Q&A with Lance Stephens – Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business

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Lance Stephens

Richland website manager

Vice President of North American Fuel Manufacturing

Framatome

Lance Stephens

Number of employees you supervise: 550

Brief history of your business:

Framatome is a world leader in the nuclear energy industry. Our Richland site is the most flexible fuel fabrication plant in the world, building all types of fuels and fuel-related products for light water reactors as well as small modular reactors and eventually for advanced reactors.

How did you land your current role?

I’ve spent my entire career working at the Richland site – for over 30 years. I’ve held a variety of positions, from engineering to research and development, operations, and supply chain, which have prepared me for this position.

How long have you been in it?

A little over a year

Why should the Tri-Cities care about manufacturing?

Manufacturing is a key part of our local economy, providing essential goods and services that support the global supply chain. Most importantly, the manufacturing careers we offer our local workforce. These are well-paying jobs that can evolve into a lasting and rewarding career.

Many of our jobs, while quite technical, don’t require a four-year college degree and they complement all demographics. In some cases, a technical certification is necessary, while in others, a high school diploma is sufficient. The soft skills needed to succeed in manufacturing, such as safety, work ethic, and continuous learning, are also highly transferable to a variety of industries.

What does Framatome do to find and train its next generation?

I often say that our factory is a macro economy – using a wide variety of skills from technicians to engineers, from business to craftsmanship, from leadership to supply chain. And a person with the right mindset and the right ambitions can make their own career.

Framatome is committed to local education players – high schools and universities. We also launched Careers in Manufacturing, an effort to give visibility to the industry. While a four-year college degree opens doors to a career, so does a career in manufacturing. I am very encouraged by the awareness of the Tri-Cities and the strong promotion of growth and potential in this area. Our future is incredibly bright and we need to work together to attract the workforce needed for that future.

What is the biggest challenge facing the manufacturing industry today?

I think one of the biggest challenges is to raise awareness of manufacturing jobs in our region and amplify the opportunities they offer for a long and stable career. Giving more visibility to these practical technical positions is essential to keep workers in our region and replace those who will retire.

What would you like Tri-Citians to know about your business that they probably don’t know?

I don’t think many people know that we are a commercial nuclear fuel manufacturer in the Tri-Cities. We are not affiliated with the Hanford Cleanup Project or the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. We are responsible for generating 5% of the electricity generated in the United States, and we are recognized around the world for our expertise in high-quality fuel and our commitment to safety.

In your opinion, what is the characteristic that every leader should possess?

The ability to listen to all levels of the organization – the best ideas come from those who do the work. A new process or piece of equipment can be designed on paper, but only after some operating experience and feedback from those doing the work can it be implemented into our processes.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change in your industry/field?

Change the general perception of nuclear energy and bring enthusiasm and passion to the field of manufacturing. Safe and reliable nuclear energy must be part of the energy mix for a sustainable and clean energy future. Our company has a bright future, but we need to hire and retain our workforce to support our contracts and contribute to the clean energy future of our industry – whether small modular reactors, advanced reactors or other types of fuel-related products/designs.

What advice would you give to someone stepping into a leadership role for the first time?

Try to lead by example. Your title is less important than how you interact with and support your team.

Who are your role models or mentors and why?

I would say that two personalities resonate with me: those who put passion into their work and those who continue to persevere. We all face adversity at some point in our careers. I’m always fascinated by those who can pick up the pieces, adapt and excel in these situations.

How do you keep your employees (or team members) motivated?

Paint the long-term vision, but then interact daily with your team. Never underestimate the power of a specific, deeply felt “thank you” for a job well done.

How did you decide to pursue the career in which you work today?

Less by choice than by circumstance. During a big reorganization within the company, I was appointed to a manufacturing management position and, as they say, I found my passion. The satisfaction of producing an important product and improving myself every year is what ignites me.

How do you measure success in your workplace?

I think a big part of success is that people enjoy showing up to work every day – all working together towards a common goal of delivering high quality solutions on time for our customers.

What do you think your leadership style is?

Lead by example and optimism. A colleague once said, “Lance could have fun in a brown paper bag.” I actually liked that characterization – we might as well have fun in everything we do.

How do you balance work and family life?

Be open to realizing when you are too engrossed in your work. My wife does a great job of helping me see when the line is crossed.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Traveling, reading and spending time with my family. I like conversation and laughter around a table of cards and good food.

What is your best time management strategy?

Make sure you go into a week knowing what the “big rocks” are – the big things you need to achieve in the week to make it a success.

The best trick to relieve stress?

Exercise and reconnect with family – to remind me of the big picture!

Favourite book?

I’m a big fan of audiobooks because it allows me to read when I wouldn’t otherwise. Recent tracks that I’ve really enjoyed include “Drive” by Daniel Pink and “Switch” by Dan and Chip Heath. I’m always fascinated by human behavior.

Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote that you like to use?

Two key words I use all the time are “clarity” and “alignment”. If expectations are clear and the team is aligned, we can all work together towards a common goal.

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