Former Residential Arborist and ex-Marine
Gary Russell, Lead Foreman, Lewis Tree Service
Gary served in the military, worked in a bike shop and a brewery, and spent years doing residential tree work. Now he’s at Lewis Tree Service and we’re grateful to have him!
Why would someone move from residential tree work to utility line clearance?
Before coming to Lewis Tree Service, I was working at a residential tree company for two years but that wasn’t my first tree job. I did tree work for five years just out of high school, as well.
At my first company, there was a lack of concern for safety. It was what I would call cowboy–style tree work. Although I had glimpses of the safety-forward tree work that was going on in the industry, I wasn’t in it. I really liked the person I worked for, and had a lot of fun, but there was no career. I just didn’t see a future.
In my more recent position, I learned a lot; but, again, I reached my potential. On the residential side, it can be hard to find a company with a benefits package or the right structure where you can move up. It’s very limiting. I was never going to be the owner and I didn’t want to be climbing trees forever. I maxed out. I knew that I eventually wanted to go into management or safety and training—a job that is more knowledge–based than physically demanding.
How did you wind up at Lewis Tree Service?
I started looking for a new career and found Lewis through somebody who works here. At the time, he was a groundman and really liked it. That conversation put Lewis on the radar for me. I had never considered doing utility line clearance before that.
On the residential side, line clearance gets a bad rap: “clearance not appearance.” Lewis was not on my radar because I like the technical side of the craft (e.g., rigging and climbing) that is more prevalent in residential. With that said, I’m doing a climbing job right now. I still get to do the type of work that I like—just not every day.
Was it a difficult transition from residential tree work to vegetation management?
No, the transition has not been difficult. Lewis has much more of a safety–conscious atmosphere than I ever imagined. Safety was always a concern at my prior job, but it wasn’t at the forefront like it is here. Tree work is inherently risky with climbing and working aloft in bucket trucks but here we have the added risk of power lines. We do things much differently at Lewis, but I easily adapted to meet the needs of the company. It was a big change in terms of safety and I really appreciate it.
You served in the military, too. Tell us about that.
I joined the Marine Corp for one enlistment after my first tree job. I was looking for security, responsibility and direction. I liked the range of experiences it provided from training to deployment. In the military, you get to do so many different things, and see different places, with a group of people who are really connected. It’s a brotherhood where you’re constantly around people who understand your experiences. Even when things suck, you have others around to share in that same experience.
There are similarities to Lewis. While having a formal structure may sound like it could be stifling, the fact that there is an attainable direction to move in at Lewis is a major benefit. Many start in this industry because they like being physical and working outside but may not be thinking long-term about their future. Yet, there are long-term career opportunities here. The work is exciting, not without risk, and fun. There are so many positive aspects that draw people in who may not be thinking long-term.
The work at Lewis also has a first responder feel. There are times when something happens somewhere, like a hurricane in Florida, and we’re needed to go, help restore power and make it better. That doesn’t get enough attention. Doing emergency work in residential isn’t the same thing. You can liken these experiences to the military. When you share challenging experiences or do things out of the ordinary, it really brings people together. We have shared experiences beyond the imagination. It feels very personal when homeowners come out to thank you after a storm. They’re looking to us so they can have their lights on again. We truly belong to something bigger.
Let’s talk about being an Essential Workforce.
I’m pretty happy about being recognized as an essential worker but, before this pandemic hit, I hadn’t thought about my job in terms this before. It’s really important, though. I’m not just another tree guy. When a storm comes through and we have to clear the lines, it makes me proud. We’re taking part in something more than just ornamental pruning of a tree. It’s not just about beautification.
You’re looking for a career. Are you finding enough progression at Lewis?
I came in as a groundsperson even thought I knew it wasn’t the work I wanted. It was a small reduction in hourly pay but the benefits were worth it. And my situation quickly changed. I know that every yard is different but for me, my General Foreman and everybody I worked with saw that I had enough experience to do more. I quickly moved into a foreman position within a month or two. I’m now a Lead Foreman.
There’s the possibility to do good work and grow in this company. It’s not just the day-to-day; it feels much broader than it is on the surface. There may not be a lot of upward mobility in a lot of other labor industries.
Enough about Lewis. What do you do for fun?
I’m married with one kid. I ride bikes a lot and I’m just getting my son on a bike. I also have a hobby of doing chain saw carvings. I spend a lot of free time, if I get any, doing that. Well, that and typical other family stuff!
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Looking for a new career with opportunities to grow, solid pay, benefits, stock ownership, training, safety, working outside, a great culture, and finding success? Take a look at some of the other Lewis success stories profiled on our site.
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Bored in your job? Want to try something different? Find out how a butcher found the right blend of training, learning, safety and success at Lewis Tree Service. Click here.
Tired of working two full-time jobs just to make ends meet? Learn how a former kitchen manager in the restaurant industry has found success and a long-term career without a college education at Lewis Tree Service. Click here.
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