Hi! I’m Jacob E. Passey, CEO of Gem Awards Inc. headquartered in Cedar City, Utah and creator of the online segment at gemawards.com. I’ve been working for my family company since I was 14 years old; however, I wasn’t always interested in the Awards & Personalization Industry…

The Beginning

My journey started every day after high school. I would get in my car and drive to work where I would help with the daily tasks of running a business. At that time, the only employees were myself, and my mom & dad. That meant I got do do a little bit of everything. Some days I would take out trash and clean up after machines, others I would help customers and fulfill orders, and sometimes I would even help with the accounting and tax filings. It all depended on what needed to be done. (Or what my parents didn’t want to do)

I remember when I was about 16 years old, I began thinking about taking over my family business. I liked the idea of having flexible work hours and potential income that had no limit. I thought it would be a great business to help me make enough money to provide for my family and give me the things I wanted in life.

Is the Awards Industry for Me?

There was just one problem. I didn’t love going to work. I mean…it was fine, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t love it. It was hard work. Even though we were profitable, I remember my parents still worrying about each sale and making every dollar count. I also didn’t feel like I was contributing to society, that I didn’t have a job that was going to “change the world” so I began to look elsewhere.

Attending University

I began taking classes at Southern Utah University in the Spring of 2018. I still liked the idea of running my own business and having flexible hours, so I declared Business Management as my major. As I learned about management, I kept trying to think of grandiose business ideas — you know, the ideas that would turn into a unicorn business venture within a year. To my amazement, that was a lot harder than I had thought. During my first semester I started a side business developing websites for local businesses. I was able to make enough money to sustain me throughout the beginning of college, but I still hadn’t found my great business idea yet…

The Realization

In the spring of 2019 I received an email from the Southern Utah University School of Business Dean. It was an email letting me know I was nominated and selected as the outstanding business management student for the year. I was Shocked! Even though I had always been a good student, I never really thought I would be nominated for such a prestigious award. I excitedly replied that I would accept the award and received details about the upcoming awards banquet.

Many of my professors attended the awards banquet as well as many influential people from the community. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is kind of a big deal.” I was able to receive my award and mingle with a lot of people who congratulated me on my accomplishment.

That night, I went home and thought about what had just happened. I thought about all of the professors, faculty and community members that had congratulated me for my efforts. I also thought about how proud my parents and family members were. As I thought about all of these people, I remember having the enormous desire to keep working hard and to not let any of them down.

The Motivation of Recognition

As classes at University normally go…they began to get increasingly more difficult. I was taking a full course load while working as a TA for one of my accounting professors and maintaining all of my business websites. There were countless times where I thought about skipping a lecture or not turning in an assignment; however, whenever the thought came into my mind, I remembered how many people believed in my success. I remembered the award I had received and what it symbolized.

I can’t pinpoint an exact day, but slowly my interest in my parents company started to consume me. I had designed a website for them, and I began to spend hours upon hours improving it and generating more and more sales. I began to see people experiencing the same thing I experienced when they bought our products. Coaches would send us photos of young kids dressed in soccer uniforms holding trophies. Employers sent us photos of award banquets and awards galas. I began to notice one thing in particular…each one of the recipients was smiling and seemed to be having the best day of their lives.

Gem Awards Sells Recognition – Not Awards

From then on, I decided to expand the family business. Not only to provide for my family, but also to allow as many people to feel the effects of receiving recognition for something they earned. I wanted to help other students, athletes and employees feel the same motivation I felt by receiving a token of appreciation from a superior.

I began creating a more “people focused” website. Instead of focusing on products, we focused on people. In just over 3 months I was able to increase the number of 5 star google reviews by 7 times! In over 30 years, we had generated 7 google reviews and in a period of 3 months, we were receiving on average 4 google reviews a WEEK!

We also began sending handwritten thank you notes with each order along with a request to leave us a review. This increased the number of reviews we started receiving drastically. As the reviews started coming in, it helped me see the value we were providing to our customers. It also helped other customers interact and see that we were a company focused on “people.”


Jacob Passey

So, what am I going to do with my life? I’m going to stay right where I am and take over the family business. In little over two years, the online segment gemawards.com has grown to be one of the largest awards retailing websites in the United States and has helped thousands of people give recognition where recognition has been earned. It is my hope that each one of those recipients felt as motivated as I did after receiving an award for something they worked hard for!