The Right Man for the Job
If you want to be a leader, you need to think like one, says Greg Lewis ’91 (BUS), senior vice president and CFO of Honeywell.
When Greg Lewis ’91 (BUS) teaches executive leadership seminars at Honeywell, where he is the Senior Vice President and CFO, there is one story he inevitably shares.
If you want to be a leader, you need to think like one, he says. And there was a pivotal moment when he learned that lesson.
Early in his career, Lewis worked as a business analyst at The Stanley Works in New Britain, Connecticut, now Stanley Black & Decker. The company was considering investing $1 billion to purchase another manufacturer.
“I was super excited. I had prepared all the numbers, the spreadsheets, and the calculations,’’ says Lewis, who majored in finance at UConn. “I couldn’t wait to present all the financials, and the returns were quite compelling.’’
Minutes into the presentation the CEO asked Lewis’ boss: “Who is going to run this new company?” The room was silent. There was no good answer for that critical question.
“Meeting adjourned!’’ the CEO bellowed. The acquisition was off the table, and Lewis hadn’t even had a chance to speak.
“Many times you learn the most from observing people around you, from the opportunity to be exposed to senior executives and how they think through problems,’’ he says. “I realized that day that business is much more than numbers. It comes down to risk, execution, and people. Picking the right people for the job is one of the most important things we do.’’
A Future Ignites at UConn
Lewis grew up in Shelton, Connecticut, the youngest of six boys, with a younger sister who was born much later. “Growing up in my family there was a lot to live up to and a constant competitive spirit,’’ he says. His father owned a small wiring cable company and had a strong work ethic that Lewis has tried to emulate.
At St. Joseph High in Trumbull, Connecticut, he was a strong student and a football player. Longtime friend Dan Iassogna ’91 (CLAS) recalls his mom talking about Lewis. “That Greg Lewis is going to be somebody,’’ she would tell Dan.
“Greg was polite, smart, and he conducted himself almost like a CFO even back then,’’ Iassogna says. “He was incredibly driven, a great athlete, but also just a nice person. He was always someone who was very easy to root for!’’
Lewis chose engineering at UConn because one of his brothers had excelled in the field. But his first semester was an academic disaster, and he transferred to business.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on kids today to decide their future in high school. When you’re young, life will take many twists and turns. You’ll get many things wrong,’’ he says. “You’ve got to risk something and not be afraid to fail. After all, my opening salvo at UConn was almost crash and burn. UConn is the place where I learned about myself and where I was going.’’
At a Belden Hall dance in 1987, Lewis met Barbara Reynolds ’89 (BUS), from Wethersfield, Connecticut. Now his wife of 28 years, Barbara has been the rock of the family, says Lewis. They have moved eight times, living everywhere from New England to Texas and from Minnesota to their current home in North Carolina. And Barbara has been the North Star for their daughters, now 21 and 18, teaching them to be brave, confident, and forward-looking.
Family time is precious, says Lewis on the eve of his family’s Cape Cod summer vacation. “I work a great deal, and I travel a lot, but when I’m with them, I’m present,’’ he says. “The time I spend with them is quality time.’’
Is it hard to disconnect? “Yes, especially in the pandemic, it has been. Technology is great but it doesn’t let go of you,’’ he says.
“Creating separation is one of the hardest things to do — not only by disconnecting from the phone, but also boxing work out of your mind. It’s one of the biggest challenges, and the bigger the job, the more the weight.’’
The Lewises in Trafalgar Square visiting Sam during her freshman year at NYU London in 2019. From left: Ava, Sam, Greg, and Barbara.
A Risk Pays Off
“Becoming a CFO wasn’t my goal when I graduated from UConn. I just wanted a job! I started at Kraft Foods, working hard and building my career,’’ says Lewis, who earned an MBA from Fordham in 1995.
“I tell others that if you want to be successful, say yes when someone gives you more. Those can be scary decisions. But being uncomfortable is how you learn and grow and discover that you’re more capable than you think.’’
Lewis has worked at Honeywell for 16 years, the last four in his current role. To keep the Fortune 100 technology company at its competitive peak requires constant vigilance.
He worries about volatility in business, cyber risk, geopolitical risk, and discovering new talent. Currently the organization devotes more than 60% of its R&D efforts to sustainable projects, such as producing environmentally friendly asthma inhalers, turning plastic waste into oil, and developing products that prevent communication failures among emergency personnel battling structural fires.
“As CFO you get involved in everything,’’ he says. “You can’t be a bystander. You have to know what’s going on in commercial and R&D, how the factories are performing, what the crisis management team is worried about, and how we’re safeguarding the health and safety of our employees in a pandemic.’’
Everything Is a Trade-Off
With a demanding job and frequent international travel, Lewis recognizes the importance of taking care of himself both physically and psychologically.
He meets with a personal trainer twice a week, plays golf when he can, and takes long walks. He escapes to Cape Cod, where he can listen to the ocean, enjoy the peace, and reconnect with family and friends.
“You have to be purposeful, take care of yourself, and make time to unplug. I’m certainly not a textbook case for work-life balance. But if I don’t have a well to draw from, I’m not going to be helpful to anyone,” he says.
“As a leader, you’re giving energy to your people. If they see that you’re down, they’ll take their cue from you,’’ he says.
Although he has no plans to retire, Lewis likes the idea of teaching in some form when he’s ready to leave the corporate world.
“I tell my daughters, you can’t have it all. Everything is a trade-off. If you want a big job, it comes with a lot of stress. It’s not for everybody. You have to be willing to give a lot of yourself to do it. It can be incredibly rewarding, especially when you impact someone’s life and help them succeed. Those are some of the best days.’’
By Claire Lafleur Hall