Over the past 35 years as a Peoria resident, Jim Thrush has formed a portfolio of ventures that constitute the family businesses. These include industrial distribution, commercial real estate rentals and most recently a fine dining restaurant.
Thrush earned a mechanical engineering degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and a masters degree in engineering administration from Bradley University. He is a Registered Professional Engineer in Indiana and Illinois and a member of the Illinois and National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Instrument Society of America.
Jane, his wife of 42 years, and he grew up 60 miles west of Peoria in Roseville. She is a registered nurse who recently retired from the American Red Cross. They have two daughters, Kim and Jill, who have distinguished themselves and manage their own businesses. Three grandchildren are in the wings preparing for their futures.
Your background is in mechanical engineering. What led to your decision to go into business for yourself? Did you/do you have a mentor? How did she/he help you in the early stages of your career?
Engineering discipline provides structure for the creative process, and my early employment involved the sales of technical-based products. It was a natural evolution for me to consider the entrepreneurial process and create my own business. Though no mentor guided my career, I benefited greatly from many positive influences including my parents, family, teachers and professional/personal relationships.
Your first major entrepreneurial venture in Peoria (1977) was TECCO, Incorporated, a manufacturers representative and distributor. Tell us about the growth of that business. How is the company different today than when you started it 22 years ago?
TECCO, located in Pioneer Industrial Park, was established to serve the downstate area as a value-added source of process control equipment. Dan Livermore joined me soon afterwards to preside over expansion into a multi-state sales organization. Over the years we have had a loyal customer base and a widening supplier affiliation. A highly motivated workforce provided technical expertise and quality service to generate this growth. TECCO is addressing the acute challenges facing all businesses today–upgrading our skills, incorporating technological advancements, thriving in a competitive climate, and meeting the more sophisticated expectations of our customers.
When did you begin Prairie Property Management, Inc. and what are its services? Since PPMI is not a realty company, what services do you provide? Do you own the buildings PPMI manages? Who are your clients? What are tenants looking for in regard to upscale commercial offices?
PPMI was incorporated in 1982 to formalize the existing management of our expanding real estate inventory. PPMI also functions in the role of general contractor in making improvements to our various properties. We are not a realty company, nor do we perform outside property management. Jill Thrush is president of PPMI and oversees its day-to-day operations.
Our tenant priorities require a professional presentation of their business while being freed from the problems of property ownership, including technological upgrade. The historic economic incentives to own real estate have been greatly diminished by major tax law changes in the past dozen years. We sense that corporations prefer to lease space for flexibility in these volatile times, and to preserve their capital for reinvestment in their businesses.
What is the role of E-G Group, Inc. in the order of your businesses? What business activities occur?
E-G Group, Inc. was incorporated in 1965 as my initial entry into a personally owned business. Today, it provides a platform for a variety of subsidiary business activities that include:
The Central Illinois Family Therapy Institute was formed by Kim Thrush to enhance the practice of family therapy, and provide direct and contract counseling services. She and Lynn Irving-Klass recently created a separate corporation named Integrated Professional Assistance of Illinois, Inc. IPAI contracts with employers to provide innovative employee assistance programs that address the personal and family problems that exist in today's workplace.
Fox Tales International was founded by Brian "Fox" Ellis who is Kim's husband. Fox is an acclaimed storyteller, author, and naturalist whose motto is "Education and Inspiration through the Art of Storytelling". He is in demand for school residences where he promotes creative verbal and written expression. Fox is also a frequent keynote speaker at conferences specializing in issues related to ecology, history and education. Fox Tales International has published three of his books, a series of environmentally related coloring books and numerous collections of stories on audiotapes.
Your newest real estate venture, The Prairie Building, houses First Bank, Lindsay's On Liberty, CafÈ Latte and your offices. What surprised you most about the restoration of that building?
The Prairie Building, located at 240 S.W. Jefferson Street, was purchased from Mid-State College who then relocated to their current Northmoor Road campus. The building had been constructed in 1902 for use by Brown's Business College. My biggest surprise has been the public enthusiasm for the privately-funded renovation. This response has encouraged us to convert the original classrooms into meeting and banquet facilities that will offer additional opportunities for public access.
Jill managed and designed the widely praised restoration, including the restaurant interior. Kenyon and Associates provided the architectural design requirements. Vern Woosley, construction supervisor, and our sub-contractors with their skilled tradesmen, have been essential to the end product. The City of Peoria staff has been extremely cooperative as we addressed building specification upgrades.
What is your involvement with Lindsay's On Liberty? CafÈ Latte? Are you involved with any other local businesses (other than those already mentioned) in any facet other than property management?
The lower level of the Prairie Building represented an ideal restaurant location. At the same time, we experienced the unique food preparations and presentations being served by Beth and Doug Lindsay, operating as Risco's in Galesburg. They had been considering entering the Peoria market and were receptive to our suggestions to bring their talents to the Prairie Building. This evolved into a corporate partnership called Liberty Investments, Inc. A motivated, experienced workforce with special individual talents has been assembled. We are obviously pleased by the public reception to the Lindsay's On Liberty creative dining menu, it's wine cellar, and the overall dining atmosphere since our opening in April.
Have you found working in the hospitality industry different than professional office management? How so (beyond the obvious differences)? Which do you prefer and why?
A restaurant operation has been compared to a theater production, where preparation precedes performance on a daily basis. This demands continuous attention to detail under the watchful scrutiny of our customers. The accounting, marketing, and administrative services do follow our strengths from the other ventures. To state a preference among the businesses would be like answering which was a favorite child–they are all special because of their differences. The public recognition has been gratifying and it is always exciting to answer a new challenge.
Your family is very involved in your business as well as their own. (Liberty Investments, Inc. and E-G Group, Inc.) Did you always envision a family operated business?
The family of businesses evolved as education, experience, and opportunity combined for growth. Kim has a masters in social work degree and pursued a career path in the field of counseling and family therapy. With her professional accomplishments, I was supportive when she subsequently started her own company. Likewise, Jill established her career with a masters in nursing degree and was teaching in a school of nursing. She approached me with interest in becoming involved in our real estate operation. Both have thrived in their ownership roles.
The significant point is that they, and now our grandchildren, be free to choose their own destiny. My only request is that they pursue life with a passion, whatever their goals.
You have "expanded" your first career of engineering to enter property development and management, and your daughter Jill left the nursing field to become manager of PPMI in 1994. Is it difficult to transfer skills when changing careers?
I believe each phase of your life can be a building block leading to success in a variety of future challenges. Basic business skills and talents are universal and may be transferred to new endeavors with appropriate preparation. Our limitations are usually self-imposed.
What is your philosophy of doing business?
Our society entitles each individual to the right of self-determination. We are challenged to maximize the use of our capabilities in our business and personal lives. Anything less than an honest effort is cheating those we love, as well as ourselves. Self-improvement opens the door to opportunity, and must be a life-long pursuit with today's information explosion.
What advice you give to individuals considering starting their own businesses?
An individual considering her or his first business will not likely have experience across the full spectrum of operations. Maybe a good idea, a market opportunity, a hobby, an inheritance, etc has sparked the motivation to pursue a dream. Before proceeding, all aspects of the intended business should be investigated to increase your chances for success. You must:
- Be willing and capable of taking calculated risks, but avoid being a gambler. A calculated risk indicates that you have evaluated an acceptable chance of success on your terms. A gamble constitutes taking risks on someone else's terms.
- Have the ability to accept failure, but the determination and commitment that you will succeed.
- Establish a formal business plan that addresses marketing, legal, financial, insurance, and personnel issues. Appropriate advisers and relationships in these professions should be established.
- Identify the personnel needed to operate your business who will share your passion for success.
- Understand that you retain customers with service, and your customers are now your bosses.
- Prepare detailed budgets that can be compared to actual performance of your company. Bookkeeping is a means of keeping score.
- Have the capital base and the ability to manage cash flow. Capital is the fuel required to power a business.
- Anticipate how you will deal with the stresses of personal ownership. View every problem as an opportunity. Few things are either as good or as bad as they first appear.
- Maintain a balance with the other priorities in your life.
Finally, appreciate that not everyone should pursue his or her own business, and that is not a negative reflection. We are all unique individuals with unique needs and circumstances.
One of the biggest concerns of family owned businesses is that of succession. What steps have you taken to "hand over control of the business?"
We have taken the appropriate financial and legal actions after consultations with our advisors. Kim and Jill have assumed positions of responsibility. It remains to continue the process of transferring control.
It is extremely important that an older generation's dreams are not fostered on the succeeding generation. Our memorials may become their albatrosses. The current generation should set the stage but the successors must make the ultimate choices.
In 1993, you were diagnosed with colon cancer, but now are considered cancer free. How did that experience affect your philosophy and priorities of life?
First, let me relay that colorectal cancer is a leading cause of death on a par with lung, breast and prostate cancer. Unfortunately, there is considerable less awareness as colorectal cancer silently strikes 140,000 American men and women annually. The Mayo Clinic recommends appropriate screening protocols be established beginning at age 40 to achieve the critical early detection important to survival. Good health is not only your personal responsibility but also your obligation to the people in your life.
There is a revelation or a reaffirmation when we actually face our mortality in a life-threatening situation. It is then that the purpose and meaning of life becomes vivid. I am referring to the dearness of family and friends, the defining of your values and character, the responsibilities to society, the appreciation for living, and the limits of time.
What brings you the most satisfaction? How do you feel about leaving a legacy of property development on the face of Peoria that will last for the next 100 years or so?
It is life confirming to witness enthusiasm, motivation, passion, and ability in others as they pursue their goals. The most satisfying feeling occurs when you may have made a contribution to that success. This could be your child taking their first steps or an adult overcoming obstacles. Brick and mortar deteriorates, but your potential impact on others can live on into future generations. IBI