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Lisa Knox is also a lot like a shark, in that – as famously noted in the Woody Allen movie “Annie Hall” – a shark must constantly move forward or it dies. The same could be said for a lot of things in life, and Knox has not only forged ahead through every negative current that’s tried to submerge her but built a career helping others move forward as well.
Knox was practically raised in the water, growing up in a family of competitive swimmers in Pendleton. She joined the Clemson Aquatic Team when she was seven years old. A decade later, in 2001, she became a member of the inaugural women’s team at Georgia Tech, competing in the 200 butterfly, and the 200 and 400 individual medlies. Older sister Lauren swam for Duke and worked as an associate head swimming coach at Auburn University before she retired to start a family. Her younger brother Rick swam for the University of Virginia and is now the head swim coach of the Santa Barbara Swim Club.
As the director of strategy and operations for Clemson’s finance and operations division, Knox is tasked with running the process improvement Lean program, which is dedicated to building a culture of continuous improvement on Clemson’s campus.
“My role is unique in that there are so many different processes that make this university run and every single day I get to work with a different group of people,” she said. “I’m really focused on ensuring that we’re collaborating to make sure we have the best administrative unit that we can.”
She received a degree in business management from Georgia Tech and went into the construction business, working as a project manager for Ryan Homes in Washington D.C. In 2007 she decided to move back to the Upstate to build houses with her father.
As it turned out, 2007 was not the best time to start a home-building business, as the economy was sinking, so Knox started to look for other opportunities in project management. She said she took the “perfect position” at Clemson in 2010. One she knew she could make waves in.
“The chance to continue doing something in project management brought me here,” she said. “Home building deals with a process – building from the ground up – so it was an opportunity to use those skills.”
It was a deeper dive than one might think for her. Knox had no experience working in an academic environment, and she wasn’t that familiar with the school even though she grew up just down the street.
“To be honest I had no idea what it was like to work for a university, and I was never a die-hard Clemson fan, even though you’d think I would have been growing up here. I kept Clemson at arms-length,” she said. “But being here has been an amazing life change for me. The Clemson Family – that’s the part I didn’t really know about. People here care. They care about your personal life, and your professional life. When my son was born, I had people texting me, writing me notes, calling me – it’s the family that I didn’t know I was going to gain when I started working here. It’s more than just a job.”
Always trying to improve herself, Knox used the University’s Employee Tuition Assistance Program to earn an MBA in 2012. She wants that same kind of synergy for her team. Toward that end, Knox says she and her team are trying to build a culture of continuous improvement so that every day people are thinking about how to make things better for the student, for the employee, and for the next person. She says her favorite part of the job is seeing a group of people get in a room and work together to solve a problem.
“What I walk away with is the level of collaboration that happens, and the level of ah-ha moments where people begin to say ‘Oh! I understand!’ I like to see those lightbulbs go off. I love to make people’s lives more enjoyable while they’re here.”
While she loves her work at Clemson, being a mom is what really floats her boat these days. Her son, Lucas, will start first grade after the summer, and raising him buoys every aspect of her life.
“He’s all outdoors, so all my hobbies are in learning how to keep up with him,” she laughed. “Camping and baseball and hiking and biking and all things boy, so I am engulfed in it all. He is 100 miles an hour.”
Knox hopes to keep filling the sails of the Clemson Family for a long time to come.
“The best part of my job is the people side. Listening to people, hearing them, and helping them – that’s the part that I love.”
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