This is the second story in a series exploring the unique, and sometimes unusual, leadership journeys of Lowe’s executives.
“It was too cold, and too far from home.”
With a level of honesty and self-awareness that would always serve her well, Charnetta Hendrix Jones halted her studies at Western Carolina University after her sophomore year, and returned home to the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Her mother had just undergone major surgery, and Jones knew her help was needed around the house and with taking care of her younger sister. She also wanted to work.
“I had been a cashier at Harris Teeter,” Jones remembered, referencing the grocery chain popular throughout the Southeast, “but a few of my friends from there had gone to work for Lowe’s and raved about it.”
Intrigued, Jones looked into jobs at the Lowe’s store in Southern Pines, and applied for a position as a part-time cashier. Her first day on the job was Aug. 13, 1990, and Lowe’s has been her employer ever since.
Jones worked the cash register in Southern Pines until 1993, when she gave college another chance and enrolled at UNC Charlotte, majoring in electrical engineering technology. Still needing to work, she transferred to a Lowe’s store in Charlotte and embarked on the kind of daily schedule that only the young can sustain.
“I’d open the store at 6 a.m.,” said Jones, “work a few hours, go to class, go back to work, close the store at 9 p.m., and then go home and study.” The routine was grueling, but ultimately worth it. She graduated with honors in 1995, ready to start the next chapter of her life with a degree from the school’s College of Engineering. But was she ready to leave Lowe’s?
“I had been with the company for five years at that point,” said Jones, “and I realized that I’d be crazy to walk away.” Self-awareness sent her searching for jobs at the company’s then-headquarters in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and eventually to a job fair in Raleigh, where she knew a recruiter from Lowe’s would be in attendance. The two of them hit it off, and 48 hours later, she got a call and an invitation to interview for a job on the company’s corporate campus.
I had been with the company for five years at that point, and I realized that I’d be crazy to walk away.—Charnetta Hendrix Jones
“It was for an entry-level position in IT,” Jones recalled. “There were 36 other college grads with degrees in computer science sitting in that room. I was completely deflated. But because I had actual experience working with the systems they built, all I ever got asked about in the interview was what I would change or do differently.”
She got the job, and was assigned to support the finance department, but she was struggling in that role, and she knew it.
“I didn’t get it at all,” said Jones, “and I was having a hard time giving finance what they needed from me, so I asked if I should go to store systems instead.” And as she and her manager looked for openings that would fit her skill set better, something else grabbed her attention.
The recruiter she met at the job fair in Raleigh remembered her well, and invited her to join him at college career fairs where she spoke with students about her experience at Lowe’s. She was a natural, and joined the Human Resources (HR) team working from an office just around the corner from the company’s new director of tax, an accountant named Robert Niblock, who would eventually become Chairman, President and CEO of Lowe’s.
While in HR, she held positions in employee relations and store staffing, before re-discovering her true passion – store operations.
“I kind of missed it,” she said, “and that’s the heart of Lowe’s, the heart of who I am.”
HR was reluctant to lose a strong employee like Jones, but eventually the store operations team was able to bring her back to her roots with company. Today, she’s the director of operations execution support, a role that combines her strengths in understanding how systems work, with her passion for stores and what works best for customer-facing employees.
From cashier to IT to HR, and back to operations, Jones has traveled an unusual path. But traveling an unusual path is nothing new for leaders at Lowe’s.
“I’ve learned that hard work and patience leads to success,” she said. “But most importantly, I’ve learned that I have to be authentic and honest with myself. Lowe’s wants me to be me, and that’s why I’ve had success here.”