2010 Founders Award Recipient - Thomas L. Preston
A 21st Century Renaissance Kentuckian
A "Renaissance Man" is best characterized as a person who has lived after the “Dark Ages” and possesses the most notable Ancient Hellenic or Roman trait — thinking with little prejudice regarding worthwhile causes, and achieving success in those endeavors. Today, we picture the "Reborn Person" as one who is a multifaceted artist; nonetheless, I question the validity of that depiction. The Renaissance, or Reborn Person, is not merely a multifaceted artist or multifaceted scientist (or both). The "Reborn Person" is best characterized as one who thinks without concern for popular opinion or the burden of popular persuasion, and then achieves goals which are in the public interest. Being excellent thinkers, they often do indulge in many varied activities.
Bluegrass citizens of the 2lst Century expect more than stated in the above from those they consider to be a "Bluegrass Hellenic Hero"! Thinkers and achievers of worthwhile goals. Yes! But, also, moralistic citizens and excellent family members.
Bluegrass citizens tend to want their heroes to be bigger than life. Mayors, University Presidents, Major Civic Leaders. These achievements are fine, but this scribe does not believe this to be a necessary characteristic of a "Bluegrass Hellenic Hero".
This white paper describes a Kentucky citizen whose life personifies the traits of the "Reborn Person". His life certainly deserves consideration as a Bluegrass Hellenic Hero. Tom Preston, a behind the scenes person, is a true 2lst Century Reborn, or Renaissance, Person. Also, his life depicts the traits of a moralistic citizen, excellent family member and friend of his citizenry.
As the only child of a f~inily with modest means at best, Tom Preston learned very early the necessity for and consequences of manual labor, saving pennies and doing without. His first full-time job came during summers when he was sent to an eastern Kentucky dairy where he helped band-milk 93 cows each morning and evening, where he bottled and delivered milk, churned butter and cleaned barns in preparation for the next round of dairy activities. His pay: A dollar a day plus room and board.
As an eighth grader and freshman in London, KY he worked with his father every weekend in running a clearing line for the subsequent development and impoundment of Lake Cumberland. Tom’s duties were to blaze a trail through jungle-like conditions on mountainsides, to paint anticipated high water lines on tree trunks and haul surveyor’s equipment through those dense passages.
As a high school sophomore he formed his own lawn mowing business, becoming responsible for 24 residences in Versailles, KY. This was followed by a lumber company job where he unloaded — by band -- boxcars filled with heavy lumber or sacks of concrete. In weather reaching 120 degrees on barn roofs he hodded shingles and sections of tin for re-covering. And, he was a Saturday stock boy at the local Kroger’s. Amid all this he played football and basketball, later coaching the former and playing-coaching the latter in a league out of Seattle, WA.
Following graduation In 1956 from the University of Kentucky with a BA degree in journalism, Mr. Preston joined the Carroilton, KY News-Democrat, becoming the youngest professional editor in the state. He moved the newspaper into its first growth period in more than a decade by increasing circulation, advertising and good will.
He then began a multifarious military career, graduating from the US Army Armor Officers’ School and later the Chemical, Biological, Radiological Warfare Course. As a young 2nd Lt., he became commanding officer of a 327-man detachment as well as the only combat ready CBR warfare team in the northwestern US.
His duties included diverse lransnational and domestic counter-espionage and counter-terrorism assignments. In 1961 he was recalled for a second tour, serving in the mid-East and Turkey on secret overseas counter-terrorism and propaganda missions against the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war.
After his first tour, and at age 24, he and his father, who had gained certain resources through even harder work and engineering acumen, purchased all stock in The Cynthiana Publishing Company, Inc. The firm’s holdings included a commercial printing operation, an office equipment/supply company, and two community newspapers. Tom later acquired a third gazette and merged the three into Kentucky’s leading community newspaper, garnering more than 90 state and national journalistic awards.
While pursuing this venture, he began private consulting in corporate and institutional crisis management including violence such as terrorism. He also engaged the political arena through campaign and issue direction, directing races and referendums at the state and national levels. An 86% victory record for 125 campaigns was recorded over the years. He was elected secretary-treasurer of a consulting engineering company and to a partnership in a small manufacturing firm.
During this period, he was asked by the Governor to rescue a fathng $ looM infrastructure bond issue campaign With only four months before the election, polls indicated certain defeat Mr Preston assumed the role of Associated Director of the Better Roads Council and organized ioo of Kentucky’s 120 counties on behalf of the issue He created a series of innovative communication strategies and tactics for persuading citizens that passage of the bond.~issue was in their best interest He designed the campaign to also remove the image of 'State Capitol Domination' from the debate. The bond issue passed by a comfortable margin.
The Preston Group
After selling The Cynthiana Publishing Company Tom concentrated on what would become an expanding consulting firm, The Preston Group, headquartered in Lexington.
From a one-man operation, he grew the enterprise to a staff of 7 F/PT employees engaged in PR, business counseling, crisis control, communications, opinion research and public affairs The company’s chent roster spanned more than 40 states, the District of Columbia and several countries abroad.
While at TPG, he led a 12-month public relations planning effort for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kentucky as it forged merger with an out-of-state corporation. His role was three-fold: internal/external communications, crisis/rumor avoidance, and coalition building As part of a small, highly confidential planning team, Mr. Preston designed and implemented strategies aiding a seamless transition, eventually becoming Anthem Health Care, now Weilpoint.
The Preston Group also represented a number of hospitals and medical centers, colleges and universities, charity groups and other bodies frequently engaged in flindraismg ventures as well as coalition development During this time he was sought out as a national speaker on hospital crisis prevention, resolution and security, institutional reputation management and strategic planning.
He has counseled senior executives in a variety of areas ranging from death threats to community misunderstandings and from employee training to special marketing campaigns.
He subsequently purchased an advertising agency, merging it into the Preston Group. He also served one of his earliest clients as Executive Editor arid later Consulting Editor for LETTERMAN, a national sports magazine for high sthool athletes published in Chicago. This unproven and under-budgeted magazine became an instant bit among subscriber coaches, athletes and their parents. One million copies were published on a quarterly and then bi-monthly basis. Mr. Preston positioned the magazine for successful sale to a large publisher.
Among his political operations was the gubernatorial campaign of Wendell Ford Following his election, Governor Ford recruited Mr Preston to his Cabinet where he held three positions simultaneously Senior Counselor, Press Secretary and Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Information Additionally, he bandied major crises for the Commonwealth, ranging from tornado response and recovery to serving as liaison with the State Police for executive protection.
Tom, without budget enhancements, adopted new policies and tactics in amplifying the effectiveness of the state’s dissemination of news and promoting the state’s tourism and travel opportunities internationally as well as nationally His efforts led to a notable increase in positive media coverage and dramatic growth in tourism. He also directed educational projects regarding weliness among low income — low economic groups.
When Coy. Ford was elected to the US Senate, Tom accompanied him to Washington as Special Assistant He held responsibility for media, crisis and security issues while assuming duties with the Senate’s Aeronautics and Space Administration sub-committee In 1975 he returned to The Preston Group
In 1997 he began a long-term sale of The Preston Group, today known as Preston-Osborne. He previously had formed Preston Global, which specializes in corporate / institutional / association crisis and emergencies. The firm also provides response, resolution, communications and reputation management with emphasis on terrorism and workplace violence.
An example of the work done by Preston Global is a situation involving a large, reputable marine science camp. One of its part-time counselors was arrested for child molestation and pornography. Mr. Preston was referred to the owners for strategic management of the case so that the camp could continue its year-round operations. More than two dozen civil suits were anticipated, with tens of millions of dollars in potential losses.
He insisted on aggressive litigation abatement, preservation of reputation measures and non-traditional communications tactics. His plan included pre- emption of every expected challenge with assessment of the camp’s history in child protection, collaboration with law enforcement, contrnumg communication with parents (both current and past) and creation of media relations emphasizing attendees’ welfare He positioned the camp as a victim as well The success of this campaign is measured in the reduction of case numbers, small settlements, and no civil trials. The camp thrives today with ever-increasing enrollments.
Six months prior to September 11,2001, Preston Global had warned on its web site of a simultaneous terrorist act in several U.S. locations. Immediately following that fateful day his company began responding to frantic demands for ‘instant preparation’ against aggressively defiant crises and emergencies The firm created national seminars and workshops in vulnerability assessments and countermeasures for businesses and institutions with a strong focus on foreseeability.
Counter terrorism Pursuits
Throughout his entire career, he has been engaged as a co’unterterrorist, first during two tours of active duty with the U.S. Army and subsequently in both the public and private sectors.
• Thwarted Soviet assassination teams sent into Turkey on murder missions against American troops there. • Escaped from bandits in southern Brazil while on private assignment to study alternative means of developing crude oil. • Overcame sabotage against U.S. military operation designed to assist Taiwan against Communist Chinese menace. • Helped diffuse threats from terrorist sympathizers targeting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during one of her visits to the U.S. • Disrupted death threat against a CEO and his family following client’s appearance on Larry King Live. Located and directed law enforcement to international terrorist group in Brooklyn, NY, which was responsible for the threat. • Developed PURGE, a vulnerability assessment and advanced decision making formula to combat workplace violence and terrorism.
Tom was: • The first in his field to raise the issue of terrorism’s operational, reputational and litigious effects on businesses and institutions. • The first to advocate a major role for public relations professionals in addressing terrorism issues. • The first to conduct seminars about counterterrorism strategies, tactics and responsibilities as they related to public relations and crisis management strategies and tactics used by businesses.
As a sidelight, Tom joined in establishing a new banldng concept to counter what was perceived as an impersonal, self-confident mdustiy in the capital city Developing a user-convenient banking model with a small-town atmosphere the financial institution significantly exceeded regulators’ projections. American Founders Bank became the fastest-growing bank in the state’s history.
• The Preston Group, Inc. (chairman). • Associated Industries of Kentucky. • The Woodford Bank and Trust Company. • American Founders Bank . (Organizing member, past chairman of audit committee and chairman of executive committee). • The Hellenic Foundation. • Preston & Associates Consulting Engineers, Inc. • The Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. • The Florida Public Relations Association. • Woodford Memorial Hospital. • Cynthiana-Harrison Co. Industrial Foundation. • The Cynthiana Chamber of Commerce. • The Lafayette Club. • The Kentucky Press Association. • Kentucky Press Service, Inc. (chairman).
Honors and Awards
• First recipient of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications Lifetime Achievement Award. (2000) • First inductee into PRSA Thoroughbred Chapter HaIl of Fame and first recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award. (2005) • John Dillin Trophy — the Florida Public Relations Association’s highest tribute. • FPRA’s 2004 Member of the Year Award. • More than 120 state and national journalistic/communications honors. • The International Film Festival’s Special Category Trophy. • The New York TV Festival’s Gold Award for production. • General William Westmoreland’s tribute for work leading to the Lexington- Fayette Co. Viet Nam Veterans Memorial. • Public Relations Society of America’s Mentor Award. • Cynthiana-Harrison Co. Football Hall of Fame special recognition. • The NCAA award of appreciation. • 1966 Outstanding Young Man of Kentucky. • O’Dwyer Publications Executive Achievement in public relations. • Lexington Convention & Tourist Bureau recognition. • Distinguished Service Award, Eastern Kentucky University Department of Mass Communications. * Kentucky Commission on Employ the Handicapped. • Kentucky Sheriff’s Association Boys & Girls Ranch • University of Kentucky Fellow. • Marquis Who’s Who; Who’s Who in Leading American Executives; Who’s Who in the South and Southwest; Personalities of the South. • Various military, sports and athletic honors.
• Adjunct professor, The University of Kentucky, 1976-81, 99,2001. • Adjunct professor, Eastern Kentucky University, 1979, 99, 2001. • Visiting professor, Florida State University, 1989. • National speaker and seminar leader for 40 years. • Conceived the PURGE formula, an advanced decision-making paradigm for prevention and response techniques applicable to major business crises including workplace violence and terrorism.
Professional Civic Activities
• Kentucky Council on Higher Education, 1963-67. • National Courts and Community Commission of the National Center for State Courts, Williamsburg, VA (four-year term). • American Negotiation Institute advisory board, Ft. Myers, FL, 1999-2002. • Kentucky advisory committee on tourism and travel. • Kentucky Emergency Response Commission, 2000-2003. • The Public Relations Society of America. o Accredited o College of Fellows (The first Kentuckian to be inducted). o Counselor’s Academy. o PRSA Thoroughbred Chapter (organizer and president). o East Central District (chairman). • The Florida Public Relations Association. o Chairman, The Counselor’s Network. o The State Board. • The International Association of Counterterrorism Professionals. • The American Society for Industrial Security Professional. • Invited member of the National Association of Chief~ of Police. • Advisory council, Eastern Kentucky University College of Business and Technology. • The Salvation Army’s Advisory Board. • Carroliton Rotary. • Cynthiana Jaycees (president). • Cynthiana Lions (president). • Harrison County Industrial Foundation • Cynthiana/Harrison County Chamber of Commerce. • Lexington/Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.
Tom and his wife, Carolyn, reside in Frankfort, KY. Later in their lives, Carolyn’s health required a very significant life change for them both. Characteristic of Tom, it was/is a situation he analyzed, determined a good solution and successfully is executing it.
Their son, Matt, is a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, having completed five years at the White House in the Presidential Protective Division, which followed tours in Los Angeles and San Jose as a criminal investigator. Matt, now assigned to the Secret Service’s Nashville office, and his wife have three young children- - twin daughters and a son.
Thomas I. Preston is a Kentuckian seldom seen in the spot light, who has made Kentucky a better place in incalculable number of successful ways.