In the past three years, the Henrietta-based Lewis Tree Service — one of the largest vegetation management services for public utilities in North America — has logged over a million hours of storm response across the United States.
And since April 2022, it’s not uncommon to see the company’s new CEO, Leslie Kass, with her staff on the ground, whether it’s following a natural disaster like Winter Storm Elliott or routine utility line clearing.
“There’s usually a moment of terror,” Kass says when she shows up in boots and a hard hat, but that quickly turns to gratitude. “They take pride in their work and love showing me what they do. They appreciate that I’m willing to stand out with them in the rain and cold.”
This is where the real work of Lewis Tree Service happens, says Kass of the growing company, which employs more than 4,000 people and whose roots go back to Thomas Terry Sr., who founded Monroe Tree Surgeons in Rochester in 1938.
Today, Lewis Tree Service is an employee-owned business with a distributed workforce across 27 states that can mobilize quickly for emergency response and storm cleanup services.
When catastrophic Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September 2022, about a quarter of Lewis Tree Service employees from 15 states quickly rallied to affected areas to remove thousands of fallen trees from power lines, roads and properties to prompt supply and emergency teams to respond could .
Lewis Tree Service workers were not only among the first responders in the area, but were also the last contractors to leave the hardest-hit region, Kass said.
The response to Hurricane Ian came just five months after Kass was elected CEO after a multi-year, nationwide search. She took over the helm from Tom Rogers, who began his 49-year career at Lewis Tree Service as a maintenance worker and ended it as CEO for 12 years.
Leslie Kass, CEO of Lewis Tree Service (second from left), in the field with staff_ –
Rogers spent eight months transitioning Lewis, who joined the company from Calgary-based TC Energy, where she was executive vice president. Kass holds a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Duke University
Kass was the first female CEO of Lewis Tree Service and also the first female CEO of Babcock & Wilcox, an Ohio-based energy technology and services provider. She has also previously held leadership positions at Westinghouse Electric Company, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Entergy and Duke Energy.
Kass’s front-line leadership style dates back to her childhood in West Virginia, where she spent summers and free time helping out at her father’s lumber mills. She recognized how important employees were to the business and it stuck in her mind.
“I can learn more in a day on site than in a month in the office,” said Kass. “The field is where the action takes place. It is our key frontline workers that we need to empower and empower.”
Kass was drawn to Lewis Tree Service for a variety of reasons, including the talent of its people, the vitality of the services the company provides, its reputation in the industry as a pioneer in safety, the diversity of its board of directors and the positive growth trajectory that it has Company runs and corporate culture.
This culture is expressed through the company’s slogan “Job Done Right” and encompasses safety, customer experience, employee satisfaction, human performance and the highest ethical standards.
For example, Lewis Tree Service has a 24-hour “Ethics Hotline” telephone number that customers or community members can use to confidentially report unethical or illegal activities they believe have been committed at the company. Kass says the hotline – which is manned by an independent third party – is very inactive, but the company welcomes and follows up on every call.
“We believe in living our mission,” Kass said. “As Tom Rogers would say, ‘It’s easy to work here – you just have to do the right thing.’
Caurie Putnam is a freelance writer based in the Rochester area.