Throughout his tenure at the SBTDC, Bob Weston has worn many hats. He joined the organization in 2009 as a counselor on the Strategy and Organization Development (SOD) Team that was put together to help NC businesses weather the 2008 financial crisis. In 2010, he was promoted to Assistant Director of the SOD team, and later on, he became the Regional Center Director of the Triad Region. Most recently, Bob was the Director of the SBTDC’s COVID relief program, Business Recovery and Resiliency, which was part of the CARES act.
Now, after fourteen years of service, Bob is making good on his retirement plans, booking up his schedule with hobbies and family activities for the foreseeable future. Last week, I sat down with Bob on Zoom and asked him to reflect on his time at the SBTDC. [edited for conciseness and clarity]
Hayley Swinson-White: Looking back over your years-long career, what achievement are you most proud of?
Bob Weston: There’s so many things that we’ve accomplished. I came in in 2009 to help with the program that was set up to deal with the 2008 recession, what they call the Strategy and Organization Development Team across the state. We started out doing a lot of turnaround work—businesses had had 20-30% plus drops in sales, especially in the manufacturing industry. We had a lot of businesses that might have gone under, but it was a very successful program. It not only helped reshape the North Carolina economy, but that responsiveness and the training we did, the team we had together—we were a kind of catalyst for the SBTDC where we really began focusing more on manufacturing.
In order to attract larger companies and be able to help them, we have to position ourselves so that they see us as a valuable resource, and some of that’s being a thought leader. Some of that is working together with partners so that they are more aware of what we can do. The economic development, financial, and professional training that we’ve done, and the facilitation training we’ve done with our counselors has really made a difference.
We will definitely miss Bob in the organization. I wish him well in retirement and just wish I could clone him before he leaves.
-Byron Hicks, State Director
HSW: What was one challenge you faced in the course of your career? How did you overcome it?
BW: It’s all cyclical, of course, so we’ve been through the high times and the low times, and then the high times, and then COVID, which was a lot different. It’s all been exciting for me.
I was pretty experienced when I joined the SBTDC, so I’d seen some of those cycles before. I kind of knew the steps that people need to take . . . but the clients we were dealing with were trying to get somewhere—either out of a problem or to chase an opportunity. And as an organization, we had the tools and the experience to help them through it—that’s why we were hired, right?
Sometimes we assess the situation and do some analysis and offer some recommendations, and the client isn’t ready. They were ready to ask, but they weren’t ready to hear. We’ve had some clients who didn’t accept the advice that was offered to them, and some were successful anyway, but we did have some that have come back to us and said, “I wish I had listened to you the first time I was here.” But we’re not going to take over and run a client’s business. What we can do is say, “Well, here’re your alternatives,” and we’ll help them try to be successful, but taking advice is not easy, and giving advice is not always easy.
Throughout his tenure, Bob’s been a tremendous asset to the SBTDC, willing to take on new responsibilities and do whatever was needed to help move the organization forward.
-Lisa Ruckdeschel, Associate State Director
HSW: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice when you started this job, what would it be?
BW: Pace yourself. I always had fun. But Covid was not fun. It was extremely busy and there’s a high demand from clients and stuff changing every day. It was stressful for everybody. I think we’re all tired of talking about it, but we’re all still adjusting. It changed people’s attitudes about a lot of things.
But I think one thing all our counselors need to focus on is the things that make a difference and not let themselves get too busy with the things that aren’t. There’s the stuff that’s really gonna make a difference, and then there’s a bunch of “urgent” stuff it’s buried under. You get into a mode where you’re reactive instead of proactive. You really need to be more proactive and say, “What is it that I need to get done that’s really going to make a difference to the organization—that’s going to make a difference to the client?”
The other thing is: There’s a lot of fun stuff to do. Helping people is fun. Sometimes it’s emotionally intense, but you gotta find the fun in it, find time to focus on the things you really feel like you’re good at, but at the same time you got to be flexible enough to learn new stuff.
Did you know he worked in the software business? If you are around for a day, you will know it by lunch. Did you know he was in the car business? He will get around to that one before close of business.
-Chris Veal, Regional Director, Triad West
HSW: What moments or events at SBTDC were most memorable to you and why?
BW: I remember riding all over the state with [longtime SBTDC Deputy State Director] Marc King in a rented minivan doing regional center reviews. Seemed like we spent about two weeks riding round in that van, going everywhere. I felt like I’d had my baptism by the time I came out of that.
And we really get a chance to know each other in the spring [at the professional development conference]. Those are great times. I was on several of the planning task forces. And you know, those times together when we sat and said: “What’s the future going to be like for this organization?” The times when we got together in person, those were great. You got as much out of that as anything else. It’s the people.
All the regional directors that were there when I first came into the organization: They were the ones that really made me feel like I was part of the group, and I was honored to receive the Marcus Clifton King award, a long-term service award that the SBTDC instituted several years ago.
After 10 years of meals at conferences and events, I don’t remember a single grain of rice or part of a bean or flake of parsley or anything else left on his plate. There was a certain slow, methodical precision about dispatching the contents of a lunch or dinner.
-Chris Veal, Regional Director, Triad West
HSW: Do you have anything planned for retirement?
BW: I’m at a point where I want to concentrate on the next phase of life. Spend a lot of time on projects that I’ve put off for the last three or four years. I had an email recently from one of the senior administrative people asking me about my retirement, and I told him I’m booked pretty solid through 2024. I’m committed to doing nothing—not working. But I’ve got three days a week booked for a year and a half, so you know, not working is going to be a full-time avocation for me.
I have two grandkids. Planning to spend a lot of time with them. They’re two and a half and seven and a half years old. So I’ll spend a lot of time being Papa. And then a lot of work on our properties. And I’ve got an old car that I’m going to tinker with and spend some time with, a 1937 Plymouth (that my wife got me—I made her write the check, anyway). It’s what they call a “fat fender car.” It’s a fun car to drive and it takes all of your attention to drive it.
HSW: Any final words of wisdom for those of us new to the organization or even for those who may be looking at retirement soon?
BW: I think it’s important to have the big picture of what we do and how we fit into the economic development picture of the state. We don’t call ourselves consultants, but a lot of what we do is similar. One of the things that’s important is to understand the organization and to understand the tools we use and why we use them.
If we adhere to a consistent process, then we guarantee a good level of service to our clients. It doesn’t always address the presenting issue necessarily, but we’ve got to do that analysis and say, “Hey, we’re gonna help you fix this problem, but let’s make sure that we don’t overlook something else.” It’s really important for new counselors to go back and look at Flawless Consulting [by Peter Block] and Trusted Advisor [by Charles Green and Andrea Howe] and review. If there’s a training, I’ve probably done it. But you have to keep up with that.
And the other thing is: You get every experience. You get to know your clients’ children, you get to know their employees, you go through their most significant life experiences with them. And then hopefully they have some success, and they feel like we’ve contributed to it.
From the SBTDC Leadership:
Bob has exemplified the best of the SBTDC during his career. He has made significant impacts with his clients and the organization, and his willingness to step into any role or take on any project for the SBTDC is exactly what makes this organization great. In his time with the SBTDC, Bob has been a strong part of the Strategy and Organizational Development team; he has taken on the regional director position of one of our most challenged regions administratively, and he has helped stand up a COVID response program in a matter of weeks in a virtual world. All of these efforts have produced successful outcomes.
Personally, Bob has been a great resource to me at all stages of my career with the SBTDC. He was a strong mentor when I started as a counselor and has continued to provide insight and support as I have moved up to State Director. We will definitely miss Bob in the organization. I wish him well in retirement and just wish I could clone him before he leaves.
-Byron Hicks, State Director
I’ve had the privilege of working with Bob since before he joined the SBTDC, when we delivered a private equity event at Elon University where Bob oversaw Executive Education. I then worked in the same office with Bob and the rest of the Strategy and Organization Development Team in Greensboro where there was never a dull moment.
During the hectic early months of the pandemic when we were updating the COVID website multiple times a day, Bob was indispensable. Throughout his tenure, Bob’s been a tremendous asset to the SBTDC, willing to take on new responsibilities and do whatever was needed to help move the organization forward. The only thing we frequently disagree on is our sports teams—Bob’s love of NC State knows no bounds! I wish Bob all the best in retirement and hope to finally get a ride in that ’37 Plymouth one of these days!
–Lisa Ruckdeschel, Associate State Director
He had his managerial hiccups, as we all do, but Bob knew how to manage a strong personality (AKA a PITA—pain in the a$$—like me) without letting them become demoralized. He was good about giving gentle reminders instead of demands, as long as the other person recognized that the “gentle” would keep getting firmer if ignored. He would gladly take feedback to these reminders—if I had any. However, I tried hard not to ignore the gentle reminders because I appreciated the way he treated me like a professional and gave me much latitude to do my job while also being there as a resource if I needed assistance.
–Chris Veal, Regional Director, Triad West