How Lowe's plans to hire 1,600 tech workers in Charlotte

Plus: Pay of top Charlotte arts execs; looser rules on N.C. booze ahead; stocks up big in first half of year

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Interview: Lowe’s top tech exec on hiring workers to fill that tall, shiny building in South End

Last week was a big week for Seemantini Godbole, Lowe’s chief information officer. Her company announced it is locating a massive tech hub in South End that could house as many as 2,000 workers in a new 23-story building. The company plans to hire about 1,600 tech workers and move a few hundred more from its Mooresville HQ.

On Friday, she met with students in a workforce-development program at the Carolina Fintech Hub uptown. She said the Carolina Fintech Hub, headed by City Council member Tariq Bokhari, played a role in helping convince Lowe’s that there are sufficient local tech workers to justify locating the company’s technology center in Charlotte.

The Ledger sat down with her after she met with students. Godbole joined Lowe’s last year and oversees the company’s digital, data and innovation operations. The interview has been edited for clarity and space.

Q: What were the main factors in choosing Charlotte for the tech hub?

We just wanted to make sure we are going to have a talent pipeline — kind of like an ecosystem where this talent can live and work. And we wanted to make sure that we are going to be effectively building a team from a collaboration standpoint.

Charlotte won. I’m not surprised at all and am super-excited. I feel like there is a healthy talent pipeline. There are more than 100,000 tech professionals in the city. It has been named as a No. 1 tech destination. We also got to meet a lot of partners like Tariq, lots of university partners. With the combination of the existing workforce we already have, plus the pipelines we can develop and leverage, it felt like talent won’t be a problem at all.

Godbole, Lowe’s chief information officer since last year, previously held senior technology roles at Target, Sabre and Travelocity.

Also, just being close to our business partners, so we can go back and forth between here and Mooresville and have white-board discussions and in-person impromptu discussions, it seemed like a really easy thing to do.

Q: The 2,000 jobs over there, is it all tech jobs? Will there be some marketing jobs? Administrative jobs? Will there be C-suite people based there?

These 1,600 jobs, those are all tech jobs — not marketing or other skill sets. There definitely will be leadership jobs also in this. In my mind, these jobs are going to be at all levels throughout the hierarchy.

What we are going to focus on is software engineers, engineers for infrastructure, lots of people with skills in data: data scientists, data analysts. We are going to look for machine learning, AI, those types of skills. We are also going to look for experience in user interfaces, user experience, mobile-app developers — these are the jobs we are talking about.

Q: To hire 1,600 people here at a time when unemployment is as low as it is, when there aren’t unemployed tech people walking the streets looking for work, how can you possibly hire that many people into tech jobs in Charlotte?

That 1,600 is spread over the next couple of years. Our target for the next year is to hire 400 people. This is going to be done in phases.

One thing is bringing people on. The other really, really important thing, even more important than hiring, is keeping them really engaged and productive. Nobody wants to join a place where they are not given challenges or their skills are not going to grow. It’s really important for Lowe’s and the tech community that we hire at a pace that we can actually engage them in a meaningful way.

Q: What do you have to do to get some of these tech workers who are now employed somewhere else to go to Lowe’s? If you talk to people at the banks in technology, Lowe’s has a reputation as not paying as much as the banks. Are you going to have to increase what you pay?

I’m not exactly aware of bank pay ranges, so I’m not going to comment on that. But we have really competitive pay ranges, and we always have benchmarks with lots of other tech companies. I’m generally not worried about our pay scales and stuff like that.

What I’m really focused on, at Lowe’s, [CEO] Marvin [Ellison] has talked about this quite a bit, we didn’t have the right mindset of the company from a technology standpoint. We didn’t think technology was important enough for a long time. We didn’t give it its due, its seat at the table, its associated budget. Since Marvin has come, we have really fixed all of this.

The next thing people look for is, “Is there interesting work?” The work has really become very attractive at Lowe’s.

The third thing we fixed, [on Thursday], was location. I feel like now, we have an absolutely compelling proposition for somebody to come and join us.

Q: Do you think you will need to rely on foreign workers, H1B visas?

Every technology company has a mix of folks: local and foreign workers. We would follow the same strategy. The goal is to create a lot of excitement in the local community. People in other parts of the country are quite eager to move to Charlotte.

We will be looking locally and looking nationally. We definitely want to have this inclusive strategy in our hiring.

Q: Do you know how many foreign workers you have now?

We have no set goals. We don’t have any set criteria. We are really focused more on, “Do the people that we are approaching have the right skills?” Also, do they have the right attitude? Are they interested in making customer experiences superior? Do they really feel strongly about problem-solving? Those are also the things we are looking for.

Q: Will you be based in South End?

I’ll end up splitting my time between Mooresville and this location.

Q: Will the CEO have an office there?

[laughs] You know, people are so thrilled when Marvin visits, and of course we will have a space for him. But I think Marvin will be more of a visitor to come and meet technology teams, to come and inspire them. But his main office absolutely remains in Mooresville.

Q: What does Lowe’s need from Charlotte in order to succeed here? Lowe’s is investing a lot in the community, but what does the community need to do to help Lowe’s?

Developing pipelines — the city, state, community and companies working together. There were companies we met where they were all about people who are aspiring to get into tech careers, how to form pipelines for them, boot camps. I think the community should really join hands with universities and companies.

I think Charlotte has a lot to offer, and maybe it’s not as well-known as it should be.

You absolutely always have to do real work, but also talking about that work and highlighting that would make Charlotte a great destination. There is immense potential.

Artistic transparency

Charlotte arts groups are in the news, with Mecklenburg commissioners scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to place a quarter-cent sales tax on November’s ballot — with a big chunk of the money going to local arts organizations.

The $50M or so the new tax would raise would be split among arts funding, parks and boosting teacher salaries, though the county hasn’t figured out the precise mix.

The Observer reported last week that commissioners are expected to approve the referendum but that some commissioners think it unwise to shovel more money toward the Arts & Science Council — a private nonprofit that’s unaccountable to the public. The Arts & Science Council is an umbrella organization that distributes grants to local arts groups, but it says private donations have sagged in recent years and an infusion of tax money is needed.

In a nice piece of accountability journalism, the Observer reported:

[Robert] Bush, the outgoing Arts and Science Council leader, said his group is open to making reforms that would allow the public to see how money is spent.

“We are willing to be covered by the Sunshine law,” said Bush, referring to state laws that make information about government spending available to the public.

But when the Observer recently asked for salary information for incoming president R. Jeep Bryant, the Arts and Science Council refused. A spokesperson would only say that it would be comparable to recent years when Bush received total compensation between roughly $219,000 and $251,000 annually.

So much for transparency.

It’s true that nonprofits are less transparent than government. But there is a window into the operation of nonprofits, in the form of annual reports as well as public tax filings.

In the spirit of transparency on this matter of public debate, the Ledger reviewed the tax filings of local arts nonprofits and is happy to pass along the following publicly available information on compensation of arts execs — including those of the Arts & Science Council and several of its major beneficiaries. Here are the names, titles and compensation listed on the tax forms:

Arts & Science Council, 2017 (here)

  • Robert E. Bush, president, $224,929

  • Susan Gary, senior vice president, $164,524

  • Katherine Mooring, senior vice president, $139,672

  • Barbara Ann Temple, vice president, $145,995

Charlotte Ballet, 2016 (here)

  • Jean-Pierre Bonnefaux, former artistic director, $204,446

  • Doug Singleton, executive director, $189,868

Charlotte Symphony, 2016 (here)

  • Mary Deissler, president and CEO, $125,500

  • Michelle Hamilton, VP of development, $125,519

  • Christopher Warren-Green, music director, $206,250

  • Calin Lupanu, musician, $118,513

Children’s Theater of Charlotte, 2016 (here)

  • Hannah Grannamann, executive director, $107,473

Discovery Place, 2017 (here)

  • Catherine Wilson Horne, president and CEO, $339,819

  • Sarah Lane, chief advancement officer, $163,758

  • Deanna Dycus, chief financial officer, $153,975

  • Joan Philipp, chief operating officer, $132,089

  • Debra Smul, chief marketing officer, $127,035

Levine Museum of the New South, 2017 (here)

  • Kathryn Hill, president and CEO, $149,525

Mint Museum of Art, 2017 (here)

  • Gary Blankemeyer, chief financial officer, $144,632

You can find more information on these groups, including revenues, expenses and assets, in the links to the tax forms after the organizations’ names above.

Tweet of the day

More alcohol ahead

You might have missed them in the flurry of news last week, but there were three major events that might soon be loosening the rules on the availability of alcohol in North Carolina:

  1. A committee of the N.C. House approved a bill that would allow liquor tastings in ABC stores, beer tastings at farmers’ markets and allow drinking during bingo games (which is apparently an issue somewhere in this state).

  2. Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill that would allow public-college stadiums and arenas to sell beer and wine, if the school’s trustees agree.

  3. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Tennessee requirement on wine sales that lawyers say could chip away at the ability of states to regulate alcohol distribution and sales within their borders. The case involved a Tennessee law mandating wine sellers to have lived in the state for 10 years before receiving a state permit. The 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition, generally gives states a lot of authority to regulate alcohol.

Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, tells the Ledger that the court case shows the Constitution “does not provide states the power to regulate alcohol to the extent some have believed. The decision does not set forth clear standards as to the state’s authority and will likely result in a great deal of litigation.”

Whitt Steineker, a partner with the Bradley law firm in Alabama, says the case could eventually result in more choices and lower prices for consumers, since some existing state regulations “might not pass muster.”

A spokeswoman for the N.C. ABC Commission tells the Ledger that its lawyers have not yet had a chance to review the case and its possible effects in North Carolina.

In brief:

  • Hallmarks closing: The Hallmark store at Matthews Festival Shopping Center has closed. That’s at least the third Hallmark store in the Charlotte area to shut in recent months, with stores at Park Road Shopping Center and the Arboretum closing their doors. The only two remaining Hallmark stores in Charlotte are in Cotswold and at Providence Road at Highway 51, according to the retailer’s store locator.

  • New job: Former Charlotte City Council member and city staff member Patrick Mumford has been hired as executive director of the Greater Gaston Development Corp. (Gaston Gazette)

  • Historic flight: American Airlines “made history this past week operating the first-ever flight to feature an entire crew who openly identify as LGBTQ+” according to the travel site The Points Guy. The plane flew from Philadelphia to New York’s LaGuardia airport, and the crew of two pilots and two flight attendants “was joined by two drag queens sporting red and blue outfits, two of American Airlines’ main colors,” the publication said.

  • Outsourcing: “Boeing’s 737 Max Software Outsourced to $9-an-Hour Engineers” (Bloomberg News)

  • BofA dials up the tech: An analysis of job openings at Bank of America shows that branch jobs are declining while “the number of job openings that contain recent developments in fintech — automation, AI, machine learning, and natural language processing — doubled since the new year.”

  • Choosing Charlotte: Lowe’s CEO didn’t just pick Charlotte for a tech hub — he’s also chosen Charlotte for his home. Property records show Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison and his wife bought a 12,000-square-foot house for $3.3M near Quail Hollow Club in south Charlotte last year. The company’s HQ is is Mooresville, 34 miles away. The tech hub announced last week would be eight miles away.

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

First 6 months of 2019 were best for stocks in 20 years

From Yahoo Finance:

The three major indices closed out the session logging their best performances in the first half of the year in decades. Friday was the last equity trading session of June and the close of the first half of 2019.

As of market close, the S&P 500 was up 17% in the first six months of the year, its best first-half performance since 1997. The Dow rose 14% over the six-month period to round out its best showing since 1999. And the Nasdaq rose more than 20%, marking its best first six months to the year since 2003.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.