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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Top 100 CEO: Entrepreneur: Life takes international turn for E-Mist CEO

Name: George Robertson

Position: Chairman and CEO of E-Mist Innovations

How long in this position: Since January 2014 (“They pulled me out of retirement!”)

Previous jobs: Founder and CEO of National HME Inc. Fort Worth, sold in 2015; worked at hospice organization VITAS Healthcare from 2001-2006; first corporate job was at Allied Pharmacy Management as vice president of the Medical Equipment Division in 1985

First job: Selling ice cream at Baskin-Robbins

Best business advice: “Do the right things always, and the right outcome will happen. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself by. Be generous and never stop giving.”

Best business book: Good to Great by Jim Collins

Favorite book: Bible

Favorite movie or play: The Notebook

Best decision ever made: Getting married and having children

Advice for people getting started in business: “Have a lot of energy and be passionate about the business you are starting. Surround yourself by people who are smarter than you are, and don’t be afraid to ask those people for help.”

George Robertson’s Business Management Tips

1. Learn to be a leader.

“You can be a good manager, but if you’re a poor leader, your outcomes are not going to be as good.”

2. Treat people right.

“You can manage and move and follow guidelines and stuff, but if you’re not treating people right, or being courteous or being kind, things will never be as successful.”

3. Know when to take a break from work.

“When you get out of balance, you need to have an internal register to know that. Then you’ve got to take some down time.”

George Robertson was getting bored in retirement.

After starting over 20 businesses in the restaurant, retail and health care fields, the former president and CEO of medical equipment company National HME planned to settle down and spend time with family. But soon, his restlessness prompted him to join the angel investor group Cowtown Angels in 2013.

The group soon asked Robertson to become the CEO of E-Mist Innovations, and in 2014 he took over the business. The company’s disinfecting product, the Touch Point Healthy Infection Control System, would later be used to spray Ebola patient Nina Pham’s apartment in 2014. In July 2015, the company announced that it would partner with the African nation of Guinea in a $9 million project to fight Ebola.

Now, getting back to retirement might not be so easy, Robertson said.

“I thought I was through as far as developing new businesses,” he said. “But I just truly believe that God was not finished with me, that He had plans and wants to utilize the gift that He’s given me to help grow this business.”

Robertson became interested in E-Mist after the product’s inventor, Mike Sides, made a pitch to the Cowtown Angels through TECH Fort Worth.

E-Mist didn’t quite have a business plan yet, and Sides was hesitant to take charge of the business aspects, said TECH Fort Worth executive director Darlene Boudreaux.

“Mike Sides kept telling me for months before that, ‘Darlene, we need an investor, but what we really need is a CEO. I’m an inventor, not a CEO,’” she said.

So Robertson became the guy, taking the job in January 2014.

The company had a decent start, contracting with a few health care organizations including the Fort Worth-based nursing home chain Creative Solutions in Healthcare.

Then October hit.

Ebola was the top news in Dallas-Fort Worth after Thomas Eric Duncan died from the virus on Oct. 8. One of his nurses, Pham, contracted the virus as well.

E-Mist was hired to disinfect Pham’s apartment, and suddenly the product was thrust into the media spotlight.

Phones were ringing almost constantly as numerous news outlets sought an interview with Robertson. After he appeared on CNN, national attention turned into international attention.

For Robertson, this was all new.

“Any of the companies I’ve started have never really been put into the spotlight,” he said. “The phones were ringing. We heard from all of the major networks, all of the local TV stations. Newspapers called us from all over the world. After the CNN spot, I literally had to turn off my phone for a week.”

Yet in the midst of all the hype, Robertson said, he learned something.

“It’s really been different, but what we found out through that is there’s such a need,” he said. “Things happen for a purpose. It was unfortunate that our local community went through that crisis and that scare. Ebola’s a very scary thing, but what it’s done is it opened up the eyes of people to see [that] we need to do something about it.”

The media attention has died down, but the coverage opened up an opportunity for E-Mist to reach out across the globe. While no plans have been set in stone beyond Guinea, other countries such as Singapore, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have expressed interest in the product.

“It’s a world-changing business,” he said. “I think as long as you can make a difference in life, not just businesses, that you’re going to be successful at it.”

He said he lives by a philosophy he learned from his late mentor and business partner Stanley Poynor: “Do the right thing, and the right thing will happen.”

He also credits his Christian faith for his success.

Robertson said a Bible verse that parallels his life is Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Robertson’s plan to retire was not part of God’s purpose, he said.

But Robertson said he’s okay with that.

“Entrepreneurship has to be a gift,” he said. “The more I have going on, the better I am.”

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