As he talked, everybody listened! General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton was the featured guest speaker at the 2023 Converge Economic Summit presented by the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation. His workforce development and leadership message was clear:
“It is all about the people. Your employees must be at the center of every decision, feel valued and understand the company’s mission, vision and direction.”
Born in Ridgeland, South Carolina, General Newton attended Jasper High School, where he was inspired by a cousin to join the military. He attended Tennessee State University, the first in his family to go to college, joined the Air Force ROTC, and upon graduation was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. In 34 years, he moved 22 times, was the first African American to fly with the Thunderbirds, flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam, and served as an Air Force congressional liaison officer with the U.S. House of Representatives. He concluded his professional career as an Executive Vice President with Pratt & Whitney Military Engines – not too shabby for a country boy from the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
At Converge, General Newton emphasized that, as we look to “energize the future”, our region is “on the brink” of great things. “We are no longer just sleepy little communities. We have it all: great weather, beautiful surroundings, and an environment that is pro-business and industry. We have all the right players on the stage, all heading in the same direction, committed to preserving our heritage, while improving the area’s quality of life with high-paying jobs.”
Newton further discussed that the pandemic has turned the workforce landscape upside down. Many companies are bifurcated, with some employees working from home and others in the office. This dynamic has created a need for leaders to understand the critical importance of providing a culture of inclusiveness and clear direction, while recognizing and valuing the contributions of all employees from the bottom up. He shared about how, when he was the senior officer on a base, he would often be coming home from lunch – his 4-stars on the hood of his car – and he would stop and ask an Airman to ride with him. He would then take him up to his office, have him sit in “his” chair behind the big desk, and ask, “So what do you think we need to do to improve things at this base?”
On the skilled workforce development front, Newton believes it is absolutely critical that there be a pipeline of students, beginning in elementary and middle school, who are exposed to the many high-paying job opportunities in industry and manufacturing. In his work as board chairman and mentor at Polaris Tech, a charter school in Jasper County, Newton works with students to “cultivate aspiration and unleash their potential” and help them understand the power of a good education. In addition, he encourages them to live their lives by following the Air Force values of integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
General “Fig” Newton’s legacy of leadership and service is unquestionable. What a perfect choice as the keynote for this year’s Converge Economic Summit! How could we forget the General’s words: “Yes, it is about our technology, our intellectual property, our sustainability, the widgets that we make, but at the end of the day, companies will truly be successful because of their people.”