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On the Job with Winston Oxford

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

"On the Job With...." is a regular feature of Sunday Inc. Today's segment is with Winston A. Oxford, executive director of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority.

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

A. Actually, I started challenging my three sons while they were in middle school to start thinking about what they would like to do when they grew up. You see, my sister who is seven years older than I, encouraged me to take business courses in high school along with just enough college prep to get into college. I'm here to tell you, when I did get to college, my first accounting, economics, and business writing classes were a breeze. I knew early on that I wanted to be an auto dealer. The costs of higher education being what it is, I feel that it is imperative to try and figure out a career path as early as one can in life.

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

A. Well, guess my first paying job was a shoe shine boy at a local barber shop on Saturdays. I was about 10. I charged 15 cents for a shine in hopes of getting a quarter which would be a 10-cent tip. I saved my money throughout high school actually accumulating about $1,000 which I used as a down payment on my first home. Although it was a 12 by 60 mobile home, it was mine.

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

A. More times than not, your fellow team members are motivated by example. However, a boss of mine once told me the first few weeks on the job: 'Winston, there will be times that I will give you a thought and you can do with it as you will. Then there will be times when I will give you a suggestion and you really need to seriously consider that suggestion. And then, there might be times when I give you a decision and when that happens, you better heed my direction.' Trust me, proper communications is a great technique in motivation.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Shoe shine boy. Car wash helper, all along trying to sell the cars that I was keeping clean.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. I had just moved my father to Magnolia Manor Retirement Center in Americus when I heard about this opening in Lee County. Since all of my family had moved away from this area, I felt that moving to Lee County would be a good opportunity to afford me the privilege of being close to my Dad and helping to look after him. Now the rest of the story is, there were 3 "no growth-errs" elected in McDuffie County, the previous community in which I worked, and I was told to get out of town. So, needing a job led me to my current position.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. My Blackberry has turned out to be my best friend as I spend probably over 80 percent of my time out of the office and I no longer have to ask my associates to check and respond to my emails.

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

A. The folks at the Lee Library will tell you that Winston has no pattern in choosing the books that he reads. I have enjoyed reading biographies, books connected to corporate politics, motivational readings, and just some books for fun. The book I just completed for fun was "A Man In Full." Guess the most interesting read that I ever experienced was "The Wal-Mart Effect."

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

A. I am up around 5 a.m. five days a week. On the bowflex and treadmill for about an hour. Sleep in on the weekends until maybe 6:30. Yes, I'm one of those obnoxious morning people. Love to sit on the porch and enjoy my favorite time of day watching sunrises, listening to nature, drinking my coffee, and eating my cereal.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Grew up playing golf and played it most of my life until the last seven years. Went back to water skiing which I also did off and on as a kid and throughout my life. Figure I can take up golf again in my old age, you know, maybe late 80's.

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

A. I had a chance to sell my auto dealership in 1987 for a lot more than I ultimately sold it for, but at the time I just didn't realize how much I was burning out. Timing is everything.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Truly, those warm fuzzy feelings you get when you help someone get a job that is unemployed or help an entrepreneur start a business from scratch and watch it become successful. When I was McDuffie County's economic developer, I located a new manufacturer to the community which made plastic arm rests for Club Car Golf Carts. Their sole product depended on just supplying Club Car, which was very dangerous. Over the next seven years, I helped that company ultimately find additional markets supplying Briggs and Stratton with plastic engine covers and Electrolux Vacuums with their plastic plates. When I left McDuffie County, only about 60 percent of the company's market was tied to Club Car. I love selling and helping people make money.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. When I visited with a seasoned economic development professional at the Georgia Department of Industry and Trade back in 1994 while trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up, he encouraged me to come work with the department. He warned me that practicing on the local level was very political. He went on to say that when one begins their work in a community if you sat around doing nothing, the people who you answer to would figure it out and run you off in a couple of years. On the other hand, if you did your job and did it well accomplishing things like creating new jobs and increasing the local tax base, you would make some people mad because at times, you have to chose not to play certain local political games as there are individuals who exist in every community who have their own agendas -- political and otherwise. One way or another, this professional advised me to keep my resume current. Unfortunately, this seasoned professional was correct in his assessment that the only way a local economic developer can survive over time is to keep everybody happy all of the time.

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

A. Actually, it was many years after my formal education. The economic development courses that I have taken at Georgia Tech, the University of Oklahoma, as well as courses hosted by the International Economic Development Council have benefited me the most. Matter of fact, if I had been exposed to these educational opportunities prior to my automotive career I sincerely feel that I would have even been a better car dealer.

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

A. I am very serious when I say that I now have my dream job in my dream community. Since I grew up and lived most of my life in Americus, I feel that I am back home. Although Lee County has its challenges just like every other community, Life works well here. When a salesman has confidence in his product, it is easy to sell it, not to mention the satisfaction that goes along with those sales.

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

A. I shutter to think about outright retirement even if I had the financial means to do so. At least five days a week Winston has to have a mission or he becomes a very bored and unhappy camper. There's only one big event left in life after retirement and I will never be ready for that event as long as I have my health. My Dad passed away last year at 98 and drove himself to his office until his early 90s being very successful in an investing career in his older years. I like to think and hope that I've got some of those genes.

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

A. I frankly do not have a clue. Like to think that by at least 2012 we will once again experience some sort of normalcy.

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

A. I'm a child of the sixties, so you will find everything from beach music, soul, rock n roll, and a little psychedelic stuff.

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

A. I enjoy just laying on a beach, listening to oldies, later eating seafood, and maybe finding some beach music to Shag to. So, I have had many "best" vacations throughout my life and looking forward to having many more.