Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lewis Tree Service has roots in Rochester and now has its first female CEO

Lewis Tree Service has roots in Rochester and now has its first female CEO

In the past three years, 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, whether it has been in the aftermath of a natural disaster like winter storm Elliott or routine utility line clearance, it’s not uncommon to see the company’s new CEO, Leslie Kass, in the field with her employees.

Leslie Kass

“Usually there’s a moment of shock,” said Kass, when she shows up on-site in boots and a hard hat, but that quickly changes to gratitude. “They’re proud of their work and happy to show me what they’re doing. They appreciate that I’m willing to stand out there in the rain and cold with them.”

In the field is where the real work of Lewis Tree Service happens says Kass about the growing company that has over 4,000 employees and traces its roots to Thomas Terry Sr., who started Monroe Tree Surgeons in Rochester in 1938.

Lewis Tree Service is now an employee-owned business with a distributive workforce positioned across 27 states that can quickly mobilize for emergency response and storm restoration services.

When the catastrophic Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September 2022, about a quarter of Lewis Tree Service’s employees from 15 states quickly converged into the affected areas to remove thousands of fallen trees from power lines, roads and property, allowing utility and emergency crews to move in.

Not only were Lewis Tree Service crews among the first responders in the area, but they were the last contractors to leave the hardest hit region, Kass said.

The Hurricane Ian response came just five months after Kass was elected CEO following a multi-year, national search. She took the leadership reigns from Tom Rogers, who began his 49-year career with Lewis Tree Service as a maintenance worker and concluded it as CEO for 12 years.

Lewis Tree Service CEO Leslie Kass (second from left) in the field with employees.
Lewis Tree Service CEO Leslie Kass (second from left) in the field with employees. (Photo provided)

Rogers spent eight months transitioning Kass, who came to the company from Calgary-based TC Energy, where she was executive vice president. Kass holds a bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Duke University.

The first female CEO of Lewis Tree Service, Kass was also the first female CEO of Babcock & Wilcox, an Ohio-based energy technology and service provider. She also formerly held leadership positions at Westinghouse Electric Company, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Entergy, and Duke Energy.

Kass’ front-line focused leadership style dates to her childhood in West Virginia where she spent summers and free time helping at her father’s sawmills. She saw how important the employees were to the operation and it stuck with her.

“I can learn more in one day in the field than I do in a month in the office,” Kass said. “The field is where the action happens. It’s our frontline essential workers who we need to enable and empower.”

Kass was drawn to Lewis Tree Service for a multitude of reasons, including the talent of its employees, the vitalness of the services the company provides, its reputation in the field as a pioneer in safety, the diversity of its board, the positive growth path the company is on, and the company culture.

That culture is encapsulated by the company’s tagline: “Job Done Right” and encompasses safety, customer experience, employee satisfaction, human performance, and the highest ethical standards.

For example, Lewis Tree Service has a 24/7 telephone “ethics hotline” for confidential reporting by customers or community members of any unethical or illegal acts they believe they’ve experienced with the company. Kass says the hotline — which is staffed by an independent, third-party —  has very little activity, but that the company welcomes and follows up on every call.

“We believe in living by our mission,” Kass said. “As Tom Rogers would say, ‘It’s simple to work here – just do the right thing.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.