On the Job with Lew Culpepper

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?

A. I would contact every person I know to start networking. Then I would put on a suit and take my resume to every business where I might be qualified to work. Jobs are hard to find, even for college graduates.

Q. When you interview job applicants, what things do you look for in the type person you want to hire?

A. Integrity is foremost. In my business, personality is very important because we all interact with the public.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. It's been so long ago I can't remember. It was probably baseball cards.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Let them have ownership. Let them know your methods and goals and then give your employees freedom to work as if they own the business themselves and to make decisions on their own. I don't have to correct them too often.

Q. What was your first job?

A. When I was 15 years old, I assembled shipping crates in the attic of a peach packing shed. It was hot, but that's what everyone did in the summers in Fort Valley. I earned 75 cents an hour.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. I had been in retail before as owner of Christian Book & Gift. I enjoyed retail and decided to try it again after being out for five years. I felt that Albany deserves and would support a quality ice cream store and I searched and found the best.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. My father instilled in me that honesty and integrity were critical to having a good life. The Luce brothers in Fort Valley owned Blue Bird Body Co. and showed that hard work with a sense of fairness could be a recipe for success. My father-in-law, Herschel Darsey, inspired my desire to be in business for myself.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. Don't count your chickens before they hatch. You must be flexible in order to respond to any crisis.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology -- examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. -- what would you most like to see go away?

A. It has to be the automated phone systems, the systems I call in to and the computers that call me.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. I like our low-tech ice cream cone maker. We make our ice cream cones in house on a waffle iron and then we roll the cones by hand. The aroma is wonderful.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I am currently reading "With Hands Outstretched" by my pastor, Dr. Don Adams. I also read Sports Illustrated, Georgia Trend, Handyman, and The Herald.

Q. I'm up and going by?

A. My wife works for the school system so she gets up before me. We don't open until 11, so I usually am out by 9 to get supplies and get the store ready to open.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I love to follow my Auburn Tigers. I also like to do small home improvement projects. We just bought an old home on the avenues, and we are getting it ready to move into. I worked one summer with a plumber and electrician and enjoy doing my own repairs.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I should have done more research and asked more questions rather than relying on instinct. Most everything has worked out alright in spite of that.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Serving the world's best ice cream to happy customers. And having great employees to work with.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. I'm involved seven days a week. But that's retail.

Q. The most beneficial course you took in school was?

A. It's been so long ago I can't remember. Probably math.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I would probably be a real estate attorney.

Q. Finish this thought; "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...

A. On a well-deserved vacation in the North Carolina mountains with my wife, or on a mission trip repairing houses.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Honesty.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. Wow, I have been wrong on this so far, but I think now it won't get better until after the election. I think most business people are scared to invest or expand because of the uncertainty of future government regulations.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. James Taylor, Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker and a little Lady Antebellum. And some more James Taylor.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. I hope it will be that local governments realize that economic growth is not a black-white issue and that growth helps everyone. Leadership needs to find ways to help small businesses succeed instead of throwing up roadblocks.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?

A. When I was 12 my parents and my two brothers took our 14-foot boat from Jacksonville to Titusville on the Intracoastal Waterway and returned by way of the St. Johns River. Five people, with luggage, for four days in a very small boat -- I'll never forget that trip.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Innovative new products like ice cream cupcakes and pizza. It's fun doing different things with ice cream.