On the Job with Tony Lewis

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

"On the Job with...." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Tony Lewis, vice president, Belk Central Georgia regional manager.

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

A. I would prepare a nice, neat, one page resume and start submitting it on-line to every job search site I could find.

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

A. Unbelievably, I bought two Munsingwear knit shirts at Belk Gallant in downtown Toccoa, Ga.

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

A. People respond very well to a steady diet of communication that keeps them engaged in both their personal and team's results.

Q. What was your first job?

A. I was a 15-year-old on the work crew during the summer of 1969 at Camp Mikell in Toccoa, Ga. We cut grass, cleaned and washed dishes.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. I was general manager of a Macy's in Atlanta when a former colleague told me about the opening for a regional store manager at Belk.

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

A. Yes, Joe Rutledge who was the store manager at Gayfer's at Peachtree Mall in Columbus. I began my career in retail there when he was running that store. He always asked you to complete an assignment rather than ordered you to do it. I copied that method and still continue with it today.

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

A. I learned that you truly must always be prepared for the proverbial "rainy day."

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. I have to admit that many of the automated phone systems are frustrating.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. I really like the Blackberry. It just has more uses than you can count.

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

A. l recently re-read "They Call Me Coach" by the late John Wooden, former basketball coach at UCLA. It is full of lessons that apply to every aspect of life. I read The Albany Herald almost every day. I also read a lot of magazines. I have subscriptions to Sports Illustrated, Mens Health, GQ, Ebony and Southern Living. I read scripture once or twice each week.

Q. I'm up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. I'm a very early riser. On weekdays, I'm up at 4:30 a.m. and get in about an hour of exercise, shower and always eat breakfast. I'm usually off to work by 7 to 7:15. I am almost always up by 5:30 a.m. on weekends.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. My favorite activity away from work is distance running. I was on the cross country team during my college days and though I'm a lot slower, and heavier now, I still like to start a day with a pre-dawn run. I also enjoy smoking chicken and pork with hickory and pecan wood low and slow out on my charcoal grill. My other hobby is yardwork.

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

A. I was a menswear buyer for seven years and was fortunate to have a good bit of success in that role, I actually even worked in a buying office in the New York City garment district. I occasionally wonder "what if" I had not veered from that path into store management.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Without question, the best part of my job is seeing people grow, develop and succeed.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. The worst parts are the rare occasions when you have to address an underperformer.

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

A. I took Speech during my freshman year in college. My job requires that I do a lot of presentations, so that course is still paying dividends.

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

A. My dream job would be head basketball coach at a major university. As a high schooler, I always envisioned myself as the next John Wooden.

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

A. No thoughts of retirement for me. Health permitting, I'll work on into my seventies.

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

A. I believe strong leaders must first have an inner drive to succeed, a fire in the belly.

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

A. It's not in full swing yet, but our sales results for the past 12 months clearly indicate that economic recovery is in progress. My best, uneducated guess is that it will take another 18-24 months to come all the way back around.

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

A. I listen to a very wide range of music. Most played lately would be some of the neo-soul artists like Kem, Chrissette Michelle and and Robin Thicke along with a little jazz from Diana Krall and Wyntonn Marsallis. And, few days pass that I don't get around to some old school Sly and The Family Stone, Parliament, Aretha and Marvin Gaye.

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

A. I believe that Albany State University and Darton College will both continue to experience explosive growth. That growth will spawn entirely new avenues of development for Albany.

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

A. In the late 80's when our boys were kids, we rented a cabin at the Lakepoint Resort in Eufaula. We spent most of the week racing bicycles, playing catch with a baseball and cruising around the lake on a pontoon boat. I am pretty sure that both boys caught their first fish that week. Of course, I had the grill fired up every day too. We have video recordings from that vacation that are still fun to watch. It was just good, all American family fun.

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

A. Advances in technology are allowing us to receive more frequent and meaningful input from our customers. As a result, we are changing our business very rapidly in response to ever evolving consumer needs. This capability to solicit, capture and organize very fine details of customer's shopping patterns did not exist a few years back.