Change Agents: John Rush, CleanTurn

Melissa Kossler Dutton, Capital Style

While working on his graduate degree in urban studies, John Rush volunteered at a Chicago homeless shelter. It was there that he met individuals who wanted to make a new start but were hampered by their past.

Their efforts to find jobs were thwarted by past criminal convictions, problems related to substance abuse and chronic unemployment.

Rush realized jobs-and the opportunity to develop a work history-were necessary for these individuals to move forward.

"Time after time, I would try to help guys who wanted to move in a positive direction but could not find an employer who would hire them," Rush says. He worried: "How will they get out of this mess without a job and a career? How can we break the cycle of poverty without work?"

Rush went on to work for Chicago organization Cleanslate, which provided job training and opportunities for people with obstacles to unemployment. And, in 2011, he was asked by local philanthropists-namely board member Bark Brereton, Rush says-to come to Columbus to start CleanTurn, an organization focused on creating employment opportunities for people with barriers to employment while addressing Central Ohio's skilled labor shortage.

CleanTurn, a privately owned company founded by investors with the goal of starting a for-profit business, provides general labor and grounds keeping, demolition and janitorial services. It employs nearly 50 people and is expanding; in May, the organization launched She Has a Name Cleaning Services, created to provide survivors of human trafficking with dignified employment opportunities.

"The whole focus is to empower individuals to move toward self-sufficiency," Rush says. "I really do believe that business can be a change agent. That business can be leveraged for good."

Who inspires you?

The first person was my dad. I grew up poor in a trailer park in West Virginia. My dad always had time for me and always spent time with me. When my dad passed away, I got letters from customers he had had for 25 years telling me about the quality of his character. He worked on cars for a living. For a lot of those customers, they had the same pricing for 20 years. He wasn't the best businessman, but he took care of his customers, and he took care of me. One of his customers ended a letter to me by writing, "I know that John W. Rush was a very special person. He was an example of our capacity as people to love and serve others." This is what I want to be.

What lessons have you learned?

There have been many lessons, especially as it relates to leveraging business for social good. I have learned that you should be careful about making rash judgments … what it means to be an active listener and to push hard to make a difference. It is easy to be critical, and life can often get a bit discouraging, but focus hard on serving others and criticism can become more constructive, and discouragement can turn into contentment.

What has been your most fulfilling moment?

One of our supervisor's sons won an award at school for being the hardest worker. Whenhetold me about it, he said, "I'm learning what it means to be a dad who's a hard worker, and I'm demonstrating it for my son." That was cool. That's how we will begin to break the cycle of generational poverty.

What is your ultimate goal?

Our vision is to see CleanTurn become a social enterprise accelerator that creates innovative service-based ventures that target specific social challenges and can be replicated and franchised in other major urban communities. Extending the reach of CleanTurn would mean greater opportunities to help more people move forward and rebuild their lives.

What challenges do you face?

Having sufficient capital to take advantage of the opportunities is a challenge for us. We constantly have opportunities in the marketplace, but managing cash flow is absolutely essential. And, for this reason, there are times we have to push pause. I like to get things done yesterday, so this can be a challenge for me. As we continue to grow, it is vital we manage quality control and ensure we remain focused on our core mission.

John Rush

Age: 41

Residence: Columbus

Job: President and CEO, CleanTurn