Harriet Gerber Lewis was one of the first women who has steered a manufacturing company through decades of financial and marketing growth. Since 1953 when she assumed the helm of Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corporation, the company's annual sales volume increased more than ten-fold, from 7.5 million to approximately $107 million at the close of 1998.
Her father, Max Gerber, a Polish immigrant who came to the United States as a child early in the century, founded the company in 1932. Upon his premature death in 1953, Ms. Lewis shared the responsibility of heading the company with her brother, Oscar L. Gerber and her husband, Maurice L. Lewis.
Harriet Gerber Lewis has brought Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corp. forward as a successful independent player in an industry dominated by well-known names with substantial corporate resources and affiliations. It is also an industry that has traditionally been a male domain. Ms. Lewis is the only woman to have ever been elected to the National Plumbing Hall of Fame.
A mother and homemaker at the time of Max Gerber's death, Ms. Lewis had to be persuaded to take over her father's firm. In so doing, she established a thread of family management continuity, which now involves a third generation. Harriet, her daughter, Ila Lewis, executive vice president and her other daughter, Nancy Lewis Pollack, retain 100% ownership of the company.
In her role as company chairman, Ms. Lewis had long been known as "a people person" who has always mixed compassion and concern for the people around her into her financial and legal decision-making responsibilities. She prefered a first name relationship with employees and business associates.
Despite the demands of business, Harriet Gerber Lewis always made time for deep involvement in community and religious affairs. She chaired the multi-million dollar Jewish United Fund campaign in Chicago as well as the Chicago campaign for the U.S. Holocaust Museum. She had also done consulting work for charity organizations near her home in one of Chicago's north shore suburbs.
For her leadership in humanitarian activities, she was honored with recognitions that include the Julius Rosenwald and Deborah awards. Ms. Lewis was also elected to the Chicago Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.
Other surviving family members include son, Alan Lewis, and niece Daryl Stokles.