Some enterprising African-Americans are at the forefront of the tier 1 automotive supplier industry but this fact does not often make the news. The $100 billion US car and auto manufacturing market that employs over 1.7 million people also accounts for three percent of the nation’s GDP. And if there is an African-American whose place in the automotive supply chain deserves mentioning, it is Kirk J. Lewis, the founder, chairman and president of Blue Springs Metals.
We can start by acknowledging that Lewis’ business generates nearly $500 million in annual sales.
The heart of business has always seemed the most natural place for Lewis. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting from Michigan State University and a Master in Finance from Wayne State’ University. And he turned out to be a man of many trades, shining at corporate management, politics and entrepreneurship
He began his career as a staff accountant at “big eight” accounting firm Price Waterhouse. Lewis then spent seven years at Ford Motor Credit Company. He joined as a debt analyst, became a registered investment professional and ultimately a profit consolidator. Notably, he led the sale of commercial paper in the New York and New Jersey markets and redesigning a new commercial paper issuance system.
In 1994, Lewis became the director of finance at a certified minority Tier 1 Automotive Supplier. He was promoted to chief financial officer and later CEO and Partner. He also served as president of a joint-venture with a global multi-billion dollar Tier-1 automotive supplier where he was in charge of sales, finance and manufacturing. Lewis led a highly successful acquisition strategy that resulted in nearly double revenues within three years.
Lewis then joined a Tier 1 Automotive Supplier, as the Director of Finance in 1994, rising through the ranks to become Chief Executive Officer and Partner. In addition, Mr. Lewis served as president of a joint-venture with a global multi-billion dollar Tier-1 automotive supplier, where he was responsible for overseeing all of the sales, financial and manufacturing activities. During his time as president of this joint-venture, he oversaw a successful acquisition strategy that nearly doubled revenues over a three-year period.
He led the company through a steep decline in automotive sales and restructured operations and finances during his tenure. Lewis was at the forefront of negotiations with various creditor groups and deals from the bargaining unit. His experience in detailed budget reviews, cash management, vendor and employee requirements placed him in premier position to successfully negotiate a restructuring transaction.
Lewis went into politics in 2010, and he was appointed Deputy Mayor for the City of Detroit under Mayor Dave Bing, a year later. He managed the daily operations of all city departments such as the Detroit Fire Department and the Detroit Police Department. This political experience combined with his storied corporate leadership prepared Lewis to run his own flourishing business.
Over several years, he had discussed a possible partnership deal for a new warehouse-supplier-manufacturer business with Toyota. And so when he decided his time in public service was over, Lewis finally opened Blue Springs Metals in Blue Springs, Mississippi across a 200, 000-square-foot facility in 2013. The company serves the automotive and oil and gas industries, with Toyota accounting for 95 percent of its clientele.
But over the last decade, the decision to go back to the private sector has worked out.
“There are challenges. It is hugely competitive. We constantly monitor and develop ways to do the job better, cheaper and more efficiently. It is a constant drive that you go through. You must always know what is happening and going on with your customer base,” Lewis said of the combination of factors for his business success.
Although most business owners of this magnitude are far removed from the everyday dimensions of the business, Lewis is different.
“Most of my work life is divided between Blue Springs and Georgetown. I am usually found in one of those two plants at most given times. Together, we have a broader reach,” he explained.
From a single enterprise, Lewis has grown the Blue Springs Metals into a leading conglomerate. He has strategically expanded through excellent acquisitions, refinancing, and debt structuring. Blue Springs Metals generates annual sales of $160 million while Georgetown Metal Processing brings in $210 million and Madison Metal Processing has annual sales of $100 million.