By Fran Eaton for the Technology & Manufacturing Association of Illinois News Bulletin – reprinted with permission
When Deb Sommers answered a job ad nearly four decades ago, she had no idea what career opportunities would lie ahead for her. Today she owns Lakeview Precision Machining in South Elgin and tells an inspiring story that started as a receptionist fresh out of high school. “The owners that hired me – Shirley and Ken Lemke – thought I wouldn’t last long working for them,” Deb told TMA News Bulletin. “They were tough to work for and demanded so much of their employees. But I thought that was good. It made me learn more.” Deb answered phones for the Lemkes for a while, then they tasked her gradually with accounting, entry orders and billing. “Then when the office manager left, they gave me even more responsibilities. I stayed on because I enjoyed what I did and went to school part-time to be an accountant,” she said. In the meantime, the shop floor crew introduced her to the machining work they were doing.
Deb’s interest grew in what Lakeview produced. “Because I would work alongside Mr. Lemke, I got to see every aspect of the company, from shipping and receiving, from the back to the front,” Deb said. “The oldest person on the floor was a man named Casey. His experience was priceless.”
Deb married and started a family. Three daughters – Emily, Cassandra and Kaylee – came along, and Deb continued working at Lakeview Precision Machining. “Mr. Lemke and I talked about my buying in a small percentage as he saw my commitment to the company,” Deb said. Soon after, Mr. Lemke was diagnosed with brain cancer and tragically died two months later. His widow ran the business until eleven years ago, when Mrs. Lemke accepted Deb’s offer to buy the company.
Now with 20 employees, Lakeview Precision is thriving and busy turning projects. “We do specialize in turning, Swiss turning, screw machine turning, conventional CNC lathe turning, drilling, milling, and tapping – all made from bar stock,” she said. “Our parts can be found in various industries including office equipment, food and beverage industry, gaming and military equipment, hydraulics, and more.” Lakeview’s current biggest challenges are higher material prices and longer lead times. Those two together are creating new challenges for manufacturing worldwide. Job quotes have to be checked and re-checked as lead times lengthen and material prices fluctuate, especially as they’re reflecting tariff policy changes.
With the help of TMA’s network, Deb says she’s been fortunate to grow the company with an array of team member ages. Two of her daughters are learning the business fulltime and will eventually take it over. Together with Deb’s sisters and a nephew in his 30s, Lakeview has attracted a new generation now learning from the shop’s long timers. For Deb, a key benefit of owning a business is the direct impact providing employment has on the lives of others.
“It is rewarding to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I love to be able to have a positive impact on their lives. We do have a choice how we can help others and let them know they are cared for when they go home. That’s very rewarding,” she said. Lakeview Precision’s team is made up of an almost even number of men and women. Attracting more women into manufacturing is crucial, she says, and is a key reason she’s so invested in Women in TMA. Deb is chairman of the group this year and pleased with the efforts they are making to reach out to women. “This industry is hurting for people – people in general – and I’ve found women to be very creative. We’re 50 percent women here at Lakeview. It just happened that way,” she said. “But women need to know manufacturing is a viable business for them, and women can build viable careers in this industry.”
Deb doesn’t dwell much on the challenges she endured at the time she acquired the business. It wasn’t easy – adjusting after a divorce, buying the company, being forced to relocate the shop when Lakeview’s building lease ran out – all just before the devastating 2008 recession collapsed so many struggling businesses.
Deb’s faith, she says, is what got her through those rough times. “Owning a business means you have to take risks. Being a Christian in business means I need not worry. Regardless of the challenges I face every day, even when things go wrong, I can trust God is in it and will use it for our good and His Glory. Just knowing it’s not all up to me gives me peace. As I pray and trust He will give me guidance,” she said.
That unique and inspiring worldview has worked well for Deb Sommers – who started as receptionist only to become the company’s president.
About TMA: Founded in 1925, the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) represents and supports manufacturers in the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding counties in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. TMA has almost 1,000 members and represents over 32,000 employees and nearly 26M square feet of manufacturing in Illinois.