Paul Thrift

Paul Thrift

Political Science Alumnus

Most teenagers have dream jobs. They make plans for their future, but they still allow time to make changes if they decide to pursue a different career path. But Terre Haute native and Indiana State University alumnus Paul Thrift, ’91, didn’t have to debate his future.

In fact, he had already begun his now-successful business, Thompson Thrift, as a teenager, alongside his friend and business partner, John Thompson. Immediately following high school graduation, Thrift joined his friend at the property of a home with boarded-up windows and overgrown weeds in the yard. Anyone would have passed on the home, but the young entrepreneurs decided to give it a try. They acquired the home to “flip” and resell.

“We were just trying to pay our way through school,” explains Thrift, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science.

One house turned into two properties, and then three, and so forth until Thrift and Thompson realized they could make a career out of this type of work.

Two middle-aged white males are in an office setting. On the left, a male with short brown hair stands wearing a white dress shirt. On the right, a male with short brown hair sits at the desk wearing a blue dress shirt. They smile to the camera. White building drafts are visible on the table.

Paul Thrift (left) reviews business plans with his business partner, John Thompson. (credit/Thompson Thrift)

Following graduation from Indiana State, the two friends saw a need for additional student housing around the university’s campus. Thompson Thrift built Sycamore Place Apartments, a 28-unit development. This ambitious project helped Thrift realize his passion for real estate development, and he and Thompson began to expand Thompson Thrift into a full-service real estate company focusing on residential, commercial, and construction services.

Today, Thompson Thrift is a national company with real estate investments in Indianapolis, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Florida, and, of course, Terre Haute. The company has developed more than $5 billion in real estate projects, and that number continues to grow each year.

“Our mission is to positively impact team members and the communities we serve. We pursue projects that make a difference. We create jobs and promote economic development and activity,” says Thrift, whose real estate development in downtown Terre Haute led to the construction of the Hilton Garden Inn, Terre Haute Children’s Museum, the restoration of the Hulman Building, 500 Wabash, 901 Wabash (the Thompson Thrift office), 925 Wabash, the new Federal building at 921 Ohio, and other once-vacant buildings that Thompson Thrift restored to fully functioning commercial properties.

“Successful business leadership requires different strategies, and each project calls on different skills. You have to take extreme ownership and make sound decisions. You’ll encounter challenges, but it’s important to face them. Break down those challenges. You won’t overcome them overnight. Perseverance plays a key role in success,” Thrift explains.

The Sycamore has been recognized for his successful leadership. In 2023, Thrift appeared for the second consecutive year in the Indiana Business Journal’s Top 250 list of influential individuals in the state of Indiana. The list honors impactful leaders who make a difference in the state. In addition, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce recognized Thrift as its 2023 Ogletree Deakins Business Leader of the Year.

“It’s humbling to be honored. It’s validating to know that the things I have worked for have made an impact on others,” Thrift says. “However, these honors also challenge me to continue to be worthy of them.”

Paul Thrift, a middle-aged white male with short brown hair, stands in front of an audience at a leadership conference. A colorful banner is visible behind him.

(credit/Thompson Thrift)

His work is ongoing. Thrift plans to continue expanding Thompson Thrift, and he hopes to spend more time in philanthropic work within the company to impact communities. In addition, he wants to “raise up” today’s leaders to take on the responsibilities and tasks he once fulfilled in the company. Many of these young entrepreneurs are fellow Indiana State alumni hired by Thompson Thrift.

“Indiana State alums are curious learners. They’re learning to communicate effectively, and they have the traits to help drive positive results,” Thrift observes.

Reflecting on his own education at Indiana State, Thrift remembers sitting in college classes and dreaming of the future. As a political science student, he learned how to navigate societal issues, and how to develop critical thinking and strong communication skills. He also took accounting classes, where he worked with professors who cared about his interest in real estate.

“I had a good solid education at Indiana State. The professors took an interest in my education. They were patient with me, and their teaching has carried with me throughout my career,” he says.

Thrift has advice for current Sycamores: Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Paul Thrift, a middle-aged white male with short brown hair, stands in an office setting. He wears a dark brown suit jacket with a white undershirt. He smiles as he poses for the camera. A bookshelf with books and notebooks is visible behind him.

“Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. Try it now, even when it seems impossible. Go ahead and try. That’s how you learn,” he advises.

Thrift has been learning throughout his career – learning how to grow a successful business, learning how to impact others, and learning how to be a good leader. He has used his resources, and his passion, not just to build or renovate structures, but to build a culture of success. Because influential leadership begins with BLUE!