An Interview with Independent Family Business & Signatory Elevator Company Evolution Elevator

For our latest installment of a series of independent signatory elevator company profiles, the ElevatorInfo media team met up with Lou James, a managing partner and co-owner of Evolution Elevator, and his wife Carla James, the company’s primary owner. Working together to manage the company as a family business along with brother Chris, sister-in-law Rosemarie, and brother Thomas, Lou says that being an independent family business has made for stronger connections and better communication within the company as well as with customers.

Evolution Elevator Company installs, repairs, services, and maintains conveyances in some of the biggest and busiest metropolitan areas in the United States –New York / New Jersey (Local 1) and Miami/ South Florida (Local 71). From repairing and modernizing aging, outmoded equipment to installing, servicing, and performing important preventive maintenance on the latest elevator and escalator system technology, Evolution covers it all.

“We service everything. Escalators, moving walks, elevators, dumbwaiters, handicap lifts, you know, soup to nuts. If it’s in vertical transportation, we take care of it,” said Lou.

He continued, “We have a lot of retail customers so we’re trying to get all of our big repairs done, get the elevator equipment, escalator equipment in tip-top shape – That means clean downs. We have a rope job going on, we’re wrapping up a few mods and construction jobs – (at) PortMiami, we’re wrapping up a couple of really big repairs. So not just in the New York area, New Jersey area, but in Florida, just trying to really get all of our repairs done.”

Mike Elia, an IUEC elevator mechanic who serves as the company’s Vice President and Project Manager, said “At Evolution, we have a lot of pride in the quality of work that we do and knowing that our equipment’s some of the best maintained in the city, just really getting in there and making sure everything’s clean, everything’s adjusted properly, that there’s no issues that we could find, and that we’re really providing the riding public with safest elevators and escalators that we can.”

Co-owner and Foreman Thomas James spoke to us at his jobsite in @PortMiami, a major hub for cruise ships and cargo vessels.

“I’m mostly at the port of Miami because we have the cruise ships that go through there – and there’s thousands of passengers coming in and off the ships in one day – so it’s important for us to be there on standby. It’s a lot of traffic on the units, so we’re constantly going there to maintain and make sure that everything’s running smooth.”

Communicating well and working together is at the heart of the company. Lou told us that at Evolution, they don’t separate the management side of the company from the work they do in the field. As an IUEC member who brought with him his career-long experience as an IUEC elevator mechanic, Lou regularly jumps in to work on equipment when necessary. He’s even still in the rotation for taking late-night trouble calls and freeing people from entrapments.

Company owner Carla James emphasized that the safety-focused education and training Evolution Elevator’s mechanics and apprentices receive through the National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP) is key to ensuring they do quality work and get the job done with safety in the forefront of their mind. “We are a union strong company, so all of our mechanics do complete a course of apprenticeship over four years, and they do have to pass the mechanics test, so that guarantees the job getting done and safely.”

One of the people we talked with at the company’s Staten Island warehouse and office was Mario Baladi, the company’s Foreman for Construction and Modernization. He told us about the projects they were currently working on in New York. “This week we worked on a lot of projects. I worked on an old Otis machine, overhead traction, putting in a new door operator, changing the cables, changing the car station, wiring. We’re gonna do an acceptance test on a hydraulic elevator. It’s a modernization that we recently did and finished. Every day is a new thing.”

Mario started out in the elevator trade as a non-union mechanic, and told us one of the biggest differences between his prior experience and becoming an IUEC mechanic was the IUEC’s focus on making safety a priority.

“In my non -union days, basically safety wasn’t the first order. Getting the job done was the first order – no matter how it gets done. done, just get it done, I don’t care if you go home – they didn’t care. Now it’s a whole different level.” he said.

“Safety is our priority,” said Carla. “We have safety meetings once a month where we go over safety protocols and touch upon any type of incidents to avoid any injuries.” (The ElevatorInfo staff had an opportunity to sit in on one of their safety meetings – be sure to watch the video to see some highlights!)

Lou believes communication between all members of his team is also key to always working safe. “Communication’s at the forefront, you know, that means safety, but (if) we see anything egregious, our new jobs, jobs we have, doesn’t matter who the previous provider was, union or non-union, we don’t take safety for granted,” he said.

He continued, “We have a number of procedures that we follow. We communicate with each other – not just the office talking to the techs, but the techs talking back to the office, the techs talking to each other. That’s really, really important because this is going to be the difference between possible injury to us or the riding public, or getting ahead and finding something that could have led to that.”

When asked about how being an IUEC signatory company is a benefit to his family’s business, he responded, “One of the biggest benefits of being in a signatory company – probably the biggest, I would say, is the members. Really, it’s the backbone. It’s the dedication that the techs have to their craft, to each other, to safety, that you couldn’t possibly in any other aspect compare with anyone that isn’t a member of the team.”

To learn more about the advantages of becoming IUEC-affiliated or about hiring an IUEC-affiliated elevator company like Evolution Elevator to install, service, troubleshoot, modernize, repair, or inspect your elevators, escalators, or other conveyance equipment, contact ElevatorInfo.