Joe Robert Thornton, EVP and COO, HMSHost, Author, The Power of Or; The Hostility of Change

Joe Robert Thornton, EVP and COO, HMSHost, Author, The Power of Or; The Hostility of Change

Joe Robert Thornton, EVP, and COO, HMSHost, Author, The Power of Or; The Hostility of Change

Joe Robert Thornton is an experienced senior executive with more than 37 years of large-scale operations, human resources, and strategic leadership.



How frequently do you travel by air? Now imagine landing at your destination and finding no food stalls at the airport! Feels scary right? We all love to fill our bellies after getting down from a plane. Our guest for today, Mr. Joe Robert Thornton, has been serving this need of the consumers for a very long time. He is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at HMSHost, a leading Airport Food Retail Business in the US. Joe further tells us that HMS Host is not much heard about because it is a brand that works behind different brands. They have tie-ups with many leading brands like Starbucks and work with them. 

Challenges faced by good brands in delivering the value

Joe tells us that the tagline of his business is that they want people to feel good on the move. They try to deliver the same. However, like any other business, they too have their share of challenges. At the current time, one of the biggest challenges is supply chain management. Staffing is also a major challenge. Another challenge Joe talks about is the strain on the cost model of the businesses due to the pandemic.

Joe’s learnings from his past experiences

Joe has worked with very large organizations like Starbucks and Jamba Juice before coming to HMSHost. He tells us that in his 11 years of working with Starbucks, he has learned quite a lot. He shares three key points of his learnings there. The first thing he tells us about Starbucks is the frequency of its footfall. Joe believes that there might be no other brand that people visit as frequently as they visit Starbucks. It is like a daily habit of a large percentage of people to go to a particular Starbucks outlet. So the brands can build a personal relationship with each customer. They have the level of familiarity with their customers that no other brand has. Secondly, Joe believes that Starbucks is a quite polarising brand. Either people love it or have never tried it. The third thing Joe likes about Starbucks is the way it builds culture by prioritizing people and standing for the community. He also discusses how Jamba Juice was in a different industry in its initial days and how it spread its business in the food industry. He talks about his learnings at Jamba Juice as well.

How is technology impacting the food business?

In Joe’s opinion, technology is changing the food business in every way. The use of technology in the food business got a push, especially during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, there were technologies like ordering from scanning the QR code present at the table and paying online, but it was accelerated during the pandemic as it became a need to do a contactless transaction on both the seller and the buyer sides. HMSHost is also working on a new project through which they will facilitate mobile orders and pay to the customers outside or on the way to the airport. It will ensure that the order of a customer is ready by the time he arrives at the store.

Joe’s style of leadership

Since Joe has been successfully leading large teams across 77 airports, our host was interested in understanding his leadership style. Joe tells us that his leadership style is highly collaborative. He tells us that he joined HMSHost in the initial days of the pandemic outbreak. He couldn’t do much at that time. However, due to other people’s collaboration, he understood the company better. He says that one plus one is not two but it is more than one. When two people collaborate there is always an additional contribution to your work.


Joe Robert Thornton is an experienced senior executive with more than 37 years of large-scale operations, human resources, and strategic leadership. In his current business role, Joe serves as the Executive Vice-President & Chief Operating Officer for HMSHost, operating more than 1,500 restaurants across airports and travel plazas in North America. In this role, Joe leads operations, operations services, culinary, marketing, communications, supply chain, digital, and coffee innovation.

In February 2020, he published his first book, The Power Of Or: Choosing And Doing What Matters Most.

In February 2021, Joe published his second book, The Hostility Of Change: Breaking Through Deep-Seated Barriers, both under his Vizzionnary Brands publishing label. All proceeds go to support his newly created non-profit organization, Project Prosperity, which is focused on educating and supporting people in disadvantaged neighborhoods who are beset with additional financial barriers preventing financial freedom.

In 2018, Joe created Vizzionnary Brands,, a company focused on business consulting, executive coaching, and literary publishing. Visionary helped develop the operational plans to open a coffee concept in Denver and Joe used his Vizzionnary platform to coach several executives over the past three years. As a precursor to this work, Joe served as a consultant for a local accelerator product development company in Austin, Texas.

Prior to his literary work, Joe was Chief Operating Officer at Jamba Juice leading all field and headquarter functions related to operations, operations services, and training as well as supporting franchise owners across the country. Joe led a business and operational transformation that ultimately led to the successful sale of the company.

Prior to Jamba Juice, Joe was with Starbucks Coffee Company for 11 years, where he held a series of senior leadership roles, overseeing company-owned and licensed stores across multiple territories, including serving as Senior Vice President, leading the operation of 2,400 company-operated stores and 40,000 employees. 

Prior to joining Starbucks, Joe spent 14 years with Blockbuster Inc., working in several capacities, including Human Resources, Operations, Franchising, and large-scale re-engineering work supporting more than 5,500 stores. 

Joe attended Central Texas College where he majored in Business Administration. He has been actively involved in diversity and inclusion work throughout his career and has been a keynote speaker on the topic of leadership in the community. When he is not working, Joe spends his time with his wife, Inez, and his three adult children and leisure time golfing and writing.

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