A glimpse of Salley Thornton’s resume indicates she made a stop at every destination along the Mass Media Express route during her first 13 years—newspaper editor, radio newscaster and producer, television news (assignment editor and on-air talent), and public relations for one of the nation’s largest non-profit organizations.
From the most mundane of duties, such as covering school board meetings for a weekly newspaper, to the highly visible, such as reporting on events from the field for local television, Thornton can check off all the boxes. It can at once be glamorous and thankless drudgery, and the hours are conducive to nothing (and don’t bother doing the math with newspaper “salaries,” as they fall somewhere below minimum wage, given the long hours). Those in the profession aren’t there for the money, but rather an indescribable passion for the business.
Thornton no longer agonizes through five-hour township planning board meetings against a looming deadline, but the director, national field marketing for Toshiba America Business Solutions has not lost her zest for communications. Her infectious positivity has marked a nearly 18-year career with Toshiba, and Thornton still abides by the fundamental principles that carried her throughout her journalistic voyage.
“The biggest impact I can make is to help take complex technologies and simplify them for easy digestion. Then, develop programs and create content that explain how our products meet common business challenges,” said Thornton, a 2021 ENX Magazine Difference Maker. “I do consciously strive to bring my all to the office each day. I want to be known as an individual with a positive attitude; someone who follows through on commitments in a timely manner; a person who is approachable, willing to tackle a challenge, and who recognizes all contributors by sharing credit when credit is due.
“My approach to business is about detail and hard work. There is no shortcut.”
Thornton derives satisfaction from the feedback she receives from account executives, which provides cues on what marketing endeavors have proved effective in closing deals, whether its email campaigns, social media posts or videos. But what she finds most gratifying is working with local college students participating in the internship program she developed in 2004. Toshiba typically onboards three interns per year, putting them through the real-world paces such as management goal review meetings and open houses. They’re given individual and team projects that can yield a portfolio the students can leverage moving forward.
Earlier this year, the intern team included Jake Slawetsky, son of Industry Analysts media mogul Andy Slawetsky. “What’s truly rewarding here is that the mentorship is more than just marketing blocking and tackling,” Thornton observed. “We’re offering Jake a behind-the-scenes look at the business as a whole, which help deepens his knowledge of the industry as he joins his father’s company as a contributor.”
The holder of a communications degree from the University of Mount Union, Thornton later secured an Executive MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating first in her class. During her time with the American Red Cross, her boss pointed out that an independent copier dealer, Business Methods, had an opening in its marketing department. The dealer, which would later be acquired by Toshiba, was owned by Steven Sauer, a 2019 Difference Maker. Thornton convinced Sauer that her media experience would make her an ideal fit for the organization.
Sauer grew to become Thornton’s staunchest advocate, providing outside learning opportunities that shaped her community view and board involvement. He supported her Rotary-sponsored month-long business exchange in Sweden and 15-month eMBA program. Sauer also nominated Thornton for two local, prestigious business honors, for which she was chosen. Above all, Sauer granted her a “seat at the table” early in her Toshiba career. It was an opportunity Thornton capitalized upon.
“I’ve watched and listened carefully,” she said. “My goal is to mirror his ability to assess a situation without judgment, remove emotions to find the real underlying issues in a conflict, and ask the questions everyone else is thinking but too afraid to voice.”
The 2020 experience illustrated the importance of having marketing resources at employees’ disposal, as the OEM mobilized to find new ways to deliver value to its partner stakeholders. This included regularly scheduled end-user webinars, an initiative that grew from concept to deployment in a mere three weeks.
“We developed a program that reached more than 5,000 people in a matter of months, with various topics focused on filling the pipeline,” Thornton said.
As the year heads into its final stretch, Thornton notes the focus is on finding better ways to clean and maintain client data in order to better personalize Toshiba’s outbound marketing and deliver targeted solutions to a business when it makes the most sense. That, she feels, will enable Toshiba to be viewed as a true partner in clients’ success.
And as is the case with any effective marketing maven, continuous learning is the key to personal and professional growth. “For business acumen in general, I continue to meet with my MBA cohort twice a month,” Thornton said. “It’s a safe place to discuss current challenges, float new ideas, and gain insight from others in completely different disciplines and industries. The leadership role rotates and we use Harvard Business Review and trending business or management books as foundations for discussion.”
Thornton’s passions extend far beyond the offices of Toshiba. She sits on the board for the American Heart Association’s Rochester chapter and is a member of Nazareth College Women’s Advisory Council. She also lectures at colleges and volunteers for non-profits groups.
Thornton and her family (husband Mark, daughter Amanda and son Rex) enjoyed the downhill ski season, and love to spend time at their cottage at the Finger Lakes in New York. They also enjoy outdoor concerts, jet skiing, paddle boarding and hiking. In close proximity to New York’s wine country, it gives them the opportunity to add bottles to their collection and share with friends. Thornton also loves traveling, cooking/baking, gardening and tackling do-it-yourself home projects.