A Little Luck, A Lot of Work:
Jeff Lewis, '90, '92
|Jeff Lewis, '90, '92
Photo by Ashley Washburn
Company: MIS Engineering
Number of Employees: 6
Distinction: MIS Engineering is the only bare circuit manufacturer in Nebraska. Award: Lewis was the recipient of the first Walter Entrepreneurship Award in 2001.
Jeff Lewis discovered just how risky entrepreneurship be when an economic shift put hundreds of companies like his out of business. Lewis started MIS Engineering during graduate school in 1991. His company started a circuit board manufacturer and gradually moved mass production. At its peak, MIS had 132 employees. But in 2000, shortly after Lewis moved his business from the Sullivan Building in the Haymarket district a 60,000 square-foot plant on Southwest 37th Street, companies began outsourcing circuit board production manufacturers in India, China and throughout Asia. saved his business by returning to his roots: product and prototypes. Today one of MIS’s key clients is Nebraska Surgical Solutions, which makes small robots for minimally invasive surgery. Nebraska Surgical is a partnership between Shane Farritor, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Dmitry Oleynikov, a surgeon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; and an investor.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I think the company concept was founded on a bar napkin in Iguanaís. Ö My father owned his own business (a plant nursery) and encouraged me to do the same. I love Nebraska and didnít want to leave. There probably has not been one day when I havenít loved what I do. The day I wake up and donít like what I do, I guess Iíll do something elseóbut I donít think that will happen.
What is the best business advice youíve received?
Cash flow, cash flow, cash flow. Make sure you meet your obligations. Thatís very difficult to do when youíre an upstart. Another lesson Iíve learned is to find your niche and donít leave it. I tried to expand into production. That risk put most of the people I know in this business, out of business.
How have you adjusted to changes in your industry?
We didnít anticipate production being moved overseas so quickly. I outlaid millions of dollars to build our current facility, and I certainly wouldnít have done that willingly had I known that was going to happen. But if youíre not part of technology, youíll get run over by it. One of our survival skills has been to be flexible. Weíve become more of a design team. If weíd been just a bare board manufacturer we wouldnít be alive today.
Being diverse is a good thing. The world may deal you a bad hand but the next one doesnít have to be. Thereís a saying that lucky people look for the opportunity, and I think thereís a lot to be said about that. Ö Weíre building up again and are very optimistic about the future.
How do you feel about outsourcing?
If companies benefit by outsourcing to India thatís whatís going to happen, and youíre not going to stop it. Customers are loyal but purchasing agents donít care. If they can get it cheaper, they will. Products are cost-driven and a lot of that goes back to throwaway technology. Itís cheaper to buy new rather than pay someone to fix it.
I worry about human rights. Weíre taking advantage of their (other countriesí) massive population and the actual workers arenít the ones getting rich. If there is anything Iím upset with in the world, itís the lack of enforcement of environmental standards with overseas production. These companies are polluting the world, and I fear for my grandchildren who will bear the cost of cleaning it up.
What do you look for in an employee?
MIS employs mostly UNL grads. I love getting junior-level engineering students. School is great, but there should be time in the trenches before you call yourself an engineer.