KINGSPORT – Hal Lawton is many things. He is the CEO of Tractor Supply. He was named one of the Fortune 500’s 10 Youngest CEOs. He is a former executive of eBay, Home Depot and Macy’s. But he is also from Kingsport and has fond memories of growing up in the model town.
“I was lucky enough to walk past the house I grew up in for most of my childhood,” Lawton told The Times News, referring to his last trip to Kingsport. “I lived there for about 15 years out of my 18 years there. It’s great to see it all and see how much it’s changed and grown, but it’s still the same.
Lawton, 47, attended Sullivan South High School before moving to North Carolina State to study chemical engineering and later business at the University of Virginia, where he received his master’s degree. His father worked at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport. Lawton enjoyed playing basketball at the Boys and Girls Club, delivering articles for the Kingsport Times News, and attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with his family, among other memories.
While Lawton’s family did not own or operate a farm in Kingsport, he said he was immersed in the rural atmosphere of northeast Tennessee and what the head of Tractor Supply considers the “here” way of life.
“I enjoyed the lifestyle,” Lawton said. “Colonial Heights is reasonably rural. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I had lots of friends who did. We went fishing on the lake and the river, we spent a lot of time at Warrior’s Path, hiking in the Smoky Mountains and all that kind of stuff.
Lawton’s final trip to the Model City wasn’t just a stroll down memory lane and the road he grew up on. The CEO stopped by 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 this store by adding the garden center and updating the interior. Due to the performance of this store, we decided to add a second location. We were excited to open it now, and even more so, to serve the Kingsport community.
Lawton became the CEO of Tractor Supply in January 2020, shortly before the onset of the pandemic in the United States. After enjoying a few months of normalcy in his new role, Lawton said Tractor Supply company executives have been focusing on the aspects that have made him successful. for 83 years: its flexibility and customer focus.
“It’s built to serve its customers,” Lawton said. “It’s a company that its customers need. We talk about how we want to be the reliable supplier for our customers. I think we’ve really demonstrated over the past two years how essential we are to our customers and how committed we are to maintaining that and being a place they can rely on.
Lawton has had great success with Tractor Supply, which is the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, with over 45,000 employees. But Lawton’s road to success began at Kingsport with his brother and parents, a fact that is certainly not lost on the CEO.
“I’ve been blessed with lots of opportunities and multiple mentors, supporters and developers along the way. It starts with my parents,” Lawton said. “They were great supporters and made many sacrifices for my brother and me.”
One of those opportunities included a Kingsport Times News paper route through Lawton’s college years and into his high school days as well as some scholarships from the paper.
“When I first started delivering the paper, it was an afternoon paper,” Lawton recalls. “I used to come home from college and hop on my bike and ride around and deliver 80 to 100 newspapers. Then I remember it switched to the morning paper about the time I got my driver’s license.
“They used to do these newspaper carrier scholarships. They were around $500 or $1,000. I won at least two if not three. It was really helpful in helping me go to college. Where I was going out of state, it was expensive. Not only did the paper route help me earn an income while living in Kingsport, but it also allowed me to go to school.
Over the years Lawton has lived in Atlanta, California and New York working for various companies including Home Depot, eBay and Macy’s. Now he, his wife and children reside in Nashville, where he is in contact with other Sullivan South and Dobyns-Bennett graduates in his home country.
Like its hometown, Lawton seeks to grow Tractor Supply, while keeping the same core business. It aims to make Tractor Supply a trusted source for farmers, animal owners, gardeners and more. But the road ahead, he said, is just as bright as it always was.
“It’s a business I’m really passionate about,” Lawton said. “He supports what we call this ‘here’ lifestyle, serving our customers and serving rural America and doing it in a unique way that is demand-driven and needs-driven. We are a highly motivated organization. I was thrilled to be able to join an organization like Tractor Supply that has such a strong culture and organization. Tractor Supply is on a very bright path. But he also has an equally bright future ahead of him.
For more information about Tractor Supply, visit https://www.tractorsupply.com/.