Community in Action
Thor Falk says “Yes”
By Julie A. Palm
Heading into 2020, Thor Falk chose “Just Say Yes” as his motto.
With the deaths of both his mother and a sister, 2019 had been a tough one for Falk, president of Falk Research Associates Inc., a full-service marketing research and consulting firm in Winter Park, Florida. “I can barely remember the second half of 2019 but, somehow, the promise of things being better in 2020 stirred me,” Falk says. “It would be the year of saying, ‘Yes!’”
It was a good time in Falk’s life to embrace the new, the positive. A self-described “gay old guy” who had been running his successful business for two decades, Falk was ready to take on fresh challenges and to give back to others, especially younger members of the LGBTQ community.
During the first few months of 2020, Falk’s commitment to “Yes” went well. He lost 35 pounds, led his business to its best quarter in a decade and, at 60, started dating again. “Then came COVID-19 and my business came to a screeching halt. I was confined to my house, just like everyone else.”
Falk could have taken the pandemic shutdown as a sign to abandon his “Just Say Yes” pledge, yet he remained committed. He taught himself to sew, making pillows from his late mother’s colorful jackets and protective masks to share with his family. He began training to become a personal coach. And Falk used the darkness of the year—the pandemic isolation, the Black Lives Matter protests, the turmoil of the election—to shine a light. “While upset by the specific events, I remained committed to looking for opportunities in 2020 and refused to let go of my ‘Just Say Yes’ commitment to myself,” Falk says.
Flying the Flag
Inspired by a similar effort in Hingham, Massachusetts, Falk launched a project to encourage residents in Winter Park to fly 1,000 Pride flags this June. He formed the not-for-profit Winter Park PRIDE Project to direct the effort and enlisted the support of community and business leaders, including the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.
When pitching the project to the chamber, Falk was open about his own struggles to feel accepted, supported and included as a gay man. “I told them I was a boy who knew he was different but not entirely sure how or why. I was a high schooler trying to navigate the social constructs of dating but not feeling fully vested in that. I was a college student who had ‘faggot’ yelled at him from the fraternity windows,” Falk told the group. “I worked as a restaurant manager living two lives. Then I left gay life entirely for years and focused only on my career. I slowly re-emerged when I achieved success but I struggled with dating men after being out of circulation for so long. I came out fully and saw my bookings with certain clients decline or disappear.
“Despite all of this, I’m happy with the life I have built and who I am. That said, I cannot help but wonder what impact seeing a Pride flag on a neighbor’s house, in front of a general business, along an avenue where I shop or hanging from my grandmother’s window might have had on the trajectory of my life.”
As a role model for LGTBQ youths, Falk wanted those 1,000 Pride flags to fly throughout Winter Park to shift the trajectory of someone else’s life. “What impact would seeing a Pride flag hanging from a ‘straight’ house have on LGBTQ+ people, particularly the youth?” he asks. “If there is anywhere we should feel accepted, appreciated and loved, it is in our own neighborhood.”
Falk, the youngest of seven children, grew up in Mound, Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis. He traded the long winters of the Upper Midwest for the sunnier climes of Winter Park, graduating from Rollins College and earning an MBA from the University of Central Florida. He joined Lennox Research Inc. in 1991, buying the company in 2000 and changing its name.
The firm offers a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research solutions to address client objectives, and now Falk is using the skills he’s honed throughout his career in a new role as a personal coach.
“Typically, my coaching clients have the answers in them already, they just are not always able to tap into them. That’s where my abilities as a facilitator can help them get there,” Falk says. “An ideal client for me is someone who has goals but they need help finding their path to achieving those goals.”
In addition to launching his coaching business, Falk spent part of 2020 turning his longtime interest in real estate into becoming a Realtor®.
“I’ve always had a passion for real estate, and I knew I would be selling my home in 2021, so it seemed like the perfect time to get my license,” he said. “It’s also a great way to use my passion to help others achieve the dream of home ownership and real estate investment.”
Saying “Yes” was so effective for Falk in 2020, he selected a new motto for this year: “What’s Next?” For now, that means growing his consulting practice, returning to face-to-face research through his marketing business and seeing what other opportunities present themselves.
“At this stage in my life, I am most concerned with having meaningful interactions, working where my interests take me and allowing myself to pivot and roll in ways that might surprise me,” he says.
Connect with Thor Falk on LinkedIn.
Julie A. Palm (she/her) is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She specializes in writing, editing, publications management and communications consulting for a variety of clients, including trade magazines, business journals, colleges and universities, ad agencies and small businesses. Follow her on Twitter @julieapalm.