Thornton 2.0: A Chat with Serial Entrepreneur Charlie Thornton

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As they say in New York City, where Charlie Thornton grew up, he’s “been around the block” in the field of structural engineering. Almost immediately after graduating from Manhattan College in the early 60s, Thornton not only started working with some of the best architects in the world, including his friend, Cesar Pelli, but became just as notable in his own right in the specialized and very complex area of tall building construction. All of which can be seen in the founding and remarkable success of Thornton Tomasetti, an international business with now 1,400 employees.

And in his spare time, Thornton created the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program, a non-profit offering training to more than 40,000 inner-city high school students across the United States. To date, ACE has awarded more than $6 million in scholarships.

Having sold the firm in 2005, Thornton did a few things after his tenure came to an end. He and his wife, Carolyn, began spending much more time on the Eastern Shore, eventually moving here permanently, and he never stopped working. This second life of his gave him the opportunity to reunite with a fellow engineer on a radically new concept of building construction, which promised to could cut costs in half, complete buildings faster, and become a more safe work site for workers.

This new approach was slated to be used decades before in New York on a Russian Consulate residence, but the project was killed due to the politics of the times in US-Soviet relations. But the idea itself lived on in the mind of these two engineers, and finally, some thirty odd years later, two buildings were serendipitously commissioned by Intel Corporation in India using the technique and, bingo, the results came in as promised. Two perfect buildings were ready for business with dramatic cost-savings, delivered in half the time, with hardly any worksite injuries.

This extraordinary success story is now being used as Charlie, and his small band of colleagues travel the country demonstrating how this could save billions of dollars in construction costs. The results so far have yielded contracts for a dozen or more buildings in the next few years, and the prospects of almost single-handedly bringing creative disruption to one of the most capital-intensive sectors of our economy is now a distinct possibility.

A few weeks ago, the Spy sat down with Charlie at his home in Talbot County to talk about this remarkable chapter in American entrepreneurship and engineering.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Charles Thornton and LIFT Group please go here

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