Guthrie’s Third-Generation Water and Wastewater Equipment Business Succeeds the Old-Fashioned Way

May 29, 2018

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In 1968, J.T. Guthrie (left) and son, Tom Guthrie Sr. (right) stand with colleague Ward Clark. The trio hold an award presented to the water and wastewater treatment equipment business, J.T. Guthrie and Son. Photo courtesy of the Guthrie family.

In 1968, J.T. Guthrie (left) and son, Tom Guthrie Sr. (right) stand with colleague Ward Clark. The trio hold an award presented to the water and wastewater treatment equipment business, J.T. Guthrie and Son. Photo courtesy of the Guthrie family.

A sale starts with a knock on the door and a firm handshake. This was the guiding business philosophy in 1946 when J.T. and Tom Guthrie launched J.T. Guthrie and Son, a water and wastewater treatment equipment business in Brentwood, Tenn.

At that time, growing a successful father-son business took considerable dedication, equipment knowledge, and face-to-face meetings. “My father and grandfather grew their business by literally knocking on the doors of engineers and other decision makers,” said Tom’s son, Tom Jr. “They had to do service work on Christmas Eve and probably missed a few ball games or family events along the way.”

In hopes of further growing the business, Tom Sr. joined Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), then known as the Water Pollution Control Federation, in 1965. He became involved in planning the Tennessee chapter’s annual conference at a time when it cost just $10 to rent a booth.

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The Guthries worked hard but drew a clear line between their work and personal lives and rarely brought work home, Tom Jr. said. While that approach was good for the family, Tom Jr. admits it gave him limited early exposure to the family business growing up. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, he left Tennessee for Colorado State University (Fort Collins) to earn a business degree in recreation resource management.

From left, Tom Guthrie Jr. stands with his father Tom Guthrie Sr., mother Janelle Guthrie, and sister Beth Moss. Tom Jr. joined the family business which is now known as Guthrie Sales & Services. Photo courtesy of the Guthrie family.

From left, Tom Guthrie Jr. stands with his father Tom Guthrie Sr., mother Janelle Guthrie, and sister Beth Moss. Tom Jr. joined the family business which is now known as Guthrie Sales & Services. Photo courtesy of the Guthrie family.

Tom Jr. planned on working in a parks department or private resort. But that plan changed after graduation when his father offered him a sales job at the family business.

“My grandfather and dad were probably not typical engineer-types,” Tom Jr. said. “They were not very organized or detail-oriented.” Tom Jr. does not necessarily excel in these areas either.

But the three Guthries shared one trait that likely contributed to their success. “All of us definitely have a mechanical inclination and were always curious about how things work,” Tom Jr. said. “That kept us engaged and interested in the inner workings of the equipment side of our business.”

Equipment has evolved dramatically during the company’s 70-plus-year history. J.T. Guthrie & Sons has evolved too. In 1974, the company changed its name to Guthrie Sales & Services. Today, it provides a variety of water and wastewater treatment products, process design, and other services to customers throughout Tennessee and Kentucky.

Like his father, Tom Jr. continues to look to WEF not only for business development opportunities but also as a resource for product and sector news. Since becoming a member in 1992, Tom Jr. has attended more than 20 conferences and several specialty conferences. He takes away new technology information from each one, he said.

“The best part of WEF is the people,” Tom Jr. said. “Attending WEFTEC is critical in our business because it continues to be the best opportunity to network with people from all levels of the industry.”

You might call it the 2018 version of “a knock on the door and a firm handshake.” 

— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights

My Water Legacy Showcases Passing Along Tradition of Working for Water

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) shares stories about working in the water sector through the #MyWaterLegacy campaign. Launched at WEFTEC 2016, this effort brings attention to the value of membership, water sector leadership and innovation, and workforce development.

My Water Legacy articles in WEF Highlights feature members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector.

Do you know a WEF member who has mentored others in the water sector or a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at jfulcher@wef.org and call Diversified Bronze & Manufacturing Inc. for more information.

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