Serving the Employees Who Need It Most with John Rush
Today’s guest is John Rush, CEO of CleanTurn Enterprises.
“What else can I do to really have a practical impact on the lives of those that I’m having an opportunity to influence? I had thought at that point that my calling was to serve in pastoral ministry, preach the Word, and see lives changed. When I decided to make the transition from pastoral ministry to step into full-time business management, it was certainly a large learning curve for me.”
CleanTurn Enterprises provides an array of supportive services with a focus on creating a platform for individuals to realize their potential as human beings. Visit them on their website at cleanturn.org.
Full Transcript of Podcast Below
Ray: Well, folks, we are so blessed today to be on the telephone live with John Rush. And John is the CEO of CleanTurn Enterprises, out of the great state of Ohio, and he’s online with us from Columbus, Ohio. John Rush, hey, and welcome to Bottom Line Faith. How you doing today?
John: Doing awesome. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share today.
Ray: Well, John, you and I had a chance a few weeks ago to get to know each other, obviously, prior to doing this interview. And I’m just pumped to share with the audience your background. You’ve got a very interesting background. We’re going to learn more about what you do as CEO here at CleanTurn Enterprises, but tell us a little bit about how you got here. Tell us a little bit about your background. And you’ve served our country well. So why don’t you help our audience understand a little bit more about you?
John: Yeah, thank you. I moved to Columbus from Chicago about six years ago with my wife and our eight kids, and we kind of started on this journey together when I was in the Marine Corps, and I just felt the call to move to an urban community and invest ourselves in an urban community. And that’s what took us initially to Chicago. Spent about 17 years there. And when I first stepped into Chicago, plugged into a homeless shelter to volunteer, as I was working on my undergrad at Moody, in Theology and Ancient Languages, and just really fell in love with the city, fell in love with the men that I had an opportunity to work with.
And I quickly realized that one of the biggest challenges that these men had, that I had an opportunity to work with, was finding employment. And that kind of planted the seed for me in terms of thinking about business, and how business might be able to be leveraged to impact society in a positive way. And I kind of started that there in Chicago, and just over time, really focused on building small businesses that could come alongside and be a place of support and employment for folks coming out of challenging backgrounds. We took that experience in Chicago and brought it here to Columbus.
Ray: That’s fascinating to me. So you’re up in Chicago, you’re studying at Moody Bible Institute, perhaps, I’m guessing, thinking you might be going into formal traditional ministry. Is that right?
John: That’s, that’s right. Yeah, I actually initially did my undergrad there, my first master’s degree in Urban Studies, while we were working on a church plant. So I did the church plant experience for about five years, and so during that experience, it was there that the idea of what else can I do to really have a practical impact on the lives of those that I’m having an opportunity to influence? And so it was a difficult transition, frankly.
I mean, I thought at that point that my calling was to kind of serve in pastoral ministry and preach the word and see lives changed. And when I decided to make the transition from pastoral ministry, from that perspective, I mean, in a sense, really, what I’ve done every day is pastoral in nature, it’s just in the context of business if that makes sense. And so, but yeah, that was that was, it was quite a unique time for Deb and I and when we stepped out of the church planting experience to step into full-time business management experience, there was certainly a large learning curve there for me.
Ray: And we’re going to be talking about that. That’s what we love to talk about here at Bottom Line Faith, are some of those lessons learned and such. Okay, so you’re, and we’re going to learn, we’re going to learn more about CleanTurn Enterprises in just a moment. But you’re in Chicago, you’re studying, and God begins to change the course and the direction of your life. How is it then that you ended up in Columbus, Ohio, and then we’ll hear more about your work there. How did you end up in Columbus?
John: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was on the board of a microfinance organization in Chicago. His dad was serving on a non-profit board here in Columbus called Crack House Ministries, which is a faith-based organization. It’s an acronym: Christ Resurrects After Crack Kills. And so, I often would tell people, if you’re volunteering at the crack house, make sure you’re clear, you know, where you’re actually volunteering. So nobody’s confused.
Ray: You got to go to the right crack house. You don’t want to get those directions screwed up, do you?
John: Yeah. And so he had reached out and said, “Hey, look, I, you know, I’ve seen and heard about the things that you’ve been involved in Chicago, and would love for you to consider, you know, coming here to Columbus, and helping us get something up and running.” And I only had two caveats. One, I did not want to be owned by a non-profit. The couple of business ventures in Chicago were owned by non-profit organizations. That was a great experience; it had its own set of challenges. But we were able to work through those challenges and create real successful models. But it was it was a little bit more difficult to think about scale. And so that led to the second caveat is not only didn’t want to be owned by a non-profit; I also wanted to have the flexibility to kind of grow and scale at a rate that was manageable and only restricted by, you know, cash restraints.
And so they said, “Yes and yes,” and we put together a small fund of just under $300,000, to start up our venture. We incorporated it as a for-profit, as I mentioned earlier, and the idea for the initial investors – there was eight of us – was you had the money that was being used was disposable income that could have otherwise been, would have otherwise been given away to a non-profit, would have been a tax write off. If the business fails, this was the biggest risk, the business failing, would have been a business tax write off. Two different types of write off for sure. But if it works, it becomes a gift that gifts in perpetuity. And so that was the approach, and that was, you know, kind of our goal to create something that was self-sustaining.
Ray: Fantastic. And so now help us understand what it is that you do at CleanTurn Enterprises. I know you’ve got more than one brand, more than one business that you’re building there, but walk us gently through that model.
John: Yeah, we have initially we launched with six business lines, which was kind of ridiculous given the amount of capital that we were launching with. We really undercapitalized to launch with that many business lines. We only launched with one brand, and that was the CleanTurn overarching brand. But those six business lines, the goal was to figure out which of those business lines were going to meet the needs of providing entry-level employment opportunities for folks who’ve had some significant obstacles in their path like incarceration, human trafficking, domestic violence, generational poverty, etc. And so after the first year, we cut two of those business lines, really focused on four, and since that time, we’ve officially launched two of those business lines under separate brands. One is CleanTurn Demolition Services, and the other is She Has A Name Cleaning Services.
All six business lines have been service based, and so we haven’t done anything product based, and all of the businesses have really focused on skill sets that do not require an intense amount of previous training or education or things of that nature. Because we wanted to create a realistic platform for folks that may have not had those opportunities in their past. And so really just creating a gateway into a career was kind of the primary focus and so the CleanTurn Demolition Services focuses on contracting work. We do work with about 300 contractors here in Central Ohio, and we leverage the opportunity to do bulk removal, demo, interior demolition, trash-out type work to create that gateway into the trades and then our She Has A Name cleaning business line is a residential and commercial janitorial cleaning company that provides primarily training and employment for folks that are coming out of human trafficking, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
Ray: Pretty interesting up to this point, John. We have a marine – served his country. We have a guy that went to college to study, to go into the ministry, studied, your major was ancient languages, you said?
John: Ray, my background’s kind of eclectic in terms of my education. my undergrad was Ancient Languages and Theology. The first master’s was in Urban Studies and had a chance to go back to school. Went to Wheaton College and did two more master’s degrees: one in Theology and Philosophy, and the other one Religion and American Life, which was more of a history degree. And then when we were launching, one of the first companies in partnership with a non-profit in Chicago, I started a non-profit management program in North Park and quickly realized that it would be kind of neat to get an MBA.
And so I applied, got accepted and ended up working on my Master’s in Non-Profit Management at North Park while I was doing my MBA at Northwestern, and launching a new company that was both a business and also had a social mission integrated into it. And so having all of that as an experience simultaneously was really remarkable. It’s experience that I’m very grateful for.
Adam: That’s pretty typical. I mean, it’s pretty, it’s a typical, it’s the same old story, you know. Want to be a minister, go into the Marines, get your MBA at Northwestern, and become a CEO of your own company. I mean, it’s the same old story.
Ray: Yeah, these interviews get so bland. That’s our gift of sarcasm, John, we’re practicing there. So now we find ourselves in Columbus, Ohio, we’ve launched this business, CleanTurn Enterprises, and you’ve got companies under there. Primarily we’re focusing on CleanTurn Demolition and She Has A Name Cleaning Services. So we’re up to speed now, right? We’ve got us launched, and so forth. So now let’s, let’s start learning what you’ve learned. So with this eclectic background that you’ve shared with us, this amazing educational background, now, we’re hitting the streets of real life, business, and leadership, where the rubber meets the road.
So let’s talk about that. What would you say now, looking back? And by the way, you know, our audience, primarily business owners, leaders, executives, you know, they’re in the game of leadership, they’re in the hunt, if you will, building their businesses and organizations just like, just like you are, John. And so what was one of the biggest, hardest lessons you learned in the early days? And if you had a chance to maybe go back, you’d say, “Hey, I would do that one differently.” Could you could you give us an example of that?
John: Yeah, I think, I think early on, even pre-business days, in terms of just thinking of this from a faith standpoint, I had this very idealistic view of how Christ was working in the world, and just assumed that if the Gospel was proclaimed, and folks made a profession of faith, that all of life’s challenges could be quickly remedied. And I realized early on that folks are dealing with a boatload of prior life experiences that bring a lot of baggage. That it’s not that simple. And so it’s kind of ironic, I mean, in the sense it’s paradoxical because it is simple, I mean, to be told that if you have the faith of a child, then that’s all you need. And it’s simple. And that’s true.
And it’s in that simplicity that I realized early on that there’s a lot of complexity that’s also involved. And so the discipleship process: coaching, the mentoring, etc. that is to follow is a lot more nuanced and challenging than I imagined early on. Now, how that segues in the business world for me early on, and I also thought that if we could just find outlets of opportunity for folks and get them placed into employment, then that kind of, you know, began to be the process that’s seeing complete resolution and movement towards, you know, self-sufficiency. Putting both of those learning experiences together, the takeaway was one, there had to be a very carefully crafted selection process for identifying who was, in fact, ready for employment.
And then once individuals were identified, there needed to be ongoing coaching and mentoring, tailored to that individual’s background and needs. And so if I wanted to see a business work, and I wanted to actually meet our customers’ expectations, I couldn’t just randomly go out and hire somebody out of a homeless shelter. There had to be some type of selection process. And then once again, once folks were identified and brought onto the team, I had to create a culture where there was continual coaching and accountability and mentoring so that I could see this individual move forward in their career. And I think in the workforce development space in the non-profit world, in the faith- and non-faith-based context of working with folks coming out of challenging backgrounds, a lot of emphasis is placed on getting a job. If you get a job and just kind of, you know, tighten up your boots and work hard, everything’s gonna be hunky dory and fine. But it’s not just about getting a job. It’s not just about being placed into a place of employment. It’s really about creating an environment where individuals can come and move forward in a career. And that’s where I’ve really focused the last 15 years.
Ray: Well, what I find really amazing and powerful, J,ohn about what you just shared, I’m taking notes as I’m listening, is you were contextualizing that answer in what you’ve learned about building this business and working with these in individuals with challenged backgrounds, you know, difficult circumstances from which they’ve come. But you actually just laid out the model or a model for an incredible healthy company or organization of any kind.
And let me just, here’s what I heard. Step one was a careful selection process. And one of the things we say around here at Bottom Line Faith is hire slow and fire fast, and we tend to do it just the opposite. But you are doing that. You have a careful selection process. So you’re really monitoring and somewhat controlling what’s coming in the front door, right? And then step two, you were talking about that providing that environment of ongoing coaching, which helps you create the culture of accountability and mentoring. And I can suspect that any business leader that would use that as a model should expect some pretty decent results. Would you agree with that?
John: I do. Yes, definitely. Yeah, and I think it’s been, it’s important because just take one example, a person that’s coming out of the lifestyle of addiction to heroin. The broader cultural emphasis is, you know, how do we expunge the person’s record, steal it so that it’s unknown, so they can easily get placed into a job from an organization that’s receiving taxpayer dollars to help people get placed in the jobs. And once they’re placed into the job, the company that hires them, it’s a Work Opportunity Tax Credit, because they’ve done a good deed and providing that place of employment, that within two months of having been placed, the individual encounters three different triggers that lead to their relapse, which leads to their unemployment, and that cycle continues throughout the year, with two or three other non-profit organizations, and two or three new businesses, initial non-profits funded by taxpayers.
The business is getting a tax write off, and so we’re investing money, you know, the broader economy to help this person move forward, and they’re still unemployed at the end of the year. And it’s all placement focused; it’s job placement focused, it’s not retention and support services focused. If we educate businesses, and businesses take the initiative to be educated on how do we identify the triggers that might exist in my workplace, so that I might be able to be a better coach and mentor and create a healthy culture for a recovering addict, the odds are that person sticking around a lot longer increase.
Ray: John, the selection process tells me that there’s a lot more people that need help and need jobs than there are jobs out there. So what is that selection process? Who are you looking for? Who’s the perfect person, with what background, that can take advantage of what CleanTurn Enterprises does?
John: Yeah, a big focus of ours is screening folks for coachability. And so, I mean, that’s probably the biggest prerequisite. We really don’t care about your background except for the fact that we care about it insofar as we want to coach you onto greener pastures. And so we don’t care because we want to push you out; we care because we want to know how to be a good friend and a good mentor and a good coach. But you need to be coachable. So if you’ve got it all figured out already, and you’re still kind of in a predicament, and you’re coming out of a predicament, then you’re probably going to end up in another predicament, and this is not the best place for you. But if you can kind of, you know, take a step back, and open up your mind to be coached, and couple that with some patience and a dose of strong work ethic, then we can do something with that.
And so now there’s some obvious things that are kind of out there on the forefront. And it’s things like, can you pass a drug test now? And so we’ve had folks that come to our open group interviews as if they’re swimming out of a 40oz, and an individual that’s kind of in that predicament is not ready for employment. So we’ll refer that individual to appropriate resources in the community where they can go for detox, get the appropriate counseling and support that they need. And then once they’re clean and sober, they can come back, reapply, pass the drug test, and then once they’re in the door, they’re going to continue to get random drops to hold them accountable. But yeah, the biggest thing beyond the drug test is the ability to want to learn and to grow and to be coached.
Ray: Well, folks, let me pause just for a moment to remind you, you are listening to Bottom Line Faith. That’s the program where we love to learn from top Christian business leaders around the country, how they’re living out their faith in business, the lessons learned in leadership, and how they’re making a difference in the world as Christian leaders. And our guest on the show today is John Rush. John is the CEO of CleanTurn Enterprises, out of Columbus, Ohio. And John, if we’ve got listeners who would like to learn more about your organization, what would be the best place or best way for them to learn more about CleanTurn Enterprises?
John: The best place would be our website, cleanturn.org. Of course, folks can look us up on Facebook as well. But cleanturn.org is definitely the place to go.
Ray: Well, Adam, you know, we’ve talked about this a lot here at Bottom Line Faith, you know, a big portion of our audience, they’re business owners, they’re executives who are in leadership positions, making decisions, leading companies, leading departments. That’s a big part of our audience here. And so John, what I would be curious is, and I talk to Christ followers who are business owners and leaders every day. And oftentimes they’re interested in hiring individuals like that you serve, with these challenging backgrounds, be ex-offenders, whatever the case may be.
But sometimes they’re not sure about that. How risky is it? How successful they can be? They want to do this because they want to make a difference in the lives of these people, but they really don’t know how to go about it. So what advice, what counsel would you give for a business leader or an owner that we’ve got listening to the program right now that might be interested in this sort of thing? How would you coach and what would you tell them is really important for them to know and do?
John: First, yes, I would affirm the heart and the desire and I mean, that’s huge, that’s huge. First step is having the heart and the desire and the willingness to want to be able to be a support for folks that are coming out of challenging backgrounds. And so that’s great. Second, as folks have done in their businesses already, let’s put a little bit of that into the action and think carefully about what that really means. And we saw that as a huge need, and that’s why we launched our third brand, which is Passion, Purpose, Profit, which is more of a cause marketing brand, where we’re really looking to take the DNA of what we do as a business and inject it into the broader business community for two reasons.
One, we know that we can’t provide all of the market opportunities that are out there to provide for folks that are coming out of challenging backgrounds. And so that leads to two: we’d love to educate other businesses on how to do this and how to do it well. And so we have an annual event: our third annual Passion, Purpose, Profit conference coming up September 22, where the main objective is to educate HR directors, managers, CEOs, decision-makers, and companies on how to create the right culture for folks that are coming out of incarceration, human trafficking, substance abuse, and other backgrounds. How do you select, and once you select, how do you create the right training and culture for folks to be able to move forward? But it’s a loaded question. There’s no easy answer to how do I do that, because it’s very nuanced to the business and the type of business that is wanting to do this type of work.
Ray: So what I’m hearing is you actually learned enough about this that you’re now in the process of helping train other business leaders to do that. That’s fantastic and frankly is very needed. Because I get this question a lot, a lot. So they could learn more about that at your website? The conference, could they learn about that?
John: They could, yes, at our cleanturn.org website. Folks can go straight to the homepage and click on Passion, Purpose, Profit, and it’ll take them right to our Passion, Purpose, Profit website.
Ray: Alright, alright. Well, folks, as I mentioned, we’re talking with John Rush, the CEO at CleanTurn Enterprises, out of Columbus, Ohio. This is an amazing company, a socially entrepreneurial-minded company that’s created hundreds of jobs for folks who are well-deserving but have had difficult backgrounds and challenging circumstances. And Adam, you made a promise on the front end, you said this is the fastest 30 minutes.
Adam: It’s unbelievable how fast it goes. And I know we need to wrap it up. But I was just curious, real quick, John, with the people you’re helping, and it’s obvious that you’re a Christian, faith-based business, how important, or is it important for the people with the challenging backgrounds to be faith-based? Does it matter if they aren’t?
John: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think it’s tied to the earlier lessons that we were talking about earlier. It was fascinating to me that many folks I had met at the shelter I was volunteering at, could quote multiple scriptural passages, walk folks through the Romans Road, the plan of salvation, etc., but connecting their faith to everyday life, and showing up to work on time, working hard at work, having a positive, productive attitude, etc, there was a huge disconnect. And then I would meet other folks who didn’t know a wit about the Bible or came from another religious tradition, who seemed to connect in terms of showing up on time, working on having a positive, productive attitude, etc., etc.
And then I also saw folks who could articulate the gospel clearly, understood their calling as a Christ follower to work hard, and they did that, and they had a positive, productive attitude. And there were other folks who weren’t faith professing in any tradition and anti-saved, who also weren’t productive. And so I found those ironies and inconsistencies really, really challenging. And so in terms of how we kind of live it out here at CleanTurn Enterprises, I often use the analogy of a picture, a portrait. Our goal is to kind of paint a portrait of the beauty of Christ and how we do what we do each day. I believe that Dostoevsky was right, that beauty will save the world. And in a context such as ours, in a postmodern culture, where words are very confusing, and people define certain things different ways, sometimes a picture is a better way to communicate the love of Christ than words. And so what we’re looking to do every day is to paint a portrait of beauty that will win the hearts of the folks that we’re working with, and the broader community as they see what we do.
Ray: That’s pretty, pretty clear to me. That’s good stuff. We are, gosh, and John, we talked about how quick this was gonna go. And maybe you’ll come back and be a guest. I’m sure there’s a lot more you can teach us and a lot more you’d love to share. But thank you for your time today. So the last question, and for our regular listeners, Adam, they know this is the one we never miss. It’s coming.
If you’re a first-time listener here at Bottom Line Faith, his is what we call our “4:23 question.” And this is based out of Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.” And it’s believed that these may have been among some of Solomon’s last words. So you can imagine he’s gathered his family, his friends, his loved ones around to share his great, big piece of advice. And his ultimate piece of advice was for us to guard our hear because all things of life flow out of our heart and our desires. So, John, that’s the scenario I would pose to you, the Proverbs 4:23 question. You’ve got a chance to gather your family, and friends, and loved ones. You’re at the end of your time this side of eternity, and you have a chance to pass along your one piece of advice. What would be your “above all else” advice? In fact, fill in the blank: above all else…
John: Yeah, above all else, love God and do as you please. And that love that you have for God, allow it to be rooted in his love for you and constantly pursue each day a greater realization of what it means to be loved by him. And from the overflow of that, love him and really just do as you please. I remember, my church history teacher in high school came in and wrote in big, bold, white letters on the marker board in high school, 10th grade, “Love God and do as you please.” And I was like wow, that’s kind of that’s kind of crazy. but the older I’ve gotten, the more I realized how amazingly simplistic it is, but how amazingly beautiful it is as well. And so just fall in love afresh and anew every day more and more with Christ, and from the overflow of that, love others.
Adam: That’s wonderful. I’m sure your 10th-grade teacher would be glad to know that you remember that from all those years ago. that’s fantastic to hear.
Ray: Well, John, in our last 30 seconds, any last words of encouragement, any last advice or anything you’d like to pass along before we, gosh, have to close the show? it’s just gone so fast. Anything else you’d like to add?
John: Yeah, I would just encourage, and you know, any businesses out there that are looking to kind of integrate into their business models this idea of providing employment for folks coming out of challenging backgrounds, reach out to us. We’d be more than glad to, you know, be a sounding board, and to be a help any way we can.
Ray: That’s incredibly gracious of you. Thank you. And folks, the best way to reach John and his team is at cleanturn.org. Well, Adam, hard to believe we’re putting another episode of Bottom Line Faith in the book, so to speak.
Adam: It was great to talk with John. I want to thank you, John, for your service to this country as a US Marine, and with what you’re doing today with CleanTurn Enterprises. It’s pretty fantastic to hear everything you’re involved with and how it’s making this country a better place. Again, the website is cleanturn.org. Our guest has been John Rush, the CEO of CleanTurn Enterprises. Please head to that website, follow them on Facebook, get social with them through their social media platforms. I’m Adam Ritz; this has been Bottom Line Faith, and we are at bottomlinefaith.org, and this show is brought to you by Truth At Work. And if you are a business leader, Christian-minded, and want to learn more about Truth At Work, very easy: truthatwork.org.
Ray: Adam, it’s been awesome. We’ll see y’all next time here at Bottom Line Faith. God bless.