Spotlight: An Interview with Lewis Rankin, Former CEO at Crain Construction

Lewis Rankina, a Crain Construction past CEO, in a professional portrait.

In 2023, Crain Construction celebrated 90 years of construction in Nashville. Earlier this year, the company celebrated this major milestone with hundreds of friends, clients, and industry partners. While Crain is now run by brothers Michael and Mark Rankin, their father, Lewis Rankin, started working for the company in 1972, when it was still known as J.E. Crain. A few years later, Lewis became the President. In 2011, the company name changed to Crain Construction to define what it does. In honor of Crain’s 90th anniversary, we spoke with Lewis about some of his favorite memories from the past, and his hope for the future of the company.

What was Nashville like when you started at Crain in the 1970s?

“It was kind of slow. Work was slow. We needed a job, and we got Thompson and Green Machinery Company. Everybody was really excited about that. We ended up building a lot of shopping centers—probably about 35 Big K shopping centers and something like 65 Walgreens stores all over the Southeast. [We built] some Wal-Marts and Kroger stores, too.”

How do you think the company has survived even in slow times?

“Crain has always had a lot of repeat business, and that’s because I think the customer likes the way we’ve treated them and the quality of projects we’ve built for them. We try to save the customer money and come up with ideas and make suggestions that will help them save money. We’ve always tried to be proactive in making suggestions that will help the customer, and I think that combination brings people back.”

What does it take to run a successful company?

“You have to have good people working around you and for you. People who will run things the way you want them to run and share similar values.” 

Any favorite or most memorable project?

“One of the jobs I’m still proud to have worked on is the St. Cloud Corner building downtown. We renovated the old Harvey’s building and converted it into an office building back in the ‘80s. It had a lot of structural challenges to it which made it a hard job, but it was rewarding. In fact, I remember coming to Nashville with my parents and going to that building when it was Harvey’s department store. They had monkeys up on the sixth floor that we’d go see. So, also having that personal attachment to the building made it a special project.” 

Nashville’s skyline continues to change, but you’ve left quite a footprint on this city. How does that make you feel?

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done and continue to do. I really enjoy driving around sometimes just to see all of our projects. That’s what I used to like about bringing in a new employee. I’d take them out for a drive and show them all the buildings we’ve built.”

What do you hope never changes at Crain?

“The culture. It was the family atmosphere and strong relationships with customers that appealed to me from the beginning. The company’s culture is a big differentiator from others in the industry, and I hope it never changes, and I don’t think it ever will.”

How has the company ensured success for over 90 years?

“Determination. You’ve got to be determined to get the work to keep the company going. I sure didn’t wanna let Mr. Crain down, so when I took over, I wanted to keep it going for him. And I’m sure the boys don’t want to let me down, so they do the hard work every day to keep it going.”

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