Lawrence Knighton is the sales executive of Chick-fil-A.
"On the Job with ..." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Lawrence C. Knighton, sales and marketing director for Chick-fil-A in Albany.
Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?
A. I would have done my job market homework while in college or before entering college.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. A new suit.
Q. What's the single most effective technique you found during the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. The one thing that keeps employees motivated is when you allow them to take ownership of the business and get their input. At Chick-fil-A, everyone is important and the employees feel as if it is their business.
Q. What was your first job?
A. My first job was a paper route.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. I was a raving fan of Chick-fil-A and was a friend of the operator, K.J. Wari. I inquired about a position with Mr. K.J., and at the time he needed someone in sales and marketing. This position fell in line with what I had been doing most of my life and it has been a tremendous blessing.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. My role model would definitely have to be Mr. K.J. Wari. He instills great leadership values in all of the employees. His philosophy is that we hire eagles and not chickens. Chickens are ordinary, and eagles are extraordinary. I use this same philosophy in the church that I pastor. I try to put people in positions that are not just ordinary, but extraordinary.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. The recession will not affect you when you offer consistent top notch customer service. Even in ministry, our church has experienced a minimum 25 percent growth in every area yearly because we strive to offer excellent customer service at the church consistently.
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. The one thing that is hurting businesses is the automated phone service. It is imperative to maintain a personal relationship with the people who pay your bills. Many companies are trying to cut spending, but automated phone service takes away the human touch.
Q. What is your favorite
A. The Blackberry. Can't live without it.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. "The Servant" by James C. Hunt. It is a book about the true essence of leadership.
Q. I'm up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I am up and going by 7 a.m. Generally, I try to read when I first get up. Then, I eat breakfast and I head off to work.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. Reading, hanging out in Destin and deep sea fishing. We try to go deep sea fishing at least three times a year.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I would have worked at Chick-fil-A a long time ago. Chick-fil-A is the best-kept secret of all time.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. Meeting people and being involved in the community. It is a joy when we put together a catering menu for a special event or just cater lunch at the office or schools and see the smiles on the customers' faces when it is over.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. When I don't reach the goals that I have set for the year.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Business management.
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 to own my own record label and be a full-time promoter. In the 1990s I was a promoter and I also had the privilege of getting record deals for a couple of artists. That has always stuck with me, and I still feel like it will happen eventually.
Q. Finish this thought; "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...
A. In Africa on a safari with my family.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. People skills. There are many people in leadership capacities who do not have the skills to get along with people, and that makes for an uncomfortable environment.
Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. I believe that America as a whole is dealing with the seven-year famine that God had the Children of Israel because of their apostasy. I believe that it will be at least three more years before we can really begin to see signs of economic improvement.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. Gospel, jazz and R&B.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. The one biggest change that has to happen in Albany is a major improvement in our public educational system. Albany will not grow in any aspect until we as a community get involved and hold the people accountable for ensuring that we not only graduate literate students, but we graduate students who can go on to post- secondary education without having to take remedial classes.
Cities that experience growth are the cities that have good educational systems.
Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?
A. The best vacation I have ever taken was with my son and his classmate in Vegas for his 21st birthday. We have family there and he always wanted to go, so I took him there for his 21st birthday. He was able to see the city and meet family members he had not met before.