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WILLOUGHBY: Rob Thornton, PuroClean Emergency Services

Rob Thornton

To succeed in business it is critical to be able to build and maintain trust. Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, noted, “Trust is equal parts character and competence… You can look at any leadership failure, and it’s always a failure of one or the other.” Whether leading a small business or a Fortune 500 company, if you are no longer deemed trustworthy then the end is likely near. Trust is about other people’s confidence in you or your organization. The opposite of trust is suspicion. Think for moment about organizations or people that you trust deeply and consider why you do and how you feel about the relationships. In contrast, consider a low trust relationship and why the distrust exists and how you feel about doing business with them. As leaders, we have the ability to create organizations that build lasting reputations for being trustworthy.

Rob Thornton, owner of the local PuroClean franchise, knows about creating trust. He has spent most of his professional career in the service industry. A native of Brandon, Thornton earned a BBA and MBA from Mississippi State University in finance. He began his career with Prudential Securities and later worked as a mortgage wholesaler with Cimarron Mortgage Company. Thornton spent five years in the college textbook business before starting a temporary staffing company in 2003, which he sold in 2009. In 2009, he acquired the rights to the PuroClean franchise business which specializes in water, fire, mold and biohazard remediation. Thornton shared that he learned a great deal about leadership and building a business by watching his father, Robert Thornton.

His father faced a dilemma in the late 1980s to either move to Texas and keep his job or remain in Mississippi and be unemployed. His father, despite his conservative nature, opted to stay in Mississippi and started his own HVAC business, which he operated very successfully until he retired. Thornton shared, “My dad taught me that you should treat people right, tell them what and why you are doing something, and let them know when to expect you. If you can follow these steps, you will have an incredible service business that will live off of the referrals.” Similarly, I remember when I was early in my law career an older friend shared with me that ‘if you will say what you will do and do what you say then you will have more referral business than you can handle.’”

As Thornton shared, to build trust you have to start by showing respect for people. Don’t fake it. Try to develop a genuine caring for others. This respect leads to being transparent and talking straight with people. People can tell when you are shading the truth. Trustworthy people don’t create “spin,” they shoot people straight. It is also important to set expectations properly. Whether it is telling someone when you will show up or defining a successful engagement, it is important to make sure expectations are clearly defined and agreed upon. Many problems can be avoided by simply taking the time to make sure that expectations are clearly communicated and that the parties are “in sync.” Finally, we have to keep our commitments. As former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross stated, “Always deliver what you say you will. Never make a promise that you can’t follow through on.” Sometimes keeping our commitments requires sacrifice, but that is how we build relationships with trust.

Thornton was mentored early on by his father in these important elements of building trust in business, and he has successfully applied them in his own career and building successful companies. These are lessons for all of us in leadership positions. The principles are straightforward, but the real challenge is the execution. Acting in ways that builds trust needs to become part of the “DNA” of our organizations so that we can build lasting reputations as being trustworthy.

Title: Owner, PuroClean Emergency Services

Favorite Books: Any Stephen Ambrose book, especially Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

First Job: “I worked at Norman Shirtmakers in Byram in the shipping department.”

Proudest Moment as a Leader: “Having homeowners express how grateful they are that we were able to take a miserable experience and have a positive outcome.”


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About Martin Willoughby

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