our son lives in Kansas City and has twin daughters and two other children. My oldest daughter lives in Urbandale and has four children. My middle daughter lives in Los Angeles, CA and has one child.
What is your favorite restaurant?
My all-time favorite restaurant is El Corral in Tucson, Arizona. It was built 70 years ago and has the world’s gold standard for barbeque ribs (in my opinion).
What is your least favorite chore?
Cleaning the bathroom.
What is the last book you read? Any favorite book?
The last book I read was Everybody's Heard about the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock 'n' Roll in Minnesota. I liked the book because I was in a 1960’s garage band in Minnesota and the guy who taught me how to play the guitar was mentioned several times in the book.
My favorite book is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
Describe a professional accomplishment.
I was pleased to have been in the first graduating class to receive the CAP® (Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy) designation. I also helped write the CAP® curriculum later on.
Do you currently have a pet?
We have a cat named Claire and she is 15 years old.
What is the first thing you eat or drink in the morning?
Water and almond milk with protein powder.
What is your fondest memory as a young boy?
My fondest memory is going out to my grandparents’ 160-acre farm in the summertime. They had pigs, cows, corn, geese, kittens, and soybeans. I have used my farm experience as a connection for my business as well when working with farm families.
Where is the farthest geographical location you have ever been and why were you there?
South Africa. I was on a mission trip with Blessman International.
Share a time when you faced an unexpected challenge.
I got sued, and also had depression all at the same time. Both of these were very unexpected.
What makes you smile?
I smile when I share a concept with a client and they get it…the “aha” moment.
What scares you the most?
Our political and news media systems.
What mission trips have you been on?
I have been to Russia, South Africa, Dominican Republic, and Chili. All the trips were through my church and I actually led the trip to Chile.
What is a favorite family tradition?
My favorite tradition is making lefse for Christmas. Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread made with flour and potatoes. Growing up as a kid, at Christmas, my folks would buy it from a lady who made it. Later on, we got a lefse griddle (lefse griddles are made in Cresco, Iowa) and were taught how to make it and it became an annual tradition. Every year we still make lefse the day after Thanksgiving. We prepare the dough the night before and it takes about three hours to make 25 dozen. We then give it out to family and friends. In the olden days, it was made on top of a wood burning stove.
We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Johnne Syverson! He truly is an individual who has inspired the lives of his family, friends, and clients with his generosity, wisdom, kindness, and compassion.