John Thornborrow says the communication skills he learned in the U.S. Army transfer well to his job as a Haskell foreman.

November 10, 2020

Haskell Foreman Thornborrow Retired His Drill Sergeant Whistle


John Thornborrow, a Haskell general foreman at the Lower Poplar Water Reclamation Plant in Macon, Georgia, doesn’t act like a drill sergeant to the employees and subcontractors he oversees.

As a former drill sergeant, he knows that wouldn’t produce the best results.

Thornborrow, 51, spent 28 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, retiring in 2015. Although an Army sergeant, he mainly trained Navy personnel, readying them for combat. He did one tour of duty in Afghanistan, training Afghani troops to work with the U.S. military.

He’s found that one skill, in particular, translates from the military to his civilian career: communication.

As a foreman, his job is to direct Haskell employees and subcontract personnel and complete the day’s task. In the military, an order achieved that goal. In civilian life, a loud voice and a whistle don’t work.

“As a drill sergeant in charge of 60 privates at a time, yes,” he said. “But that leadership style will not work on the civilian side. But like with any leader you have worked with, you pick out the good parts that you want to emulate.”

His military training has helped him to understand how to use his voice and its tone to express urgency and clarity when needed.

“Sometimes I do find myself going back to my old military ways but that doesn’t work on the civilian side,” he said. “I have to look at myself and reevaluate. If I go down this route, the team may not respect me if I am browbeating them. But if I explain the standards and we do it as a team, we will accomplish the goal.”

His tour in Afghanistan taught him patience. There were vast cultural differences. When asked about the difference between Afghanistan and American soldiers, he politely compared it to “herding cats.”

The military also taught him about deployment. While Macon is not that far from his home in Columbia, South Carolina, he gets to see his wife, Corinne, only a couple times a month. The two have a combined family of four children from previous marriages. His three sons all enlisted in the military after high school.

“I’d recommend the service to almost anybody, even if it is for just a 2-year term,” Thornborrow said. “It gives you experiences that you’ll never find in civilian life – a sense of direction and discipline.”

Honoring Our Veterans

Haskell proudly employs veterans of the United States Armed Forces and currently has 68 team members who previously served our country. To commemorate Veterans Day, is spotlighting five of those team members. In addition, Haskell annually presents each veteran on our team with a special thank you gift.

As Haskell’s Workforce Development and Talent Acquisition teams continually evaluate and address the personnel needs, veterans play a greater role now than ever before.

“What we consistently find is that veterans are adaptable, dedicated professionals who understand that learning new skills is a part of every job,” said Dave Balz, who leads Workforce Development. “Whether someone has served on a submarine, as an on-the-ground war-fighter or supported through logistics and IT, they understand mission, structure, results and accountability. They also have a background of doing for the good of the team. These attributes fit hand in glove with our core values of Team, Excellence, Service and Trust.”

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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