Executive edge: Chris Lewter
Within weeks of moving to Colorado as president of the Mountain Region for Verizon Wireless, Chris Lewter faced his first crisis – devastating fires that engulfed 18,000 acres of Colorado Springs.
“Our facilities and some of our network towers were in jeopardy,” recalls Lewter, who watched an 18-wheeler come up from Texas decked out with Verizon equipment and a mobile cell site. “The most rewarding thing was to see a team pull together. We had employees who lost everything yet they kept working throughout the fire. It was all about making a difference in people’s lives, and that is really powerful.”
Lewter, 40, who has worked for Verizon for 14 years, was used to challenge, having worked in Detroit for five years at the start of the region’s serious decline.
“It was tough to see a region go through so much economic strife, and seeing how it played on our business forced us to be more creative and do the right thing for our customers,” Lewter said. “I watched firsthand companies go out of business and then saw other companies reinvent themselves, get creative and get lean and mean. That was a big learning opportunity for me.”
The Detroit assignment also was, in part, instrumental in Lewter landing his job in Denver where the native of Asheville, N.C., oversees operations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Verizon employs 880 in Colorado and 1,580 throughout the region.
“The thing I’ve learned since being here is that the more time I am outside this office and in front of the teams – whether it’s in our stores, out with our business teams or on the operations side of the house – the more I learn, the more effective a leader I become.”
He’s part of a campaign to transform Verizon from a phone company to a technology-based company offering everything from medical technology, motor vehicle diagnostics and video conferencing to remote baby monitors on parents’ phones and home security systems.
“The industry is evolving and we as a company must evolve to keep up with supporting our small businesses and consumers,” Lewter said. “We spend a lot of time and energy in our labs and innovation centers, including one in Denver, where we’re able to bring customers in and show them the technology from end to end.”
He said that in 2012 alone, Verizon spent $100 million in Colorado upgrading its high-speed network. Since 2000, the company has spent $1.2 billion in Colorado on network upgrades.
“There’s always a high level of energy, accountability and pace, and that can be a very intoxicating mix of attributes for an organization and gets infectious,” Lewter said. “Working at that pace becomes very exciting.”
While the job takes him on the road often, the father of three stays in touch with his family through video conferencing over tablets and phones.
“We have this philosophy that we work hard and we have fun but in the end the thing that is most important is family,” said Lewter, who enjoys mountain biking and skiing with his family.
Lewter attended Bowling Green State University in Ohio on a swimming scholarship and graduated in 1994 with a degree in business marketing. Swim practice took up six hours a day.
“I had a high school swimming coach who would say, ‘Don’t think about it so much, just go out and do it,’” recalls Lewter, likening that philosophy to his job. “Sometimes you just have to throw everything aside and go out and make it happen.”