Growing up, Michael Denson couldn’t perceive a destiny outside of auto mechanics. Denson started turning wrenches at a young age inside his the two auto repair shops his family owns and expected to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

“As a kid, my family owned two auto repair shops,” said Denson, now 35. “I started working there at a very early age. I continued throughout high school and college working in the family business. While most kids where in Jamaica or Cancun for spring break, I was under a car, pumping gas, or cleaning a bathroom.” 

A typical day in the family business started at 7:30 a.m. and extended beyond 7:30 p.m. In the fall, winter, and spring, employees were often required to work on Saturdays, as well.

One day, after an exhaustive day, around 7 p.m., his dad effectively “fired” him.

“That night, my dad asked me to start looking for a new job,” Denson said. “I was pretty upset. I thought of myself as a decent mechanic. He explained he wanted me to gain business experience outside of the shop. I enjoyed the family business and wanted to stay, but he explained that he wanted me to go out and gain business experience somewhere that wasn’t at the shop. After a few days of my father ensuring me it wasn’t my mechanical ability, or the fact that I was living at home, I decided to put my resume online.”

When it came to hunting for a job, Denson, admittedly, did as little as he could. It was his hope to return to the auto shop and tell his dad that he was stuck with him.    

A call from Johnstone Supply changed everything.

“The day Johnstone called, my father was out of the shop, which meant that I was running the jobs for the day,” Denson said. “I received the call around lunch time from the HR person during the worst possible time. I must have put them on hold a handful of times. That said, the call went well, and I felt confident that I would get a call back immediately for an in-person interview. Three weeks went by with no call. It was sometime in early September that I received a call for an in-person interview.” 

After his initial interview, Denson was summoned to the branch to meet with the store manager. Elaborately dressed, he was surprised to see the store manager walk in with overalls.

“I can still remember the sinking feeling I got when I first saw him,” Denson said. “Here I am dressed in a suit sitting in front of what I could tell was someone who worked with their hands for a living. I didn’t want him to think that I was some college kid who didn’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold. I remember thinking there was no way this guy was going to hire me. To my surprise, the HR person walked in about 10 minutes later and said, ‘We would like to offer you the position.’ Up until this point, I had forgotten to even pay attention to what the position was. I was just happy to tell my dad I was out interviewing. I was then told that I would be the phone operator for the branch. I accepted the position and set a starting date.”     

After three months of answering the phone, he moved to counter sales. A year later, he moved to outside sales. To gain additional technical knowledge, Denson began attending classes at local rep firms nearly every night.

Five years later, he moved into an operations manager role. Five years later, he now serves as the director of operations.

“The most valuable thing I’ve learned in this position is that it’s important to always be training your replacement,” he said. “It is an awkward thing for most people to accept, but if you are looking to move forward, then there must be someone to fill in the role you were doing.”

Denson, who will celebrate 12 years at Johnstone this fall, is a graduate of HARDI’s branch manager certification course as well as the organization’s Emerging Leaders program.

“I remain very enthusiastic about our industry because of the tremendous opportunity I see today and in the future,” he said. “I enjoy the fact that our industry touches every person throughout the world. You will always need heating, cooling, and refrigeration. Discipline and consistency is key. It’s easy to become distracted by the events of any given day. You must go out and earn it every day.”

Every Wednesday, Distribution Trends magazine will feature a full profile on one of its 2018 Top 40 Under 40 winners. To see the list in its entirety, visit To see each of the full Top 40 features, visit