Q&A with Lance Stephens
Richland site manager
VP North American fuel manufacturing
Number of employees you oversee: 550
Brief background of your business:
Framatome is a global leader in the nuclear energy industry. Our Richland site is the most flexible fuel manufacturing facility in the world, building all types of fuel and fuel-related products for light water reactors as well as small modular and eventually for advanced reactors.
How did you land your current role?
I have spent my entire career working at the Richland site – spanning more than 30 years. I have worked a variety of positions, from engineering to research and development, operations and supply chain, that have prepared me for this position.
How long have you been in it?
Just over a year
Why should the Tri-Cities care about the manufacturing industry?
Manufacturing is a key element to our local economy, providing essential goods and services that support the global supply chain. More importantly are the manufacturing careers we provide to our local workforce. These are good paying jobs that can evolve into a long-lasting and rewarding career.
Many of our jobs, while quite technical, do not require a four-year college degree, and they complement all demographics. In some cases, a technical certification is needed, while in others a high school diploma is all that is required. The soft skills needed to succeed in manufacturing, such as safety, work ethic and continuous learning, also are very transferable to a variety of industries.
What is Framatome doing about finding and training its next-generation workforce?
I often say that our facility is a macro-economy – utilizing a large variety of skill sets from technician to engineers, from business to crafts, from leadership to supply chain. And a person with the right mindset and ambitions can make their own career.
Framatome is engaging in local education entities – high schools and universities. We also started Careers in Manufacturing – an effort to bring visibility to the industry. While a four-year college degree opens doors for a career, so does a career in manufacturing. I am very encouraged by the Tri-Cities’ realization and strong advocacy of growth and potential in this area. Our future is incredibly bright, and we need to work together to attract the workforce needed for this future.
What is the biggest challenge facing the manufacturing industry today?
I think one of the biggest challenges is bringing awareness to the manufacturing jobs in our area and amplifying the opportunities they provide for a long, stable career. Bringing more visibility to these hands-on, technical positions is vital in keeping workers in our area and replacing many who will be retiring.
What would you like Tri-Citians to know about your company that they likely don’t know?
I don’t think a lot of people know that we are a commercial nuclear fuel manufacturer in the Tri-Cities. We are not affiliated with the Hanford cleanup project or Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. We are responsible for producing 5% of the electricity generated in the U.S., and we are recognized globally for our high-quality fuel expertise and commitment to safety.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Theability to listen to all levels of the organization – the best ideas come from those doing 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 about your industry/field?
Shift the general perception of nuclear energy, and bring excitement and passion to the field of manufacturing. Safe, reliable nuclear energy has to be part of the energy mix for a sustainable, clean energy future. Our company has a bright future, but we need to hire and retain our workforce to support our contracts and to contribute to the clean energy future of our industry – whether it be small modular reactors, advanced reactors or other types of fuel-related products/designs.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position 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 two personalities resonate with me: those who bring passion to their work and people who continue to persevere. We all face adversity at some time in our careers – I’m always fascinated by those who can pick up the pieces, adjust and excel in these situations.
How do you keep your employees (or team members) motivated?
Paint the long-term vision, but then interact with your team daily. Never underestimate the power of a specific and deeply felt “thank you”for a job well done.
How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?
Less by choice than by circumstance. During a large reorganization within the company, I was put into a manufacturing management role, and, as they say, found my passion. The satisfaction of producing an important product and getting better at it each year is what ignites me.
How do you measure success in your workplace?
I think a big part of the success is that people enjoy showing up to work each day – all working together to achieve a common goal of delivering high-quality solutions on-time for our customers.
What do you consider your leadership style to be?
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 at whatever we are doing.
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 are not at work?
Travel, read and spend time with my family. I love the conversation and laughter around a table of cards and good food.
What’s your best time management strategy?
Make sure you enter a week knowing what “the big rocks” are – the big items that you must achieve in the week to make it a success.
Best tip to relieve stress?
Exercise and renew with family – to remind myself of the big picture!
I am a big audiobook fan because it allows me to get reading done when I otherwise wouldn’t. Recent titles I have thoroughly enjoyed include, “Drive” by Daniel Pink, and “Switch” by Dan and Chip Heath. I am always fascinated by human behavior.
Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?
A couple of key words I use all the time are “clarity” and “alignment.” If the expectations are clear and the team is aligned, we can all work together to reach a common goal.