Parting Thoughts: Bob Knoll, retired CEO of Speakman

Robert “Bob” Knoll was promoted to CEO of Speakman in December 2015, adding that title to the chief operating office role he’d had since April 2015 when he joined the New Castle-based leader in the manufacture of high-performance showerheads and plumbing fittings. Before his retirement late last year, Knoll was responsible for day-to-day corporate management, strategic growth planning, and brand stewardship.

Prior to joining Speakman, Bob Knoll served as president and COO of the Easthill Co., a domestic
and international third party fulfillment and logistics company. Before that, Knoll was vice president of operations for the Franklin Mint direct-marketing company, where he held increasingly senior positions for more than 30 years. Knoll took time out to reflect on his career and lessons learned.

At what point in your life did you realize you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

At age 37, when I was first promoted to the position of Director of Operations at the Franklin Mint. I had five direct reports with a staff of over 300 full- and part- time employees. We just had our second son, and my career took off. In this position I had significant impact on bottom line profitability.

How do you want to be remembered?

As a thoughtful caring man, good to his family and a good business leader.

What three books would you would recommend to a new graduate?

Books that I thought was helpful in my career:
• “The One-Minute Manager,” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
• “The One Thing,” by Gary Keller
• “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell
• “Who Moved My Cheese?
by Spencer Johnson
• “Fish,” by Stephan C. Lundin,
Harry Paul and John Christensen

What were your strengths as a leader/entrepreneur? Your weaknesses?

My strengths:
• Organization development
• Quick to analyze a situation
• Getting things done
• Effective communicator
• Building an effective team
• Team-building and leadership
• Business re-engineering
• Project management
• Making a difference everyday

My Weaknesses:
• Public speaking
• Written communication

What’s more important in leadership: Make their strengths stronger or eliminate their weaknesses?

In my opinion, you should focus on your weakness to help you become a more well-rounded leader.

What’s the greatest compliment you ever received?

That I was an honest, trustworthy and loyal leader.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Early in my career, a senior manager told me you always need to have goals. This is one of the keys to my success.

When you hear the word “successful, who do you think of?

Bill Gates and Opera Winfrey — two very successful individuals. Whatever they touch turns to gold, and you don’t ever hear anything negative from them.

What’s your favorite quote?

If you don’t change anything nothing will change. Or just make it happen.

What advice would you give your 20-25-30-year-old self? Where were you at that time?

When I was 20 I just started my career at the Franklin Mint while going to night school at Widener University. I should have been a better listener. At age 25, I was in my first supervisor position. And again, I should have been a better listener and more outgoing. At age 30, my career was continuing to advance, I had recently gotten married. I should have done a better job saving money for the future.

What was the “pebble in your shoe” (the everyday distraction that took you off course)?

I get frustrated and distracted when I see people being ineffective when I know it could be done better.

What’s the question you wish more people would ask themselves?

What do you really want to be when you grow up? What are your goals in life?

What’s inspiring you right now?

Helping people and businesses be successful and enjoying my grandchildren.

If you could walk in someone’s shoes (living or dead) for 24 hours, who would it be?

Steve Jobs. He was a very talented and creative leader. I know I could learn much from him.

What’s the biggest challenge facing Delaware businesses?

Infrastructure and talent, the roads are overcrowded, and Delaware needs to improve its talent (employee base). We have more jobs then employees. This makes it difficult to attract businesses to Delaware.

What’s next for you?

Enjoying life, helping people and businesses grow.

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