"It's not about working for the title or working for the money, it's about doing something that you want to do. Find passion in what you do," Lowe's senior vice president of specialty sales and store operations support, Robert Wagner, told those gathered at Catawba College's Ralph W. Ketner School of Business' 5th Distinguished CEO Lecture Series on April 8.
Wagner, a 1976 Catawba College alumnus and a member of the College Board of Trustees, shared remarks entitled, "Small College Values in a Big Business World," at the event in Peeler-Crystal Lounge. He included four key points he had focused on throughout his career as well as information about his employer, the North Carolina-based big box retailer with sales topping $48 billion and over 1,700 stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
"The work ethics and values I learned in Mocksville [his hometown] and at Catawba served me well in business," he said, "but I want to talk about your approach to work, your individual style. It's the how-to that sets you apart from the rest of the work force."
Wagner outlined four points on which he has tried to focus in his professional life: 1) Choose your attitude; 2) Be fully present; 3) Be fully engaged; and 4) find your joy, fun and passion in what you do every day. To illustrate these points, he asked five students to don red Lowe's aprons to get a first-hand "look inside how I train Lowe's managers on values, ethics, leadership and service."
"People watch you and how you handle things that come your way," Wagner said, referencing his point on attitude. He emphasized that being "fully present" means "you are 100 percent on the environment around you. You're focused, giving 100 percent."
Being fully engaged in your work, he explained is so important because "nothing gives a person more worth than you showing the value that you have for them. Put blinders on, look them in the eyes and listen to what they're saying and think about what you can do for them."
Regarding his final point on finding joy, fun and passion in work, he remembered working late and working long hours when colleagues were set on getting home or going out. His work, he said, engaged him, and made him want to give it his all.
"It won't come easy; nothing worthwhile ever does," he said, focusing specifically on the Catawba students in the audience, "but make your plan, start your journey."
Wagner answered questions from the audience at the conclusion of his remarks. A sampling of these and his responses follow:
Q: What do you feel your [Lowe's] challenge is with this economy?
A: " Recovery. We're looking for where the business is and trying to capitalize on that."
Q: How do you stay focused on your four points?
A: "I have a personal coach. I'm just lucky enough that she's my wife who brings me to task on these four items."
Q: Is Lowe's hiring?
A: "We've hired more people in our stores this spring than we have in the past three years. We've added 1,400 exterior specialists and the corporate office is expanding, particularly Lowes.com."
Q: Can you give the students here some tips on how to stand out in an interview?
A: "Look them [potential employer] in the eye and show them you're engaged and passionate about the job. "
Q: Why is Lowe's expanding to Australia?
A: "We were approached by Woolworth's there, not the five and dime, that was without a presence in the building supplies and they chose our business model. It's a joint venture."
Q: Talk a bit about your online business.
A: "We approach online business as support to our store. You can purchase online and actually pick up in the stores. Online is a little out-dated now; it's mobile. People use their mobile devices to check and compare prices and they walk in the store and ask if we can beat a price. We are developing our model of how to jump into mobile. It is the way. "
Q: Is it true that Lowe's designed their stores to appeal to women?
A: "Yes. We've made the aisles wider and lighter, and the racks lighter. We emphasize cleanliness and better signage."
Wagner's remarks at Catawba mark the fifth such event in the Distinguished CEO Lecture Series. Prior speakers have included Louis DeJoy, chief executive officer of New Breed Logistics, Inc.; Jeffrey Kane, former senior vice president in charge of the Charlotte office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond; Bob Ingram, vice chairman pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline; and Ellen Ruff, then president of Duke Energy – Carolinas.
Thanks to the following companies and individuals who are sponsoring the reception following the lecture:
- Mr. Ralph W. Ketner
- Dr. Charles Muse
- Square D/Schneider Electric
This CEO Lecture is funded in part by the Thomas S. Carroll Executive Symposium Endowment.
PHOTOS: Speaker Robert Wagner (Distinguished CEO Lecture Series)