Jeremy Thurston on leadership: Build a good team, lead by example, recognize hard work



March 17, 2016 By Stan Linhorst | slinhorst@syracuse.com

Fifty years ago this month, Richard Hoyt and Don Hayner started a general construction company in Syracuse. In 1978, Gary Thurston joined The Hayner Hoyt Corp. and by 1993 he had bought the company.

Thurston didn't encourage his five children -- all sons -- to follow in his footsteps. Four didn't. The middle son, Jeremy, was a junior at State University College at Oswego, rethinking his major when he asked his dad about the construction industry.

"I wanted information about it, because my father never pushed any of us to be in the business. He wanted to make sure if anyone was interested, it was for the right reasons," Thurston said. "So I told him: I think I want to go into the construction business.

"He said: You're not going to work for me, so don't do it for that reason.

"I said: I understand, but that's what I want to do."

Jeremy transferred to construction management at Utica College. Now, Jeremy Thurston is company president and an unfolding succession plan soon will make him sole owner.

 

Were you in leadership roles growing up?

I wasn't. I wanted to be a patrol leader when I was in Boy Scouts. I did that, but generally, I was not outgoing. I was rather shy. Even today, walking in to a roomful of people I don't know scares me. It's something I work on.

I got my first job at 13, washing dishes and things like that. I worked 20 or 30 hours a week. I learned the value of hard work. I had a couple good first employers that recognized hard work and that drove me more. When somebody sees or appreciates that you're working hard and recognizes it, it makes you work harder.

I wasn't captain of sports teams or any of those things. My dad and mom (Mary) instilled in my brothers and me a strong work ethic.

What advice would you give an aspiring leader?

One of the first things is humility.

Even if it's not exactly your fault, it's your role as the leader to take the blame. At the same time, you have to pass the credit and recognize the people -- take an opportunity to pass the credit to the people working with you or for you. A leader sometimes ends up in the spotlight, but it's really the team around you that makes success. I wouldn't be here today without the wonderful people I have around me. Along those lines, build a good team.

 

Accountability is big. Don't be the type of person that passes blame when something doesn't go right. If you haven't made a mistake you're not doing something. Being accountable for your team or your business is important. If you don't, clients will see through it, and people you work with will see through it. You won't earn their respect.

 

Always be able to see both sides of a conflict or an issue. Usually somewhere in the middle you can find consensus or compromise to move past an issue before it consumes you and drags things down.

 

I'm not an expert, and I'm not perfect, but those are things that I keep in mind.

 

What should happen when somebody makes a mistake, when they've tried something and it didn't work out?

Learn from the mistake. If you make the same mistake over and over again, that's a problem.

 

If you can, get feedback. If it's an issue where you've let somebody down or you didn't win something, try to get feedback, so you can learn from your mistake.

 

It's one of the things I say when we hire new recruits: You're going to make mistakes. You've got to learn from them. We're not expecting you to be perfect, but if you don't learn from your mistakes, that's a problem.

 

I still make mistakes, and people here make mistakes. It happens. It's natural. So don't let it consume you. Don't let it drag you down. Learn from it and move things forward.

 

What's your advice to succeed?

Hard work is a big part of it.

 

Persistence is important.

 

In our industry, schedules are one of the most important things. If you sit back and wait, things can fall to the wayside, projects can grind to a halt and miss milestones.

 

You have to take risks sometimes. If you run into a hurdle or an issue, be able to pick up the pieces and get going again.

 

Keep the end in sight.

 

How do you overcome obstacles and setbacks -- those hurdles?

Take the emotion out of it. If you try to make decisions when things are emotional, in a situation that causes frustration, if you respond immediately, I think emotion may cause you to make bad decisions. Sometimes, you have to step back and simmer down.

 

I tell our folks: Never send an email when you're angry. Type it, get it off your chest, file it away. Then come back to it the next day. Try not to let emotion drive you too much. That's a big part of getting over an obstacle.

 

Depending on what it is, if it's a situation where you are in conflict with someone, try to see it from both sides. It's important that you try to put yourself in someone else's shoes. It allows you to have a more productive conversation on how to resolve the issue.

 

What's your advice for trying to tackle something difficult to do, at work or in the community?

Build a team. Maybe you can do things on your own, but having a team of people around you to support you and help you carry forth that mission or that objective is important. Certainly, two minds are better than one and three are better than two.

 

Hard work. If it's something you really believe in, you have to make the commitment and see it through -- work hard to accomplish it.

 

Tell me about your community involvement and why that's important.

My vision is that I want to leave this community a better place for my kids when I'm gone.

 

I think it's an obligation. You have to lead by example. So I've been involved since the beginning of my career -- with the Salvation Army, for instance. With a handful of others, I helped to found the Young Leaders Advisory Council for the Salvation Army in Syracuse.

 

Now I'm on their regular advisory board. It's an organization we support significantly. Our company basically shuts down on Christmas distribution day and we head down to the Oncenter and we volunteer the food line for the first shift.

 

I'm involved in the United Way. I'm a trustee at Utica College, and I'm on the advisory board for the college's construction management program. I was on the board of Leadership Greater Syracuse.

 

I encourage our employees to get involved. Not everybody has the same opportunities in life and when you have the abilities or the means or the time to help others, I think you should do it. Even if you can give only an hour a month. It can make a difference in somebody's life.

 

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