Meet our VP of People

By Fara Foster, Director of Communications & Community Engagement

“We are going to bet the farm on people.”

We all heard Pat Nelson make that statement during his ATA opening remarks last January. “Bet the farm” literally means to risk, with absolute certainty, everything on an investment one believes will be successful. In the case of our companies, it means the owners are willing to invest their resources (the entire operation) in the hiring, training and development of the people who work here.

Part of that plan was the creation of a position to head those efforts. On September 5, we welcomed Adrian Barnhill as our Vice President of People to do just that.

While Adrian may be new to our team, he is far from new to human resources. He joins us with over 20 years’ experience in the field, with such firms as The Trane Companies, Republic Services and Parker Hannifin in Batesville, MS. Originally from North Carolina, he and his wife, Teresa, moved to the Mid-South from Kansas City in 2015, not for his employment, but for hers. Teresa had made the acquaintance of a colleague at a conference and they stayed in touch. Shortly thereafter, the acquaintance asked Teresa to visit Memphis, which led to a job offer from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and their relocation. For Teresa, it was about two things:  1) the relationship built with that acquaintance and 2) a career that allowed her to both work and give back.

Having only been with his most recent employer for a short time, Adrian was not looking for a new job. He was approached by a corporate recruiter hired by our companies who forwarded the job description along with our core values. “Reading the core values statement got my attention,” said Adrian. “The values so closely matched my own, I had to read a little further. Then, the job description seemed like it was written specifically for me. When my wife read both and confirmed my feelings, I thought this could be the right fit for me.”

Before joining our team, he was shown the results of our employee engagement survey last April, noting that those scores indicated there were good people here. “I’ve had nothing but confirmation of that in the past few weeks,” he said. “I’ve always worked on increasing engagement – employees having ‘skin in the game’; getting them to care. I try to look at the ‘care factor’ and the ‘want to’. If those two things are in line, the sky’s the limit.”

His goal for the foreseeable future is to spend as much time as possible in the field, getting to know our people and their jobs. For him, like his wife, it is about relationships. And, he prefers an indirect leadership style. Playing football through college and spending a combined 12 years in the Army ROTC and as a commissioned officer in the Army Reserves helped develop that style. “I realized there are really no born leaders,” Adrian explained. “Your experiences and how you apply them are what make you a leader. You don’t have to have direct influence. You don’t have to have a title. You’re a leader if people want to follow you.”

He concluded, “Already, I’ve met a lot of people with the same last name and a lot of long-term employees. What I’ve heard more than anything is ‘we’re a team’. I’m not here to change a lot now. I’m just here to see where I can help.”

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