Tractor Supply CEO enjoyed Kingsport’s ‘out here’ lifestyle while growing up | News

KINGSPORT — Hal Lawton is many things. He’s the CEO of Tractor Supply. He was named one of the 10 youngest CEOs in the Fortune 500. He’s a former eBay, Home Depot and Macy’s executive. But he’s also a Kingsport native with fond memories of growing up in the Model City.

“I got the chance to drive by the house I grew up in pretty much my entire childhood,” Lawton told the Times News, referring to his most recent trip to Kingsport. “I lived there for about 15 years of my 18 years there. It’s great to see everything and see how much it’s changed and grown but it’s still the same.”

Lawton, 47, attended Sullivan South High School before heading off to North Carolina State to study chemical engineering and later business at the University of Virginia, where he earned his master’s degree. His father worked at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport. Lawton enjoyed playing basketball at the Boys and Girls Club, delivering papers for the Kingsport Times News and attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with his family, among other memories.

While Lawton’s family didn’t own or operate a farm while in Kingsport, he said he was immersed in the rural atmosphere of Northeast Tennessee and what the Tractor Supply leader considers the “out here” lifestyle.

“I did enjoy the lifestyle,” Lawton said. “Colonial Heights is reasonably rural. I did not grow up on a farm, but I had lots of friends that did. We would go fishing on the lake and the river, we spent a lot of time at Warrior’s Path, hiking up in the Smoky Mountains and all those sorts of things.”

Lawton’s most recent trip to the Model City wasn’t just a walk down memory lane and the road on which he grew up. The CEO stopped to visit one of Kingsport’s two Tractor Supply locations. The first is located on Minnich Trail in West Kingsport and the second, which opened last month, is located on East Stone Drive.

“It’s really growing and thriving,” Lawton said of the Minnich Trail store. “We invested in that store by adding the garden center and upgrading the inside. Because of the performance of that store, we decided to add a second location. We were excited to have it open now, and even more so, serve the community of Kingsport.”

Lawton became the Tractor Supply CEO in January 2020, shortly before the start of the pandemic in the US After enjoying a couple of months of normalcy in his new role, Lawton said leaders of the Tractor Supply company looked at the aspects that have made it successful for the last 83 years: its flexibility and focus on its customers.

“It’s built to serve its customers,” Lawton said. “It’s a business that is needed by its customers. We talk about how we want to be the reliable supplier for our customers. I think we’ve really demonstrated over the past couple years just how essential we are to our customers and how committed we are to upholding that and being a place they can rely on.”

Lawton has seen a great deal of success with Tractor Supply, which is the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, with more than 45,000 employees. But Lawton’s road to success started in Kingsport with his brother and parents, a fact which certainly isn’t lost on the CEO.

“I was fortunate to have had lots of opportunities and multiple mentors, supporters and developers along the way. That starts with my parents,” Lawton said. “They were big supporters and made many sacrifices for my brother and I.”

One of those opportunities included a Kingsport Times News paper route through Lawton’s middle school years and into his time in high school along with a couple of scholarships from the newspaper.

“When I started delivering the paper, it was an afternoon paper,” Lawton recalled. “I used to come home from middle school and hop on my bike and ride around and deliver 80 to 100 papers. Then I remember it shifted to a morning paper right around the time I got my driver’s license.

“They used to do these newspaper carrier scholarships. They were for like $500 or $1,000. I won at least two if not three of them. It was really helpful in terms of helping me go to college. Where I was going out of state, it was expensive. Not only did the paper route help me with an income while I was living in Kingsport, but it also contributed to me going to school.”

Over the years, Lawton has lived in Atlanta, California and New York working for various companies such as Home Depot, eBay and Macy’s. Now he and his wife and kids reside in Nashville, where he’s connected with fellow Sullivan South and Dobyns-Bennett graduates in his home state.

Like his hometown, Lawton looks to grow Tractor Supply, while keeping the heart of the company the same. He aims to keep Tractor Supply a reliable source to farmers, pet owners, gardeners and more. But the road ahead, he said, is just as bright as it’s always been.

“It’s a business that I really have a passion for,” Lawton said. “It’s supporting what we call that ‘out here’ lifestyle, serving our customers and serving rural America and doing it in a unique way that is demand-driven and needs-based. We’re very much a purpose-driven organization. I was thrilled to be able to join an organization like Tractor Supply that has such a strong culture and strong organization. Tractor Supply is on a really bright path. But also it’s got an equally bright future ahead of it.”

For more information on Tractor Supply go to https://www.tractorsupply.com/.

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