Some days, Wayne Knight misses cotton farming.
At the end of those workdays, he could climb off a tractor, look back over his fields, and see the tangible evidence of his labor. Today, as a financial adviser for Edward Jones, he and his clients may not fully realize the payoff from his work for years.
Then he remembers: air-conditioning.
“That’s always nice,” he dryly quipped.
Knight was a fourth-generation farmer when his father, concerned about how the business was changing, encouraged him to seek other employment. The decision, Knight said, was tough, but sound. He still carries an important life lesson from farming – “you can only control what you can control,” namely one’s work ethic and daily activities.
“The rest is left up to chance, in a way,” Knight said. “In my current profession, there’s nothing I can do to affect what the market does. That’s the biggest parallel … and dealing with constant uncertainty. You learn to focus on the things that are most important and how you can manage that.”
Shortly after arriving in San Angelo, Knight joined the Army National Guard, realizing a lifelong dream of military service. Likening that goal to a persistent tug, he enlisted when he and his wife learned they were pregnant with their first child.
“It was now or never,” Knight recalled.
His first day of basic training was his 29th birthday. He served six years in the infantry.
“It teaches you to be mentally tough,” he said of the military, “which I think has served me well in my current job. It teaches you to be a leader, regardless of where you are and what role you have.”
Once he returned from boot camp, Knight pursued his MBA from the University of Phoenix. A friend suggested he consider joining Edward Jones. He was intrigued – and remains so – with the personal story of the firm’s founder, Ted Jones.
Unlike his competitors, Jones positioned his company to serve rural areas. (His first Texas office was in Big Spring.) At the end of his career, rather than transfer the company to his heirs or sell it, he left it to Edward Jones’ employees, crediting them with building the firm into what it is.
Jones was reportedly told had he sold the business on the open market, he could have been wealthier than Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. In response, Jones wrote a letter explaining his decision; a copy of it hangs in Knight’s office. The last line reads, “money has never been my God.”
“That level of selflessness and sacrifice – and the culture it created – has been tremendously impactful for me,” Knight said.
Quoting the title of a favorite book, “Leaders Eat Last,” Knight noted leadership is “more about serving other people’s interests than your own.”
“It’s influencing people in a way to accomplish an objective,” he added. “I prefer to influence them positively. If you can’t get buy-in and belief from people, then you’re just kind of managing; you’re not really leading.”