The Halversons on Business, Homeschooling & Culture Over Color

Photo credit: Justin Cox Photography

It is said our hardest experiences are the best lessons in preparing us for life’s challenges. Significant highs and lows in business that most people never encounter certainly prepared the Halversons well for this tumultuous 2020.

From the beginning of Justin and Kim’s relationship, their entrepreneurial spirits brought them together. With her roots in Mobile, Alabama Kim started her direct sales business with Excel Communications, a long-distance reseller. It was at a company leadership conference in New Orleans where she met Justin, a University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Business student, also an owner of an Excel business. There and then they began a long distance relationship, talking over the phone and seeing one another at business meetings throughout the course of the year. The following year at the same conference, Justin unexpectedly proposed.

Kim and Justin were married in 2004, bought a house in Lakeville, merged their businesses and were making a solid living right out of the gate in their early 20’s. “We were doing pretty well, our business was one of the top 50 earners in the entire company, we ranked second in Minnesota and had a team of more than 500 people who we’d recruited through the years.” In November 2004, their parent corporation filed bankruptcy and released the entire independent sales force. Suddenly Kim and Justin were out of business. “We were out in the cold when they stopped paying us.”

Real Estate and Paris Bennett

Young and undeterred, the Halverson couple pivoted by starting a real estate and mortgage company with an outside business partner. One of their former business partners had music business experience, enticing them to simultaneously launch a record label.

With their previous business connections, many of their former business colleagues joined them in their real estate and mortgage ventures. “We came from a sales company,” Kim explained, “so everyone was already trained to sell.” Justin continued, “We ramped up, and everything was going really well, including with our record label. Our old business partner’s niece, Paris Bennett, was competing on American Idol and slated to win (the season) and ended up taking 5th place, releasing her from American Idol. Paris signed with our label, and since she had the best shot, we basically bet everything on her to set up a big national release. When the release did not go well, we lost everything we invested into the music business. Then the housing market crashed, drying up our real estate and mortgage business.”

Ground Zero: Faith and Family

Having lived beyond their means with a big house in Lakeville, payments on two luxury vehicles and their first child on the way, 2007 proved to be a tough year. “We lived large – over extended really,” Justin admits. “When they came to repossess the dream car I bought Kim for her birthday, I was just bawling my eyes out walking into the house. And then Kim said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be okay. We have each other, our faith in Jesus, a new baby and I believe in you.’ It helps you pull yourself together when you have someone that strong next to you.” He looked at Kim, and they beamed at one another as if they were back at that moment in time.

“We moved to a tiny apartment and when my uncle went into the nursing home,” Justin continued. “He gave us his 1990 Dodge Spirit with no air conditioning and it was the hottest summer I can remember.” He laughed. “As difficult as it was, Kim would say it was one of her favorite times because it brought us closer together again, it allowed us to focus on our family.” “We started (our lives together) out busy,” Kim explained. She smiled, “It was our first time actually looking at each other, saying, ‘Oh! We’re married, we have a kid!’”

For a while they tried to find their foothold with different businesses. Kim nannied while Justin attempted to figure out their next move. “In one of the lowest times we really needed money. Kim said, ‘hey, let’s sell my ring.’ You know you have a strong wife when she’s willing to sell her wedding ring to get business going again.”

“In 2008 the job market was terrible,” Justin recalled. “I took a sales job for a logistics company, learned the business, worked my way up in the company and ended up landing the largest sale in the local branch’s history. They were fast tracking me for management, but I just knew as an entrepreneur I didn’t want to be trapped.” Kim jumped in, “I knew he had to do something to make him come alive again.”

Great Water Financial

By 2010 the Halversons were financially stable. They had their daughter, Kindle and their first son LJ (little Justin) and were expecting their third child. But true entrepreneurs, Justin and Kim couldn’t settle for an easy life. “One day we were talking with an old friend who had been in the Excel business with us. He was getting into the financial services industry and explained it was a business helping people with one of the most important areas of their lives where we can truly make a difference’” Justin paused. “As it was, things were good, we had a consistent paycheck, good insurance and stability. But Kim encouraged me to look into it, she said I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do for my whole life. So we left the stability and put in the letter of resignation to get into the financial business. There was no guaranteed income, no insurance and we had another child on the way – it was probably crazy in hindsight!” Justin persevered, learned the industry, obtained the appropriate licenses, worked countless hours and traveled throughout Minnesota. In 2012 Justin and three others broke away to start their own company, Great Waters Financial.

“God put it all together and brought us together. We realized we wanted to do more, had a different vision than the company that we were at to serve our clients better and expand to do things in ways we couldn’t have there. So then again, right when things got stable and secure, we branched out on our own. We couldn’t take any clients with us due to non-compete agreements so we started from scratch.”

The Business of Education

In the meantime, Kim stopped nannying when their third child was born. “We were in a neighborhood in Delano at the time,” Kim explained, “and four of the parents were homeschooling. I wasn’t sold on the idea right away, but up to then we were moving every two years. I was raised going in and out of different schools, and personally hadn’t liked that. Here we had a built in (home-school) community that made it easy, it would be best for the kids’ stability until we figured out where we would land. So we decided to start homeschooling – our daughter Kindle has never been in a public school.”

Unlike most parents in 2020, the Halverson’s six children, Kindle (13), L.J. Little Justin (11), Josiah (9), Jonathan (8), Jamen (6), and Jeremiah (4) didn’t have their school lives disrupted with the Governor’s order this past March to close schools and revert to distance learning due to the coronavirus. “Minnesota is set up for homeschooling, there are so many communities,” Kim explained. “Kindle has Spanish twice a week and this next year she’ll have other subjects. All her friends are homeschool girls, they’ve grown up together, it’s pretty nice.” “Staying home during COVID-19 wasn’t that big of a change,” Justin stated. “We had one child who just started at Holy Name School,” Kim added. “It was his first year, or rather half year but the rest were already at home.”

Parenting: On George Floyd

When asked how the Halversons talked with their kids about George Floyd’s murder, Kim responded. “The unfortunate, fortunate part is because I’m from the south, I have had conversations with them way before all this. In the south it’s still pretty segregated. Three years ago there was the incident with Philando Castile and the police, so when that happened we had a conversation with our kids. They can’t be scared of the police but they do need to still watch it because they are considered brown kids.” Kim stopped, then thoughtfully continued, “It’s different when you grow up black, you know you’re black. There are certain things that you know. You have to act a certain way, there’s no way you can talk back to a cop, you learn when you go into a store, you can’t pick anything up and hold it, you have to put it in the basket or it will look like you’re stealing. Through the generations we’ve learned it’s normal, unfortunately, to teach these things. It’s not a push conversation, it’s just ‘this is what you need to know for survival.’

“During the last election we made charts, I taught them they needed to pick people who were in their corner who were working for people of color. I showed them how to break it down. So this year hasn’t been a big shock to the system, it’s part of our regular conversation.” Kim laughed. “It’s funny because they know this stuff, but they don’t really see color as someone’s defining characteristic. They do not view people differently because of the color of their skin but rather the uniqueness of their personality and value of their character. One day there was a little brown boy on tv and a little white boy, and one of our sons said to his brother ‘oh my goodness, that little boy looks just like you.’” His brother responded with, “Which one?” “I love that!” Kim exclaims.

Justin recalled a childhood experience. “Surprisingly in my home town there was one black kid in my school. He and I were best friends from the start. As I think back, most of the other kids were good to him. Some however, treated him horribly.” Fast forward to today. “I guess I had the naivety thinking these are my kids, I could protect them. But then with George Floyd I realized they won’t be in our house forever, they’re going to have to go out on their own into this world, as it is. It caused me to educate myself on the problem, what are the solutions, what needs to be changed and how can we help be part of the change. If there are others out there who just don’t understand, the best thing that you can do is to care enough to educate yourself on the real problems that exist and realize that just because the problem doesn’t hurt you directly, you will either enhance the problem or become part of the solution. There is no neutral ground. This is a Human Issue.”

Kim added, “When a light shines on something and it’s called out, people who are used to things their way are going to fight as much as they can for it not to change. But that is when the change comes. It might be a little more extreme, they are fighting for something they’ve not ever had to fight for. It’s a good thing when we see the big boom of craziness because that’s when the big change comes, when people say, ‘WHOA!’ rather than no one noticing.”

A couple years ago Kim decided to teach her children culture over color. “We studied different continents and learned about people in different cultures. Our different cultures make us unique but at the core we’re more alike than different.

“We have a mixed neighborhood – there’s a friend up the street who is black but from France, so her kids speak French. They have another friend up the street who speaks Mandarin. There’s a melting pot of people around them, that helps too, it’s not just their world, there are other people. They don’t hang with just one group of friends.”

Medina Golf & Country Club

Why Medina? Justin responded, “I knew the Medina golf course was here, golf has always been a big part of my life, I love golf and wanted to get the kids into golf. Another club we joined wasn’t kid friendly at all, so we bought a house on the Medina course so we could be right here on the course. Medina Golf & Country Club is such a welcoming club from all angles and it just keeps getting better.” Kim added, “There’s tennis and the swim team and dive team that our kids enjoy.” “The moms at the pool have totally helped me raise my kids,” Kim said of Medina Golf & Country Club. Of course I had a couple babies while we’ve been there, and moms would come up and take the baby from me or watch the rest of my kids while I had a baby on me. It’s the best thing in the world, moms taking care of moms.”

She also laughed while recalling, “When we first walked in to see this house, it felt like home. Then we went and knocked on neighbors’ doors before we put an offer on the house to see if they were nice or not. We asked if there were kids in the neighborhood, and it’s turned out to be the BEST neighborhood for us. The kids run from house to house, they play and ride bikes and we know pretty much all of our neighbors. I love this neighborhood!

Entrepreneurial Spirits Soar

From a start as stars in direct sales to financial ruin, to a successful business in real estate and music to total financial loss, Justin and Kim have found their foothold with Great Waters Financial now eight years strong with locations in Minneapolis, Richfield, White Bear Lake, Minnetonka and Duluth. Recognized on the INC 5000, the Minneapolis Business Journal’s “Best Place to Work” and the “Fast 50” for the Minneapolis Business Journal, their business and personal lives intermingled have brought them to a place of stability through the true entrepreneurial spirit that brought them together in the first place. Only halfway through life, they no doubt will continue to see ups and downs, but if their journey thus far is any indication, the Halverson’s love, faith, family coupled with their ability to pivot and persevere will overcome every challenge.