The Thorn File Featured

11:17am EDT August 17, 2005
Born: 1956, Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y.

Education: Finance and information systems and MBA, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania

First job: Delivering furniture in high school

Career moves: Began his career in 1979 with S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. In 16 years with the company, Thorn's experience spanned finance, marketing, strategic planning, acquisitions and international business. Thorn also served with Campbell Soup Co. and carpet manufacturer Beaulieu of America.

Boards: Just Care, a private company that provides medical services to prisoners. Advisory board to the commissioner of corrections to help run the prison system and place individuals in jobs once they've served their time

What is the greatest business lesson you’ve ever learned?

A strength taken too far becomes a weakness. If you want to find the reason for a weakness, you look to that person’s or that business’ strength. A person who is very analytical, that’s a strength, but when they become too analytical, they can miss the emotional side of decision-making. That can cause them to make poor decisions.

For someone who is very people-oriented, that’s a strength, but when you take that too far, those people can become indecisive because when it comes to making decisions, they want to make everybody happy, and they can’t.

What is the greatest business challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

When I was in the carpet industry, I was with a business that was caught in the middle of a consolidating market. It was mid-sized. It either had to sell or participate in the consolidation of the industry in order to get big enough to really end up a profitable player in the final consolidated industry.

We chose to continue to operate the business, but in order to do that, we had to make a number of acquisitions, which required that we take on a bunch of debt. And we already had a fair amount of debt when we started because this was only a 20-year-old company. It was started from scratch and was over $1 billion in revenue. That was a huge challenge for me.

I started out as chief financial officer and ended up as president and chief operating officer. It was really a frenetic, high-pressure time in my life.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve worked for throughout my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for a lot of different people, and I can’t think of one person that I didn’t end up learning something valuable from. But one in particular stands out. His name is Bill Perez. I worked for him in the final job at S.C. Johnson. (He’s now CEO of Nike.) Bill Perez was a high-energy kind of guy. On the one hand, he was very challenging and he kept you on edge, and on the other hand, he had high energy, he had a lot of fun, and really promoted consensus decision-making.