Who is James Lewis?
James Lewis graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Tennessee in the early 90s. His shop experience enables him to handle the day-to-day operations as well as plan for Axis’ future. He has been with the company for over 25 years. James is a family man and he, along with his wife Susan, has three daughters. The family lives in Knoxville, TN. We wanted to know more about what he does as current president of Axis Fabrication and Machine Company.
Could you describe a typical workday?
James: There isn’t really a typical workday. Every day comes with its own challenges. Some days are full of meetings with coworkers or with customers. Others are spent evaluating the best way to accomplish tasks such as making parts; this is done sometimes during the manufacturing stage but first must be done for a quotation. Some days are spent evaluating opportunities. Is it a good fit for our company? Are we getting out of the realm of what we do well? Is it an opportunity to grow or for failure? I’m involved somehow in almost every aspect of the business, although I have no “daily” duties or responsibilities. I’m deciding where the company is going or could go and look at new processes, technology, and customers. I interact mainly with department managers and our project managers.
What is your job?
James: As president, my job is to make sure everyone has the best chance for success in their work. Everyone needs the right tools to do their job efficiently, effectively, and safely. When dealing with management, that means they have to have the right information. The right reports are necessary to see how their departments are performing and what their upcoming workload is to be able to schedule. It’s my job to get the correct and the best equipment possible. Anyone who is not making parts or shipping dollars, such as myself, their number one job is to increase the time that everybody else has to do their job.
What are some of the biggest rewards of your position?
James: I’m blessed to have found some great people. It truly is really satisfying. My job is to get outstanding people and keep them happy. That really is the job. To get outstanding people and keep them motivated and happy. The fact that I’m in charge of what I do and what gets done. Autonomy is a big plus.
How would you describe somebody who would excel in this career?
James: They would need to be analytical. However, the most important thing is learning how to interact with and treat people. We’re all in this together.
Is this field of fabrication and machining growing enough so that there’s room for someone new?
James: There are many new jobs opening up every day, especially in Tennessee. When large companies move into the area, they need support. We support them by either making part of their product or supplying parts for them. Manufacturing is growing, in general, every day.
How did you get your job?
James: I was working part-time at Drain-All at the time, during school in 1990. The guy I was working for at the time really needed a full-time person instead. My supervisor asked our new neighbor if he needed help on my behalf. The new neighbor was Pat Hughes who had just started a new company, Axis Fabrication and Machine Co. I’ve been here ever since. After graduation, I switched to full-time. That turned into doing some machining, then welding, then sheet metal, and so on.
If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way? Why?
James: I don’t think so. I’ve been very blessed that everything worked out the way it did. Once I got a mechanical engineering degree, I could have left and gone to work in an engineering field, but sticking around was a great decision.
What is the background of most senior-level executives?
James: Trade school or two-year degree with lots of experience.
What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?
James: Definitely start off with trade (tech) school, whether machining or welding. Tennessee College of Applied Technology is a great place to start.
What qualifications do you seek in a new hire?
James: Definitely, some sort of schooling is preferred. If not school, then experience. Smart and hard-working are the two most important qualities, with a good attitude being a definite must. We want good people.
How do most people enter this profession?
James: A large number starts out after tech school. Most people enter in entry-level jobs. Some start out as unskilled laborers and learn on the job during an apprenticeship.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before entering this field?
James: Business management knowledge. I still have a lot to learn, but what I know I learned it on the job over time. It would’ve been nice to know more about the ins and outs of business in general.
Where do you see this industry going in the next 5-10 years?
James: I don’t’ see major changes in the next 5-10 years. The biggest changes are going to be in efficiency and automation. Faster cut speed due to better tooling. No major changes in the types of equipment, just better equipment. For example, fiber lasers are replacing CO2, but they’re still lasers. They’re just faster and more efficient. Additive manufacturing will continue to grow as part of what we do, but it won’t replace it completely. We’ll work with them. It’ll be another tool to create parts. It won’t replace what we do in the next 5-10 years.