No Regrets: A Unique Journey to Entrepreneurship

It’s no secret that the construction industry is currently facing a labor shortage. Now more than ever, we need more laborers to enter the market in order to keep up with the high demand for housing and commercial projects.

The journey to enter the trades and their subsequent career path is unique for everyone. We recently caught up with Craig Johnson, owner of Paladin Plumbing, a St. Michael, Minnesota based plumbing company, to learn more about the path that led him to entrepreneurship and to hear what advice he has for those considering the trades.

After graduating high school, Craig attended the University of Minnesota as a History Major, with the goal to be a high school teacher and coach. He excelled at school and graduated Summa Cum Laude, the highest honor given to students.

Though he loved books, learning, and college in general, Craig also had a passion for working with his hands. During college, his brother began working for, and eventually went into business with, his father-in-law, who owned Leo’s Plumbing. Following in his brother’s footsteps, he began working nights and weekends with Leo’s Plumbing digging trenches, doing grunt work and learning a lot about plumbing in the process.

The summer after his college graduation, Craig worked full time as a plumber and realized just how much he loved the trade. He also realized that he could make more money in the trades than he could as a high school teacher, and so began his official career as a plumber.

In 1998, Craig bought out the plumbing portion of Leo’s Plumbing and started his own business: Paladin Plumbing. Over the past twenty years, he has had his ups and downs in the industry, and has even explored white-collar career options. However, after working as a Sales Rep for a plumbing manufacturer for several years, Craig found that sitting at a desk just wasn’t for him.

Frequent calls from family and friends to service plumbing in their homes eventually brought him back to the plumbing side of the industry. He found that the gratification he felt after seeing things he created with his own hands couldn’t be replaced easily with a white-collar job.

Looking back on his career, Craig has no regrets about the path that brought him to where he is today. He loved getting his history degree and continues to use the skills he learned in his work and personal life through writing and keeping in touch with college professors.

Here are a few pieces of advice Craig has for those considering a career in the trade:

  • Try Something New: If you like working with your hands, try out a job in the trades. At first, the work will be hard, but you will work your way out of the “ditches” into the more skilled and technical side of the trades. Don’t be afraid to try out a few different trades before deciding what you most enjoy.
  • Follow Your Own Path: No matter where you are in your career today, there is always an opportunity to change paths. Capitalize on the experiences you have had so far to find your niche in the industry.
  •  Use Your Strengths: There are many ways to get involved in the trades, from physical labor to programing complex HVAC systems. Analyze the skillset you have, outside of physical labor, that will compliment your career progression.

Craig compares being a plumber to winning the lottery, without the million-dollar payout. There is no shortage of friends and family that reach out to you for help with the plumbing in their own homes. Plumbing is an art that will forever have a demand for laborers. Everyone has a need for toilets, and someone needs to be there to install and fix them!

Marla Abstetar is a Sr. Sales Executive at Kohler.

Do you want to share your construction career story with Project Build? Contact our Director, Dennis Medo ( to share your unique path and you could be featured in one of our upcoming blog posts or video features!