Things do not just happen. You have to make them happen. The concept of self-initiative seems to be the driving force behind Andre Thornton’s success. Playing the role of engineer, businessman, mentor, husband, and father, Thornton is the epitome of a “committed” leader.
Andre Thornton, a Virginia native, grew up with a strong sense of discipline and faith. With a supportive family who consistently instilled in him the concept of hard work, much of this foundation is due to his upbringing. However, with hard work comes sacrifice. As a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Thornton passed up the typical college experience for one that was much more structured. “VMI provided tremendous life lessons”, he stated. He stressed the importance of focusing on academic success. With a full ride to play college football, Thornton nostalgically recollects the 7:00am-4:00pm school day followed by football practice soon after, then studying into late hours of the night. For four years, Thornton had the same rigid schedule, and he is grateful. “VMI forced me to start being a man and to make my own decision to become successful”. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, Thornton later went on to receive his MBA in Finance from the Georgia State University Robinson School of Business. His education, paired with his work ethic and devotion to following his passion, landed him a position at Lockheed Martin; an opportunity that would turn into a 16 (and counting) year long career.
Currently, Thornton is the Senior Manager for Technical Leadership Programs at Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems and Global Solutions. His workday consists of developing technical leaders through strategic planning and managing projects. “The most exciting aspect of my career is having the opportunity to develop others”, he explains. Surprisingly, Thornton’s leadership persona was not always evident. Very early on as a young, black employee amongst his older Caucasian colleagues, Thornton let his diversity of thought suppress his ability to stand out in the workplace. “I was quiet in meetings and felt as though I didn’t have much to offer”, he says. However, he finally decided to take the risk and speak up, not worrying about having all the answers before he spoke. He became more vocal in meetings and asked questions at every given opportunity. “My questions were directed at understanding the company and figuring out how I can make an impact. I treated my more experienced colleagues as teachers and I was the student”. Thornton’s growth of attitude to learn the business proved to be successful, as he managed to work his way up the corporate ladder with Lockheed Martin. He has received various awards and accolades including the LM Eagle Award, the National Black Engineer of the Year Special Recognition Award, and is a three-time recipient of the Aero Star Award.
Although the life of an engineer is time and energy consuming, Thornton’s work does not stop there. He has continuously supported numerous community outreach activities over the years, and in 2012 after a Mission Trip to Niger, Africa, he felt the need to honor his faith and extend his own helping hand to the young men of his community. He and a close friend co-founded U.N.C.L.E – Unified Need for Courageous Leadership and Empowerment. “I felt a void inside. I felt as though God was leading me to do something more. I could be doing more to benefit the youth”. U.N.C.L.E strives to inspire the continuous pouring of God-given resources from one generation to the next through mentoring and fellowship. So far in the span of two years, Thornton and his partner have offered professional and personal guidance to a close knit group of young men with the intent of helping them make decisions for a more promising future. “Each individual has their own specific needs”, Thornton explains, “So we try to tailor our approach to each one differently. The point is to get them to set goals and fully understand what it takes to achieve that desired lifestyle”. In addition to his work with U.N.C.L.E, Thornton currently works closely with VMI, his alma mater, to help support its diversity initiatives and serves as Chairman of the Board for the Excel to Excellence Foundation.
The life of Andre Thornton is quite admirable, as his dedication to succeed, along with his selfless attitude, have granted him many blessings. He gives all praise to God for the course his life has taken. As if marrying his high school sweetheart wasn’t enough, he also has a beautiful daughter to keep him grounded in what is most important. “Success is a plan without an end,” he explains, “not an action at a point in time”.
INTERVIEW BY M-LIFESTYLE’S JEAN TATUM
(M-Lifestyle does not claim ownership of any images used, unless otherwise specified.)