At an early age, Josh Zuerner was hard-wired for achievement.
While in middle school, he helped at his father’s outdoor power equipment dealership, Lawn and Garden Tractor Co., in West Terre Haute. He dabbled in computers after his father had a computer package installed to monitor the business inventory.
Zuerner became familiar with the software and would later help his science teacher convert a science project evaluation program to Windows from DOS. Because of that project, at age 14, Josh was recognized by Microsoft founder Bill Gates at a 1995 Windows World Open event.
“It was a cool experience,” Zuerner said. “Bill made some tongue-in-cheek comment that it was better than software he wrote when he was 14. It was funny.
Zuerner was intrigued early on by how things work. “I spent most of my growing up years taking stuff apart and hope to goodness I could figure out how to put it back together,” he said.
In high school, he began writing software through a business called JZ Consulting, which netted $30,000 in annual gross sales before he went to Purdue University. In 2000, he incorporated that business to offer software and hardware consulting, planning and training services. Gross sales from 2000 to 2002 averaged $250,000.
In his last semester at Purdue, he had an office at 400 Wabash Ave. in Terre Haute, where he and a partner provided information technology consulting work. It was then that Zuerner created a customer relationship management package for Joink Inc., which invoiced customers and helped maintain records.
In 2003, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Purdue in science and industrial management. That same year, he received the Governor’s Award for Tomorrow’s Leaders from then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon.
Also that year, St. Louis-based Gilead Group became an investment partner and the company name was changed to Joink LLC.
In April, 2004, Zuerner joined Joink, a company that now has 46 employees and services thousands of customers.
“I had these super cool experiences,” Zuerner said. “Somehow because of my parents, because of my upbringing, because of the community, because of the teachers I had in the school corporation, all created an ecosystem where I was allowed to develop skills and become good at something I was interested in.
“So it makes it pretty easy when you decide where you are going to go back and work in your professional career, you go to the place that was good to you,” he said of Terre Haute. “There wasn’t much of a decision to it.”
Now, at age 34, he is president and chief technology officer at Joink LLC, a company that is currently investing millions of dollars to install fiber optic cable in Terre Haute for high speed internet and inter-office communications.
Zuerner’s father, Dan, works for Garmong Construction Services as vice president of business development. His mother, Joan, teaches family and consumer sciences at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Sister Jackie is a graduate of ISU, where she was a Gongaware scholar in insurance and risk management. She worked at an Indiana insurance company before joining her brother in 2012 at Joink, where she is client services operation manager.
Zuerner said he works long days, often 7 a.m. to midnight, with “a dinner and lunch break and some time with my kids in the evening. I love what I do.”
He and his wife, Page, have daughters Jillian, 10, and Grace, 6.
In 2002, he became a licensed pilot. “I took ground school at Purdue as an elective and passed the FAA written test before I had even spent a minute in an airplane, so then I started taking lessons,” Zuerner said. He didn’t fly much until about three years ago, when he and three others bought a 1967 Cherokee Six turbo plane. He’s since flown to conferences in Kansas City and Little Rock, Ark., plus he’s flown his family on vacations to Florida and South Carolina.
Beyond business and family, Zuerner works through the Rotary Club to better his community.
“I am a big fan of what Rotary does,” he said. “We worked with Arts Illiana to put a sculpture up at Fairbanks Park. I love the dictionary project. Every third-grader in the community gets a free dictionary. You will go into a third-grade classroom and a student will say this is the only book that is mine. You wonder how that is possible.”
His interest in joining Rotary began at home. “It runs in the family. My dad was a Rotarian. My dad’s dad was a Rotarian,” he said.
His parents host an open dinner every Friday, when friends, family and business associates gather together. One of those friends is Ed Utterback, Josh’s godfather. Utterback nominated him for the 12 Under 40 award.
“I am his godfather, so I have known him all of his life. Josh is an interesting guy. He is passionate about making Terre Haute a better place,” Utterback said. “When he went to school at Purdue, he decided in eighth grade how to develop an internet company. Between eighth grade and Purdue University, a lot of things had changed in the industry, but Josh remains passionate.
“The way he does business is above-board, as is everything he does,” Utterback said. “He has a dream for making Terre Haute better.”