If Debbie Stinson doesn’t know you, she’s still going to call you by name. It’s just that your name will be “Honey.”
“When I started here there were about 100, 120 people in the office and the field,” Debbie remembers, sitting down to chat at Wallace Place. “I worked in the building on Wilhagen Road, and it was a small office.”
She leans forward on the couch, looks around the beautiful HQ conference room and laughs. “Now, we have 1,400+ employees and I don’t always know their names. But Lee Company still has a wonderful family feel to it. That’s the magic here.”
That’s the magic, and Debbie is the magician. During her 30+ years with Lee Company, Debbie Stinson has become our company mom – the one person you can always turn to when you need a hug or advice, an extra buck for lunch or a ride to the hospital. (We’ll tell you that story later and, yes, it does include a near-death experience.)
But, first, let’s go back to Wilhagen Road. When Debbie walked into the Lee Company office on that sunny day in 1987, she almost walked right out again. She was there to interview for a secretarial position, and the employment agency had assured her that Lee Company was “the perfect company to go work for.”
There was just one catch.
“I almost didn’t take the job because I had never used a computer and that was required,” Debbie remembers. “I was scared to death, but I took a chance and did it.”
And, abracadabra! Just like magic, she was home.
When Debbie started working here, Wallace and Ted Lee were actively involved in the day to day of the business; they brought her in as a secretary to help Wallace’s son.
“For me, it was like a second family,” Debbie says. “Ted and Wallace were like second dads – they’d give you advice that would help you down the line. When Wallace came through the front door, you could hear him laughing all through the building. He’d stop midday, come by your desk, and just tell stories. Ted was more quiet, but so much fun too. They were both so kind to work for – it was like walking into a whole new family.”
That family feel mattered then, and now, to Debbie. She came from a large family, and was the youngest of six children.
“All my brothers and sisters had kids, and I love them.” She pauses for a moment, her kind face softening as she thinks back. “I got married and found out that I could not have children. And I love kids.”
With that dream displaced, Debbie did what came naturally. She prayed.
“I was 65 miles from my family and my nieces and nephews, so I prayed that God would send me someone to take care of, that He would give me family.”
With Lee Company, she says, “God has answered my prayers, many times over. I just kind of adopted my coworkers as my family. I was so close to the employees here that I babysat for them – their kids became my kids.”
She shakes her head, appreciating the unexpected twists and turns of life. Her colorful earrings dance and sparkle; her smile warms the room.
“Some kids who used to sit on my lap work here now. Hunter Bailey used to sit on my lap and say, ‘Miss Debbie, I’m going to marry you someday.’ Well, I got divorced and remarried, Hunter grew up, and got a job here as an engineer. And one day he came over and told me he wanted me to meet his fiancé. And I said, ‘Hunter Bailey! I thought you were going to marry me!’”
As we laugh, Debbie assures us that her love story worked out just the way it was meant to: “I met my husband Paul, a wonderful man I married seventeen years ago; and now I have two daughters and nine wonderful grandchildren that I dearly love.”
The best company
Debbie started at Lee Company as a secretary, and assisted Wallace and Ted Lee whenever they needed.
“I’ve watched our President & CEO Richard Perko grow through the years,” she says. “He was chosen to come over and be part of the leadership team, and he’s doing a wonderful job. This company is like a plane flying, and Richard keeps it flying really smooth.
“The benefit of working with the Lee family, and now Richard is that the Lee Company values haven’t changed,” Debbie notes with pride. “Even though we’re a company of 1,400+ people, we still feel like family. We still help each other. That comes from leadership. Richard, with his leadership, continues that family feeling.”
In addition to helping Richard, Debbie is now working on a special project, compiling the company history. Has her job title changed? Well, Debbie doesn’t really care about titles. What she cares about is you. And she wants you to know that, no matter what your title may be, there are always opportunities to learn and grow at Lee Company. Her career here is testament to that.
“Years ago, Wallace and Ted decided we needed to start drug testing. So Wallace came to me and said, ‘We’re going to start doing drug tests and you’re going to take care of it.’ That’s the way it was with drug testing. New hires. Motor vehicle reports. Employee background reports. That’s the way I’ve learned.
“If I have any advice, it’s ‘Learn everything you can.’ Take advantage of what Lee Company has to offer. Take advantage of the classes – all of it. Learn, learn, learn.”
And, while you’re learning: Laugh, laugh, laugh.
The best people
Mothers, of course, want us to finish what we start. So, what is that story about the ambulance ride to the hospital? We’ll let Debbie tell it, with a perfect mix of Southern charm and Southern sass.
“We had one employee here and he had heart problems, and he’d also had a kidney transplant, and he was having a heart attack one day. Now, this was in the old building, and our receptionist Angela called me to the front desk and said, ‘I’ve called 911. I think he’s having a heart attack.’”
Debbie stayed with the employee until the ambulance arrived, and then rode with him to the hospital, in case he arrived before his family.
“I was single at the time, so I was talking to the ambulance driver on the way to the hospital, and the employee was laying back there, trying to survive this heart attack. Once it was all over with, he said, ‘I’m back there dying, and you’re making time with the ambulance driver!’”
We all bust out laughing – and that’s it, exactly. It’s that wonderful mix of laughter and love and being there for each other that keeps the family feel at Lee Company strong. As Debbie reminds us, we’re all part of the family. We all matter.
“I feel like Lee Company is a big puzzle, and each person carries a piece of the puzzle with them. Employees may not know how important they are, but if you’re not doing your job, a puzzle piece is missing – and that’s when we have problems.
“Always be considerate of each other. Love each other. Mentor each other. Smile. Everyone goes through so much in life – and at such a fast pace. You don’t know what someone is going through. Show compassion for each other. Be respectful of your coworkers. Get to know them and their families. We have the best people here.”
Yes we do, Mom. Yes we do.