People in Round Rock, Texas near Austin associate the name Kip Lewis with the real estate development and investment company Lewis Investments. Most people do not know the story behind the man and the company he developed while still in his 20s.
The coronavirus pandemic of the past year has brought upheaval to most businesses, including his. While his typical day has looked different since March 2020, his words and actions still reflect a man deeply committed to his employees, clients, and community.
Kip Lewis Acts Quickly to Ensure His Employees Receive a Livable Wage
Kip Lewis was the among the first business owners in the Austin area to announce that he planned to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour for all full-time employees. After going through the trials of the past year related to the pandemic, Lewis stated that he felt the move would unite the company even more by ensuring everyone in the company receives the dignity they deserve.
Lewis went on to express these thoughts: “The pandemic brought about recognition of paying a living wage of $15 per hour to all employees in the company. Often the employees physically working the hardest in companies receive the lowest wage. As a company, we all decided it was in the best interest of the entire team to support all employees and provide not only financial support but give the respect to those employees who work so hard and are so deserving.”
The actions of Kip Lewis are noteworthy, especially in Austin. The city has received two distinctions that are polar opposite of one another. While U.S. News and World Report named Austin the most livable city in the United States, this is not true for people who earn minimum wage. The fourth-largest city in Texas received a #1 ranking from Move.org as the worst place for people earning minimum wage to live.
The minimum wage in Austin is $7.25 per hour, less than half of what Lewis now pays his entry-level full-time employees. People who earn minimum wage have not seen an increase since 2009. Rather than waiting to see what the city or state government or even fellow business owners would do, Lewis took decisive action to make sure his employees have the means to support themselves and their families.
According to a living wage calculator published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the living wage in Austin is $13.01 per hour. This is the amount at which employees can cover their basic needs. Noting that the cost of living in Austin continues to increase while minimum wage has remained stagnant for 12 years, Lewis felt increasing the salaries of entry-level workers was the right thing to do.
How Kip Lewis Incorporates His Values into Everyday Life on the Job
Kip Lewis recently sat down with a reporter from Boss Magazine to discuss lessons he has learned during the pandemic and how he applies them to running his business. The first concern Lewis has each day upon arriving at his office in the Austin suburb of Round Rock is the well-being of his employees. Employee stress is at an all-time high due to the sudden changes thrust upon them from the coronavirus challenge. When stress is high, morale is often low.
Lewis feels strongly that business owners must put their employees first. Not only is it the right thing to do from a moral perspective, but treating employees well is essential for long-term retention. No company can survive without experienced and dedicated employees who show up to work every day and serve customers well. Here are some things he does personally and that he recommends other business owners do:
- Goes out of his way to recognize employee successes, both big and small.
- Encourages work-life balance by offering generous paid time off benefits and not pressuring employees to work extra hours or be available during evenings and weekends to respond to office problems. While an occasional exception might be necessary, Lewis understands that making these requests too often takes time away from an employee’s family.
- Personally checks in with each of his employees as often as possible to see how they are holding up and asks if there is anything he can do to help.
Kip Lewis on the Importance of Technology
Once Lewis feels confident his employees have what they need, he considers his overall business strategy and prioritizes his tasks for the day ahead. Because he relies on the Internet and several other forms of technology, Lewis stresses the importance of businesses investing in technology to serve customers in a format that feels comfortable to them.
The most obvious example of meeting customers where they are is the increasing number of people turning to the Internet to complete online shopping, grocery delivery, banking, and other everyday needs due to the pandemic. Many had no choice since the places they normally did business with had to close. Others chose to reduce their risk of transmitting or acquiring the COVID-19 virus by staying home and conducting business online as much as possible.
Lewis also noticed many of his colleagues in the Austin business community struggled to adapt to technology when the coronavirus pandemic forced companies to change how they did business with little notice. Not knowing how to use online meeting and productivity tools were the two biggest areas of struggle among Austin-area business owners.
Lewis makes it a point to keep himself and his staff up-to-date on changes in the technology industry. His proactive approach means Lewis Investments will be ready to adapt in a future emergency. He invests in new technology whenever it makes sense to do so and arranges for his employees to receive training on it right away. Once of his favorite sayings is that it is better to over-prepare for something that may never happen then under-prepare and face devastating consequences.
Lewis Believes in Diversifying Income and Investments
Kip Lewis spends his days managing real estate investments for other people and developing high-quality properties according to their specifications. His company serves a wide variety of industries, something that has worked to its benefit during the pandemic. Lewis recommends that no business owner concentrate all of their time and finances on a single industry. He gives the example of the hospitality and entertainment industries and their dependence on in-person events. Many struggled so much after forced closure from the pandemic that their business will not recover even when allowed to serve people at full capacity.
While no one could have predicted the pandemic or wished for it to happen, Lewis does see one silver lining. Business owners have had no choice but to consider alternative income streams to guard against over-reliance on a single product or service. Offering new products or services or making them available in a different format offers a type of business insurance. Each day when he comes to work, Kip Lewis spends time reflecting on how Lewis Investments can diversify its services and make them available to more people.
Strong Leadership is Even More Important in Times of Crisis
Kip Lewis values the trust his clients and employees have placed in him. That is why he vows to demonstrate strong leadership skills each day. He states that it does no good to panic when faced with something as overwhelming as the coronavirus pandemic. When a leader panics, employees follow suit and soon the entire company is in chaos.
Lewis is transparent in his communication with employees. He never pretends to know the answer when he does not have enough information yet to solve a problem. Lewis is a firm believer in clear communication that express empathy for the confusion employees may be feeling or struggles they are facing. He provides continued reassurance and sees to it that all employees, even those working remotely, have the resources they need to be successful in work and life.
It should come as a surprise to no one that people often consider Kip Lewis of Austin, TX as one and the same. He has dedicated himself as much to the community as he has to his clients and employees. From historic preservation efforts to creating developments for the community to come together, the city of Austin and the towns surrounding it have his heart.