Dean Lewis is the owner of Lewis Tree Service. He took over the family business in 1986.
Many business people complain about the growing dependence on cell phones.
Not Dean Lewis, owner of Lewis Tree Service. He says he’d be lost without his customers being able to reach him quickly.
Lewis says he strives to be like his mentor, his late father, Dan, who started the business in 1961.
In a conversation with reporter Jim West, Lewis shared information about his personal life and the tree business.
Q. What was your first job?
A. Working at Seigel and Sons as a bag boy during the Christmas holidays. I was still in high school, probably 17 or 18.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. I think I saved up a few paychecks and whenever I could get my hands on some money until I could get a guitar amplifier.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. I have very good employees. I try to treat everyone with the respect that I would want someone to treat me with. I don’t ask my men to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. My father started this business in 1961 and I grew up working for him. He passed away suddenly in 1986 and I found myself running the family business and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. I thought so much of my father and I miss him so much. He’s been gone 26 years and I still see people today on the streets that stop and tell me a story about my father and different nice things about him and that’s pretty cool. Although he’s been gone so long, people still think highly of him. I admire him and hope to be like him.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. I had a friend of mine give me some advice when I first got started. Cleve Wester gave me some good advice. He said, “Dean, you can work your way out of anything.” That always stuck with me and through the different hard times we’ve had in business I just go out every day, work hard, and my faith in God allows me to know he’ll take care of the rest.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. The automated phone systems. I call a business and I hate to get automated phone systems. I try to have my wife or someone answer the phone at Lewis Tree Service because I know I can’t stand that. I just don’t think it’s helped at all.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. My cell phone. I don’t know how we kept in touch with everyone. We all complain about having a cell phone go off all the time, but I’d be lost without it. A lot of my customers have my phone number and call me directly.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. My favorite family tradition is Thanksgiving. That’s my favorite holiday. Me and some friends and family usually camp and go deer hunting the night before Thanksgiving and when we come home, my wife has a nice meal prepared for us and we spend the weekend with family and friends.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I just finished “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly. It’s a good read. I read trade magazines I get through the mail to keep up with what’s going on out there and I have a daily devotional I read before going out.
Q. I’m up and going by?
A. I usually get up about 6:30 and get a little breakfast going. A lot of time I’ll stop at Pearly’s and get a biscuit. Me and my wife read a devotional and I try to get to the shop before my guys do at 8 a.m. so I’ll have everything ready to roll when they get there.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?
A. I would liked to have met Robert E. Lee. He was one of the most respected men in American history. You know, the people on both sides of the conflict thought so much of him, which is kind of strange in way. I just thought he was a great man and certainly would have loved to have sat down and talked to him.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. I like to hunt and fish, and I do that as much as possible.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I was 21 when I lost my father so I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes. I would like to think I learned from my mistakes. I’m sure I’ll make some more in the future. I think if I just keep on working hard and try to learn from my mistakes I’ll be able to make it through.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. I enjoy traveling all over Southwest Georgia. I meet a lot of interesting people. My customers come from all walks of life and I’ve made a lot of friends in doing that.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. I would say paperwork — governmental regulations and things like that. If I could cut out some red tape and just meet my customers and do the job, that would be wonderful, but seems as the years go on there are different things that crop up you have to take care of and that gets old.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. I took a blueprint reading class once and I enjoyed that. It’s helped a lot of times on commercial jobs. They’ll have blueprints that dictate what trees stay and what trees go and what needs to be trimmed. It was very helpful.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. Anything working outside. I love nature and love to work outside. Maybe land management of some sort.
Q. Finish this thought: On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …
A. Down at Mexico Beach, fishing as much as possible.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. I would say tenacity. There are problems that crop up almost daily that you don’t expect. You’ve got to be able to stay the course, stay on top of it and keep fighting your way through till you get the problem solved and the day finished.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. It’s hard to say. I’ve lived here all my life. I love Albany. I know we’ve lost some big employers over the years. I’m hoping that with the new presidential election things will get turned around. I’m not sure.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. Country music. My favorite artist right now is Jamey Johnson.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Whoa. I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. The North Carolina mountains. My kids loved it. Me and my wife loved it. It’s a tad bit cooler. Stress-free relaxing. Some family vacations can turn into sort of a hassle. Going up to the mountains, having a picnic, letting the kids play in the streams. That’s just great.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. We’ve gotten a lot better equipment over the years — hydraulic equipment to help us move the debris around. It wasn’t that long ago we were loading these trees by hand. I can’t imagine going back to that.