There’s Something About Mary
Upon her retirement, KONE Spares’ Mary Lewis reflects on a long and rewarding career.
“Continuous improvement is the best story,” says Mary Lewis, who has been a leader at KONE Spares in Moline, Illinois, over the past 21 years. Often described as the “heart and soul” of the operation, Lewis retired (really) on April Fool’s Day. She looks forward to spending time with family — including beloved son, Kenny — and friends, traveling, taking “master classes” on gardening, reading and listening to music.
The elevator industry has been enriched by Lewis, and she leaves with a feeling of accomplishment. Lewis says:
“I’m so energized to have been hired, led and mentored by the absolute best, most-acclaimed leaders in the business — leaders driven by excellence, quality, motivation and reality to share their beliefs, deliver on their commitments and send you on your way to achieve independently. The expectation was no less.”
An Unusual Career Path
As a young graduate of Western Illinois University with a degree in history, Lewis’ professional expectation was to teach. But, like the legal profession having too many lawyers, “there were too many history teachers,” she said, which led her on a path that would eventually bring her “home” to the elevator industry. While working part time at Stetson Building Products in Des Moines, Iowa, she discovered she had a knack for business development and wound up spending nearly 30 years at the company as a full-time purchasing and project manager.
Lewis’ career at KONE Spares began in 2000 at a pivotal time for the company. She used her business-development chops to lay the groundwork for a centralized purchasing department that would grow from two to the 15-person operation it is today. Until her retirement, the total Spares group had 54 team members under her leadership. At Spares, Lewis led supply-chain development for five years, until 2005; directed business development through 2017; and managed the organization and content of its packaged service repairs department through 2021.
Lewis’ accomplishments at KONE Spares are many, and include:
- Creating a highly regarded supply-chain infrastructure and organization that has consistently evolved to meet changing industry needs
- Using that infrastructure to build and lead a team to provide customers with OEM parts; in this, says Lewis, quality, consistency and high performance set her team apart.
- Developing pre-engineered packages with KONE technical experts to create field-friendly solutions, in turn minimizing labor costs and maximizing supply-chain performance
- Mentoring talent, and watching individuals exceed expectations
- Creating and leading learning-based development and cross training
- Rewarding and recognizing achievements
- Focusing on the value of a team effort in accomplishing goals
Although a high achiever who led and motivated colleagues, Lewis could hardly be described as a taskmaster. That’s because she infused complex, ambitious efforts with “fun and friendship.” One of the accomplishments of which she is most proud is creating “goofy teambuilding exercises that everyone protested, then embraced and wanted more of.” Lewis organized such activities as rowing competitions (KONE Spares is situated next to the Mississippi River), a solar eclipse viewing party, a name-the-baby-in-the-baby-picture event, Kentucky Derby Day, scavenger hunts and contests for watermelon-seed spitting, Halloween costumes and indoor putting. One of the more interesting contests was “dress up your potato,” which Lewis says was a team-based activity that encouraged creativity, fast thinking and supply management. “We didn’t provide many instructions, so on-your-feet thinking was rewarded,” she says. Lewis also found it rewarding to organize multiple charity fundraisers over the years.
Impact on the Industry
Lewis’ impact on the elevator industry is her primary legacy. Before being on the sales team, she closed KONE Spares’ first US$1-million parts sale. The centralized purchasing system Lewis created for KONE Spares has been described as an “industry gamechanger.” At the Moline headquarters, she organized the division’s first customer-centric event, which she describes as “an effort to bring disparate entities of the business together on a mutually beneficial platform.” She elaborates:
“It was unique at the time, and a hard sell for KONE to take the leap and spend money to make it happen. It was unusual because our attendee list consisted of our industry competitors that chose to buy parts from KONE Spares or, conversely, were indifferent to buying parts from us. Our message was clear: we wanted our customers to understand the very large machine it took to create the successful relationships we were developing in the industry — a new concept in 2010. We were not competing with them on a parts basis; we were proving, through hard work and innovation, that we were the premier Montgomery/KONE/O&K parts depot.
“Our team felt it was necessary for independent servicing companies, OEMs, self-maintaining customers and transit organizations to see the quality, care, accuracy, engineering, massive inventory and team spirit that went into every order. An in-house Lego® simulation game was played in which the tables were turned: our visiting customers had to source, manufacture and deliver parts to demanding customers, then justify their process and pricing structure. What a fun, eye-opening experience that was! It ended up creating lasting relationships and really set our course to further promote excellence in our organization. We never had to look back as we maintained the juice to continue to amplify our infrastructure, delivering what we promised to the industry.”
Known for her ability to deliver the best “toasts” in the industry, Lewis has been a consistently familiar face at National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) events, where she created lasting friendships and strengthened KONE Spares’ business ties. “I really got to know our customers and suppliers,” Lewis says. She is also a frequent attendee at Vertical Initiative for Elevator Escalator Women meetings.
“Our team felt it was necessary for independent servicing companies, OEMs, self-maintaining customers and transit organizations to see the quality, care, accuracy, engineering, massive inventory and team spirit that went into every order.”Mary Lewis on the division’s first customer-centric event in 2010
Lewis considers herself lucky to have led “the best overall functioning team at KONE,” a team that consistently improved every year. KONE Spares won back-to-back ELEVATOR WORLD Ellies in 2018 and 2019 in the “Best Supplier — Other” category. With the example she set and practices and procedures she put in place, improvement is sure to continue.
“I am most thankful for the opportunities KONE provided by bringing me onboard, letting me lead and providing me the authority to develop a team that, as I leave, I know is the ‘gold standard’ in the business. I depart with a healthy and happy heart to see if there is really ‘something about Mary!’ ”
 ELEVATOR WORLD, The People Issue, June 2018