Working in Concert
Scott Lawrence leads Chamber as board chair
Colleagues will occasionally joke that you always know when Scott Lawrence enters the room. It is not just his booming voice that signals his presence, it’s the positive energy he shares with everyone around him. Lawrence approaches his work, service and everything else he does with optimism.
“Attitude is such an important part of how you experience life,” stated Lawrence. “My glass is always 90% full.”
The CEO of Lawrence & Schiller, Inc. (L&S) is the new Chair of the Board of Directors for the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. He began his one-year term as Chair on October 1 and will address Chamber members at the 117th Annual Meeting on Oct. 17, 2023.
Everything the Chamber does is who we are as a community. The Chamber really represents all of us.
The theme of the event is “Working in Concert,” which Lawrence said captures the attitude of the people of Sioux Falls – they work collaboratively to create something great.
To illustrate the point, he lists off a few of the Chamber’s accomplishments of the past year: A 95% success rate lobbying in the state legislature, feeding a record number of farmers and ranchers at Ag Appreciation Day, and bringing together young professionals from across the region for the Crossroads Summit.
Lawrence considers it a privilege to work with so many business leaders who put aside differences to make things happen for our city and region. “The Chamber typifies everything that is Sioux Falls. Everything the Chamber does is who we are as a community. The Chamber really represents all of us.”
Lessons in leadership
Scott went to work for his brother Craig Lawrence and Paul Schiller at Lawrence & Schiller as an account executive in 1984, just a few years into the agency’s existence. He is quick to tell you that the job had a learning curve: “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! But I figured that the best way to learn was to ask questions, get to know people and build trust.”
Within his first few weeks on the job, Lawrence attended a TV commercial shoot that was being directed by John Pohlman, who was working for KDLT at the time. That first meeting would turn into decades of creative collaboration.
“I was a 22-year-old nobody working my first professional job, and here comes this guy representing the ad agency, which was way out of my sights at that time,” recalled Pohlman. “Scott spent time talking to me and paying attention. It made a big impression on me, and made me think maybe I could work at L&S.”
Pohlman, who joined L&S in 1986 and is now partner and chair of the board, describes Lawrence’s ability to connect with people as his superpower. He is known to wander through the office at L&S, stopping to chat with each employee over the course of a week. Pohlman said, “He is just very good at showing sincere interest in people. He doesn’t leave anyone in the shadows, he engages them.”
In his nearly four decades at L&S, Lawrence served as VP of Sales, then Chief Operating Officer, before becoming CEO in 2002.
At 67 years old, it is not uncommon for people to ask Lawrence when he plans to be done working (retire). “My response is ‘describe done?’ I don’t know if there will ever be a time I don’t work,” he said. “With the leadership team in place now at L&S, my time is freed up to do the things I want to do, not the things I have to do.”
In the workplace, that means focusing on people and relationships. “I stay away from the day-to-day details, but I enjoy working with our clients and staff at the high level and maintaining those relationships,” Lawrence said. “I still lob some strategic elbows from time to time and stir things up a bit – it’s fun!”
Taking an active role in community service is another part of how Lawrence wants to spend his time. Currently, he dedicates quite a bit of time to working with the Chamber and Forward Sioux Falls. He has been a long-time champion for the Sioux Empire United Way, serving in various roles from campaigner to campaign chair. His passion for music and the arts led him to serve nine years as chair of the board for the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.
Sioux Falls has been a fantastic place for me to grow my career, raise a family and truly become part of a community. I want to do what I can to keep it that way for others too.
Investing in Sioux Falls
The Sioux Falls region is growing and changing rapidly. Lawrence points out that the Chamber is integral to helping shape the community for the future. It seeks to support a healthy and strong community, engage people in the process and create a welcoming environment for newcomers.
While L&S has been a Chamber member since their founding 47 years ago, Lawrence shared that it was in more recent years that he became personally invested in the organization. “When I started to fully understand Forward Sioux Falls, and by extension the Chamber, that was when things really clicked for me,” he said. “I knew that investing in these programs was helping Sioux Falls, and helping Sioux Falls was going to help all of us. And specifically, it would be good for my business too.”
While volunteering with Forward Sioux Falls sparked understanding, it was joining the Chamber’s board of directors that fired things up for Lawrence.
“I knew the Chamber did good work and I believed in it. But when I joined the board, suddenly my eyes were open to everything that was happening. The number of active and committed volunteers, the variety of initiatives, and just the effort required to make things happen for the community…I have to admit, there is a whole lot more under the hood with the Chamber than I realized!”
As Board Chair, Lawrence’s goal is to stay the course and maintain the positive track the Chamber is on. The point is not to bring in his own agenda, he said, but to support the great work already being done by so many people engaged in the Chamber.
“If you’re not a member, you’re missing out on so many things that can benefit your business. Opportunities to expand your network, development opportunities for employees, advocacy for business, and more.”
Lawrence is a vocal advocate of the value of Chamber membership. A common reason given for not being a member is lack of time. Lawrence’s response is, “It doesn’t have to take time. Regardless of how much time you invest, you’re going to get a lot back in terms of the work they do on your behalf. Really, you can’t afford not to be a member.”
Developing the next generation
Lawrence did not set out to be a businessman. Instead, he pursued a degree in music education and landed his first professional job as the band teacher at Wakonda High School. He loved the role and loved teaching kids to believe in themselves and take pride in their work.
When he transitioned to the advertising industry, he looked for ways to apply his favorite aspects of teaching to his new line of work. It turned out that directing a band was great training for running an advertising agency.
“The things that made Scott a good band director also made him a great CEO,” stated Pohlman. “Spend time individually as needed but act as a team; hold people accountable; occasionally be a little impatient; always communicate a clear goal – it all translates into strong leadership.”
For Lawrence, the connection boils down to: “Get to know people, build trust and help others find relevance and pride in what they are doing.”
As a firm believer in employee development, Lawrence appreciates the variety of learning options offered through the Chamber. L&S encourages staff to apply for and participate in the Leadership Sioux Falls program. In addition, Chamber-hosted workshops on practical topics for business, training sessions on how to run for public office, and thought leader conversations on community issues are all avenues for workers at all levels of the company to learn and grow.
Most of the current leadership team at L&S have been with the company for at least 15 years. Lawrence said it has been fun to watch them grow into their roles.
“The best part of being a CEO is seeing your people grow and come into their own. It’s seeing them use their talents and skills to the best of their ability. That’s the coolest part of business – employee development,” he stated.
Confidence in the next generation feeds Lawrence’s optimistic attitude. “I see so many young people who are hungry to learn and lead. They’ve been watching those of us in the older generation, just the same way we are watching them. We’re learning from each other,” he said. “I am enthusiastic about the future of our community.”