8:25 a.m.: Vice Chair of the House Business and Labor Committee walks in the door, fist bumps Rep. Jake Anderegg, and takes his seat.
Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, is just 38 years old. He sits in what he calls “the rowdy corner” of young legislators on the House floor. He was named in Utah Business Magazine’s “Forty Under 40” in 2015, recognizing him as one of the state’s most successful young business people.
On top of serving in the Utah House of Representatives, Knotwell is the chief revenue officer at Steton Technologies, is finishing a master’s degree in business at Utah State University, and is still finding time at the end of each day for his “five crazies.”
“That guy is able to juggle more balls in the air than almost anybody I know,” said Shawn Dickerson, director of Solutions Marketing at Workfront and Knotwell’s former coworker.
Knotwell entered the political scene in 2011 when he ran for city council and lost. However, when his district split and opened up another seat, multiple people approached Knotwell and begged him to run. One of those people was Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton. He had only known him for three weeks.
“Honestly, I think it’s been one of my greatest legislative contributions is having John Knotwell be a part of the process. He really is a deliberative, intelligent lawmaker,” said McCay.
Knotwell stood out to McCay right away as one of those people who was honest. “They’re honest in the process, they’re honest in their thinking, and they’re honest with themselves—those are the people I want to be around. Those are the people I want to have policy conversations with,” McCay said.
Knotwell says the Legislature challenges him in a unique and fulfilling way. At work, he leads a 15-person sales team. At the Capitol, he is responsible for communicating with 40,000 voters. At work, he is a boss. On the Hill, he is “one among equals.”
He also gets to represent the voice of a Silicon Slopes tech company employee, a significant sector of Utah’s economy. In a group of lawmakers who are largely self-employed or have flexibility in their jobs, Knotwell has a boss at a fast-paced company relying on him. “The voice of the employee is often missing,” he said.
Knotwell rose through the ranks in software companies in part because of his systematic approach to business, according to his coworkers. He is data driven, does not makes decisions out of emotion, and does not subscribe to a freewheeling leadership style.
“He understood that sales and business was more science and process than we sometimes want to realize that it is,” said Dickerson.
He also had an uncanny knack for reading people. For Knotwell, increasing overall numbers means focusing on individuals and then putting them together.
“Leading people is about finding their individual, unique motivations and helping to drive those motivations to help them be independently successful on their own,” said Knotwell.
That ability serves him well in the House too.
“Sales and politics are not dramatically different. They’re both about trying to find consensus—between a buyer and a seller in the sales world or between two opposing viewpoints in the political world,” Knotwell said.
Associates say nnother key to Knotwell’s success: his famous sense of humor.
“He is, I would say, relatively stoic on the outside until you get to know him, and then he is a hoot,” said Ed McGarr, who worked with Knotwell at three different companies.
McCay says that people don’t often get to see representatives’ personal sides, but he rarely gets a call from Knotwell that doesn’t start out with a joke.
Dickerson said Knotwell struck a good balance between saying what needed to be said and being a “clown.”
“There was sort of an earnestness and a candor, a straightforwardness that I really appreciated, but also just fun,” Dickerson said.
McGarr says Knotwell is “an operational and strategic genius.” That shows in his ability to prioritize his insanely busy life.
At home, Knotwell and his wife have five kids ranging from ages three to 15. Having grown up an only child, he loves the fun of a big family.
With all that Knotwell has going on, he has to make conscious good use of his family time. He tries to get home to tuck his kids into bed at night and hear about their days and to stick around to see them off in the morning. The Knotwells safeguard their weekend time and love to travel, especially to the national parks.
Jill Knotwell said one of her favorite things about her husband is that they don’t fight. “We are very conscious of how we treat each other in front of our kids as well. We want them to see a loving marriage and a happy marriage,” she said.
His wife puts it simply: he is passionate. Passionate about his job, about politics, and with an undying dedication to her and their kids.
“He’s also a dapper dresser,” McGarr added as an afterthought. “He occasionally will show up at the office dressed almost as snazzy as Al Capone.”