Navy man's wartime biz plan worked

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Tom Norton saw what happened to the businesses of two of his fellow Navy reservists while they served in Operation Desert Storm in 1990.
Thankfully, the reservists survived the war intact. Unfortunately, their businesses did not.
"They didn't have a [business continuity] plan in place, and they had to file for bankruptcy when they returned," he said.
That was all the wake up call Norton--owner of Norel Services Co., a fire alarm and sprinkler testing and maintenance company--needed. Norton was not activated during Desert Storm, but it was then that he began thinking about putting in place a management team that he knew could run his business if he could not.
So, when Norton, 57, was notified in late 2004 that he would be deployed to Iraq, from March through September of 2005, his business was as prepared as possible.
A Navy Seabee, part of the construction and engineering branch of the Navy, Norton worked 12-hour days with a unit administering reconstruction contracts for hospitals, medical clinics and utility restoration. He spent three months each in Ramadi, Taquadem and Fallujah.
The insurgency was in full swing, so Norton's unit "didn't go outside of the base unless we had to." Most of his time was spent "interfacing with government ministers and local contractors to get construction going," Norton said.
Norton's 26-employee company, which includes his sons Michael and Robert, ran smoothly while he was away, principally due to chief financial officer Karen Brooks, Tom Moreau, inside operation manager, and Ed Morse, head of outside construction operations.
"I was very fortunate that I had three key people who I trusted and had confidence in running my business," he said. He communicated with them via email almost daily, but Norton said he told them to run the business in the way they thought it should be run. It worked well while he was in Iraq and is still working well today.
Norton said he's stepped back into the business, but not 100 percent. "Since the three of them have assumed a greater role, I sort of found my niche. I've made a point to resume the sales and overall management, but I haven't stepped back into the day-to-day," Norton explained. Norton, who was chairman of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association's Board of Directors from 2000 through 2002, was elected to the National Fire Protection Association's Board of Directors in March of 2005 while serving in Iraq.
During a telephone interview in mid-April, Norton said, "Right now I'm at a meeting in Annapolis. I'll be here for the rest of the week," and the business at home, he said, is running as smoothly as ever.