LAKE IN THE HILLS – Walk into any Burger King or on to any airplane and there is a good chance a product from William Lewis’ Lake in the Hills business is there.
Lewis’ business specializes in products using polytetrafluoroethylene – more commonly known as Teflon or PTFE. He uses PTFE and silicone to coat and laminate fabrics, engineered belting and to create pressure sensitive tapes.
As one of only five companies in the U.S. that is in the PTFE business, Lewis’ Advanced Flexible Composites has grown from five employees in 1987 to 105 today. His clients have included everyone from Subway and Arby’s to Boeing and the U.S. military.
“The type of products we make are very diverse,” Lewis said. “Our belts and fabrics are used in the packaging industry, fast-food industry, airlines, you name it.”
Advanced Flexible Composites has had a meteoric rise, growing between 15 and 18 percent every year since it started. The quick growth has resulted in the company bringing in more than $20 million in annual sales and having international partnerships in Mexico City and with a $200 million corporation in England.
Lewis’ success earned him the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. 2013 Business Champion – an honor he does not take for granted.
“It validates a lot of the hard work on our part and on the part of our people,” Lewis said. “I was actually a little surprised to hear we won the award. I think very highly of the people over there. They do everything they can to help in a state that is not business friendly.”
Much of the growth happened at a time when the economy was in recession, but Lewis said his products are “near recession proof.” Fast-food companies need his product for their grills, belts and toasters, as it creates a nonstick surface and is heat resistant. It has helped make the popular clam grill cooking method at most fast-food restaurants 60 percent faster, he said.
For the aerospace industry, his products can withstand temperatures between minus 400 degrees and 600 degrees, making it valuable insulation for extreme atmospheres.
Advanced Flexible Composites is not Lewis’ first business.
In 1980, he started a similar business before selling it only a few years later after receiving an offer he could not refuse. He stayed on with the company, but when it started to spiral toward bankruptcy, he decided to go out on his own again and start Advanced Flexible Composites business in 1987.
Now, he credits a strong workforce, including members of his family, for the success.
“I actually just hired a general manager that I originally hired out of high school in the late ’60s to work with me in another business,” Lewis said. “And now that I have my kids involved I am even more passionate about the business. This business is just going to continue to expand.”