Retired EVP/COO Reflects on Women Leaders through Landis Construction's History

  • by Jim Lewis
  • Blog

Copy of Instagram Post Landis Construction

I first met Mrs. Evelyn Landis when I was about thirteen years old. She was my seventh-grade English teacher at Newman School. She was always supportive of me, even though I was not a stellar student. Also, I was close friends with her daughter, Carol, who was Sarah's Mom, and Jim who was two years ahead of me at Newman. Fast-forward to 1972. As a result of the end of the Vietnam conflict, there was an excess of officers in the US Army, so my goal to be a career army officer was not to be realized. I happened to run into Jim Landis, and he said that there was an opening at his father‘s company if I was interested in interviewing. Construction was not exactly my dream job at the time. However, I needed work to support my family so when Mr. Landis offered me the job, I accepted. If it had not been the Landis family, I probably would not have even gone to the interview. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

When I started at Landis in early 1973, Mrs. Landis's influence was always felt in the background. Even though she was not at the office on a daily basis, her thoughtfulness and concern could always be perceived by the employees. She always had the welfare of our family and the welfare of all the Landis employees’ families at heart, and she took the time to know each one of us, and to learn more about our families.

Evelyn and Fred 874954a9

After Mr. Fred Landis’s unexpected death, Mrs. Landis became a day-to-day fixture at the office. Mr. Landis was a very kind and compassionate person, however, Mrs. Landis‘s presence brought a different perspective and calming influence to the company after such a tragic loss.

Mrs. Landis was very involved in many community outreach programs through various boards and organizations, several of which were focused on equal rights for people of color and for women, at one time president of Louisiana League of Women Voters and board president of Xavier University of Louisiana. She brought that perspective and sensitivity to the company. Whether you knew her as Mrs. Landis or Mrs. Christman after remarrying to Dr. Ralph Christman, you knew her to be a compassionate, brilliant, and influential person with a strong sense of civic responsibility.

Mr. Fred Landis was a very insightful person. He had the ability to recognize talents in people whether hidden or obvious. He recognized the tremendous potential in the next in the line of influential women at Landis when she joined the company in the early 70s, Theresa Leger. He told her that she could do much more than in her role as a secretary. He, along with Vice President and Chief Estimator Joe Orr, first promoted Theresa to expediter and then to chief scheduler. From there she advanced to assistant project manager, project manager, senior project manager, and eventually senior vice president.

If Theresa didn’t know something, she did everything in her power to learn. She was never afraid to ask questions nor to seek the advice of her colleagues and supervisors. Theresa had the support of her coworkers in the office and all of our field personnel, won by working well with them and gaining their respect. As a very male dominated industry, initially, there was a bit of skepticism in the field, but that was quickly overcome by her competence.

Evelyn and Fred 874954a9

Evelyn and Fred 874954a9

I can’t remember any other company in the area or region that had women in the positions of leadership that Landis Construction did. Thankfully, things are changing for the better today overall in the industry. Theresa was an example for women, both those working at Landis then and women working along with us in our local industry. There are many today who credit her as an inspiration.

She had always been a leader among her peers. Theresa had the ability to let those around her, those working with her and for her, be themselves. She was always honest and straightforward, even when it was difficult, trying to advise them when they went off path. She supported their dreams and was quick to forgive people if they were sincere in their regrets. She was always helping people to be the best they could be in terms of both their professional and personal lives. She was known throughout the company as “Mother Theresa.”

Evelyn and Fred 874954a9

Landis established a legacy of providing opportunities for women, starting with Mrs. Landis Christman as Chairman of the Board, then Theresa as a leader in the office and the field. Since 2015, with Anne Teague Landis as CEO and Sarah Busch as VP of Operations, the legacy continues and becomes even stronger. I was fortunate to be part of it and feel honored to be one of the champions of providing such opportunities. Along with the support and leadership of these strong, competent women, we have gained much more support through female team members in estimating, field and project management, and field trades, all of which contribute to an exceptionally well rounded and successful company.

Evelyn and Fred 874954a9

Evelyn and Fred 874954a9

I certainly don’t want to overlook the contributions that the early Landis ladies have made to help make Landis the great company that it is today, including people such as Nancy Nunn, Yvonne Newman, Claire Guidry, Shirley Grosch, Anne Dlugos, Cindy Leger, Vicky Tubre, Cathy Gathman, and many others.

Jim Lewis retired from Landis Construction as EVP/COO in 2015. He now resides in East Tennessee with his wife Marguerite.

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