ROBERT P. JOHNSON  1944-2021

Our Founder’s Story


Founder, Bob Johnson, born in Willmar, MN in August 1944, started early in his entrepreneurial endeavors. At age 18 he started a business offering to skydive at local county fairs. To pay for college he sold jewelry and vacuums cleaners door to door.


When he realized that photography wasn’t going to pay the bills he started selling real estate investments offered by other sponsors. In 1970, with his wife, Trish, he formed AEI Inc. to have more control over the quality of the products he sold.

He ultimately arrived at the no debt strategy for the Funds to ensure that investors could tolerate economic trends and maintain their financial security. The “no debt” concept became both the differentiator in the marketplace and a foundational philosophy of the company.

He was justifiably proud that in a business where sponsors may last a year or two  he offered a successful investment strategy that stood the test of time.


Bob, always adventurous and as passionate about his hobbies as he was his corporate work, continued cross-country motorcycle trips, skiing, flying, and corporate hiking and fishing expeditions his entire life.


He was licensed as a pilot at 18 and received his instrument rating in 1990. He was able to use his photographic skills to preserve memories from the many trips he and his family made. Understanding the benefits of travel and how it can expand perspective he began an employee of the year award to send others on their own adventure.


Bob was resourceful, persuasive, and focused. He was devoted to his company and his employees, working until the day of this death in May 2021 at age 76.

The AEI Executive Team and staff are committed to carrying forward Bob’s legacy.

He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in photojournalism. His first job was as a film editor at a local tv station. His goal was to take photos for one of the acclaimed national magazines like “Look” and “Life.” He graduated just a couple of years before most of the weekly photo magazines ended publication. He started a cinematography company producing marketing films.