Getting Personal: Todd Thorstenson
Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Todd Thorstenson, a Champaign entrepreneur whose business ventures have included a record label, a restaurant and real estate.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I'm usually up by 5:30 and definitely have a routine. I check email first, read a couple of newspapers and stretch before my workout. I read an interview with Kobe Bryant recently, and his response to "What would the Kobe of today tell young Kobe?" and he answered "Stretch, stretch, and more stretch," which I wish I could tell my younger self as well.
What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?
I wish I had an exciting answer, but all I had was a turkey sandwich at my office by myself. I'm pretty busy so rarely eat out at lunch.
Best high school memory?
Paxton played in the state football championship my senior year, and the entire town was so supportive. We lost but gave it our all, and it was a great experience. The game was on Illinois State University's field, so to prepare to play for the first time on AstroTurf, we got to practice at Memorial Stadium. My father owned the Bloomington-Normal KFCs at the time, and he had a "Good Luck Paxton Football Team" billboard done with Col. Sanders on it greeting us as we pulled into Bloomington. It was all pretty exciting for a high school senior and something I'll never forget.
Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
My running shoes are my favorite. The endorphin rush you have at the end of the good run is still worth the knee/hamstring/IT band/calf pain ... it's rough getting old.
What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?
A perfect Sunday afternoon includes any activity with my family. Between my fiancee and myself, we have five children, whose ages range from 10 to 25, three dogs and a hamster, so it's hard getting everyone together. We try to visit my parents at their Bayles Lake home in the summer, hang out and play board games or take the dogs to the dog park. And, of course, stop by TCBY for some fro yo!
Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?
I read a lot growing up and still do, but I can't say one book stands out. I remember getting in trouble for reading during class in fourth grade. I mainly read nonfiction now but have a few fiction authors that I follow now, such as Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, Michael Chabon and Jonathan Tropper.
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
I've never been to Europe and would love to, but my first choice is the Turks and Caicos islands. I've heard there's great scuba diving, history and deserted islands to explore.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
My dog, Charlie, is a St. Bernard. Someone left him at a farmhouse in the middle of the night and I was lucky enough to adopt him through the Illinois St. Bernard Rescue group. Charlie's fantastic with people and dogs of all ages and sizes.
Have you discovered as you matured that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?
Yes, I think I've become more like my father. He was and still is a great businessman (entrepreneur) and an awesome father. I strive to be half as successful as he was. I talk to my parents at least twice a week and seek their advice. I definitely hear my dad's voice in mine when I'm parenting.
What would you order for your last meal?
I'd love to have sashimi from Sukiyabashi Jiro. There's a great documentary about this small sushi restaurant in the basement of a Toyko office building that's known for having the best sushi in the world. I'd have a Left Hand Sawtooth Ale and my mom's blueberry cobbler for dessert.
What can you NOT live without?
I can't live without listening to music, whether it be in my car or office or running. I love seeing live music in Champaign-Urbana, which has such a vibrant music scene, and I'm friends with a lot of musicians.
Who do you have on your iPod?
I have all rock and pop music of various types. The majority is Radiohead, AC/DC, Frank Black, The Pixies, Guns 'N' Roses, Green Day, Fiona Apple, Wilco, The Beatles, Flaming Lips, Tool, and Nirvana. I have XM radio and love the variety you can get, so I usually only listen to my iPod when running or biking.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
I feel I'm a very lucky person in that I can't pick just one. I've got typical happy memories of my kids being born, getting engaged, winning awards and competing in triathlons. But I also think it's the smallest occurrences that make some of the happiest moments of my life. Recently all of my family came to TCBY's grand opening, and I'll never forget how supportive they are of me.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?
This is one of the toughest questions to answer. I think it'd be an interesting mix and a lot of fun to have Thom Yorke, Paul McCartney and Michael Jordan.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
My dad told me to buy real estate as an investment. I first bought a three unit that I was living in and have been adding more properties every year.
What's your best piece of advice?
I've always said it pays to do your homework. I think too many people rush into decisions, whether they be personal or business choices. Looking back, mistakes that I've made were because I didn't do my homework.
What was your first job, and how much did you make an hour?
I mowed lawns and I was paid by the lawn, which I'd guess worked out to be $5 an hour. My first nonsummer job was working at one of my dad's KFCs in the kitchen. I was paid minimum wage, which was $3.35 an hour at the time. I appreciated that I wasn't treated as the owner's son — although I wish I could've played that card when it came to cleaning the grease trap. I also worked at Pizza Man in Paxton delivering and making pizzas.
What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?
It was definitely choosing to take the entrepreneurial route after getting my MBA instead of going the corporate way. My first business, a record label, failed — but I learned a lot, it was fun and starting that business in Champaign led me to where I am today. I chose to start a label after meeting another Duke grad who'd done quite well with his and, with my love of music but zero talent, I thought it was a great way to combine that passion with business.
Do you have a bad habit? What is it?
I catch myself reacting too quickly to a bad situation.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I find the best approach for me is not to have a knee-jerk reaction and to take time to consider all possible solutions. Since I have a bad habit of doing so, I don't always handle stressful situations to the best of my ability. It's a good New Year's resolution!