Today, marks the beginning of a new era for San Jose Water as Eric Thornburg takes the reins from Rich Roth, SJW’s retiring Chief Executive Officer. Rich was President and CEO of SJW Group, our parent company, for more than 20 years. Eric comes to our company with 35 years of experience in the water industry. Most recently he served as the President and CEO of Connecticut Water Service, Inc. He also worked for American Water Works Corporation and Missouri-American Water. Eric is looking forward to joining the San Jose Water team and getting to know his new home town. We had the opportunity to learn a bit more about him in a recent Q&A.
How did you get your start in the water business?
I am actually a third generation water professional. My grandfather was a distribution maintenance employee in Pennsylvania. My father in turn started his career as a water treatment operator. When I was in college I was pretty certain that I would not follow in their footsteps. But it came down to a choice of Management Trainee jobs for either Coca-Cola or the Keystone Water Company in Norristown, Pa., which is a pretty wide range of options to be sure! My dad helped me decide by posing the question “would you rather sell a sugary drink or serve safe drinking water”? I knew right away what I would do next.
What were some of your early experiences?
The trainee program was great. I read meters, performed service work, fixed leaks, tapped mains, installed services, and worked as a filter attendant. I also designed main extensions (I ordered way too many bends on my first project!) worked in accounting, the rate department and then finished my year in operation’s services. While I never would say I learned everything in each job, I learned that the people were dedicated professionals who cared about their customers and the importance of what they did. That is the profession! To this day, I make better decisions because of that experience and the lessons learned.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am committed to being a “servant leader.” It is my responsibility to serve those I lead, making sure that they have what they need to best serve their customers and be successful.
And we all have customers! Some are external. Some are internal. I have found in my life that when we serve each other, working for each other’s success, something very powerful occurs. Not only does it work for the individual you are serving, and the team, but you also find that you are far more successful.
Trust is absolutely the key. I will be relentless in my pursuit of earning the trust of our team in San Jose and Texas. You will hear me talking about trust quite a bit as we get to know one another.
What excites you about the future of the water profession?
We all know that people will work for a paycheck and perhaps some occasional recognition. Yet I think that women and men really long to be part of something special and forge something enduring. Serving life sustaining high quality water to families and communities is just that! So I am very excited to be part of that profession.
What do you think makes San Jose Water unique?
The people always make the team unique. But I have much to learn about San Jose Water and its people. While I know our profession well, I do not know the culture that exists here yet. What is it like to work here? What are you proud of? What can we be better at? Is there anything we should start or stop doing?
So I will be asking a lot of question in my first 100 days. I would value “straight talk” when I do!
And one other thought…as a leader, I believe you “honor the past, but move forward.” So let’s decide together what we want San Jose Water “to be” and get after it!
What are you most looking forward to as part of your move to the west coast?
Family! My daughter lives in the Los Angeles area and I have cousins in Fresno. My wife Melissa’s father lives outside of Austin, so that’s great too. Naturally, the experience of moving into a new community, meeting people and learning about what the area has to offer is very appealing as well. We love the outdoors. And we’re thrilled to have left the snow blower back in Connecticut. So there’s that!
Tell us about your family?
My wife Melissa and I have been happily married for 33 years. She is an amazing life partner. Melissa was a teacher by training but our frequent moves made that a challenge. We have a son, Wesley, and a daughter, Erica. Wesley lives in Orlando, Florida and is a logistics/supply chain professional. He loves downtown Orlando...a vibrant, diverse area away from the theme parks!
Erica works in Pasadena for a marketing and advertising firm. Her clients are all non-profits and charities, which she really loves. My parents live in Richmond, Indiana and are incredibly active and supportive.
I am very blessed!
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I am an avid runner…I played soccer in college and enjoyed the game for many years after. But decided to hang up the cleats 7 years ago and took up running and got bit by it! I have completed a number of marathons including New York and Boston (twice). It’s a passion!
We are also active supporters of “Water for People.” My daughter and I traveled to Rwanda to see first hand the impact that safe drinking water has on the lives of people. It was life changing.
And on an even more personal note, my two brothers are both retired Marines. My youngest brother is in fact a combat veteran. Because of their service and sacrifice, I am passionate about our vets. It’s a huge issue from my line of sight. There is a lot of suffering that goes on many years after their service is complete.
What three words would most people use to describe you?
Well I did not want to answer that question on my own…. so I asked three people I worked with to help me. They settled on genuine, positive and committed. I will do all that I can to live up to those words starting today. Can’t wait!