When Giuseppe “Joe” Lemma, Sr. came to America in 1900, he saw a landscape full of possibilities. He was a visionary, a born entrepreneur with boundless energy. He arrived with little money and no formal education but believed that through hard work, he could make anything happen.
Originally from Bari, Joe Sr. settled in Linnton where he worked on the railroad. Restlessness set in and he began to look around town for an opportunity to build his own business. He took out a loan, opened a shoe repair and leather glove shop that featured the first gaslights in town.
Never idle for long, Joe owned several businesses during his lifetime in addition to the shoe repair shop. He built the Linnton Department Store, got into the grocery business and operated a silent movie theater. Later, he owned a drug store, pharmacy and ice cream parlor. He also founded Joseph Lemma & Sons Beer and Wine Distributors, becoming one of the first bonded wineries in Oregon after prohibition ended.
To say that Joe Sr. had a tremendous work ethic and a gritty determination would be an understatement. He had an innate ability to see an unfilled opportunity within the community and build a business around it. That ethic became the Lemma family legacy.
Fast-forward a couple generations to Joe Sr.’s great-grandson and namesake, Joseph Anthony Lemma, who is the embodiment of his ancestor. Like his great-grandfather, Joe thrives on challenge and opportunity.
“I never got to meet Joe Sr.,” Joe says. “But I have a photo and we have the same hair, same features. He had 30-40 things going on at once and that’s how I am.”
Born in Stockton, California, Joe used sports to channel his energy. Football became his passion; he played at Oregon State University while earning his degree in communications. One day at a local print shop, Joe met a “gorgeous young woman” named Toni Adair. They married in 2009.
Back in California, the couple settled in Westlake Village, where Joe worked as an athletic director at an addiction treatment center before taking a year off to play arena football in Boise, Idaho. All along, Joe felt drawn to Portland. “I just always felt that I was meant to come here. This was where it all started for the Lemma family.”
After the young family moved to Portland in 2011, his first opportunity came at Pacific Office Automation. Joe has a natural ability to engage people and it wasn’t long before he was promoted to account manager.
“Then one day, one of my sales reps comes in with a business card and asks me if I know Steven Lemma,” Joe remembers. “Steven is my cousin. We only saw each other once growing up and now suddenly, here he is starting a new company.”
The company, Securus Contact Systems, opened in 2012 when Steven partnered with Mike Robirds and Kris Drebin to offer a better alternative to automated call service. When the company’s growth took off, Steven asked Joe to come in as Vice President of Sales. It was a natural fit.
“We sell virtual reception and admin services,” Joe explains. “Businesses are always looking for ways to be more cost efficient. By leaning on this technology to connect their clients to their business, they can save the overhead of hiring someone to answer phones all day.”
Securus’ 24/7 customer service is tailored to each company – dedicated agents answer each call using personalized company information. Other options include call routing and transfer, audio message recording, scheduling, order processing – essentially all the administrative services needed to run a business. Owners monitor their services through Securus’ online web portal.
“Currently, we have about 1,400 clients. Our core markets are law offices and professional services. These businesses get hammered with calls so we can act as a filter.” Joe’s goal is to add another 1,000 clients in the next eight months. “We are definitely growth minded.”
Joe has his eyes open for other opportunities, especially in real estate. He half laughs as he says, “I would like to a mogul.” He also envisions reopening the Lido Restaurant, an early Portland staple for decades founded by his other great-grandfather A.C. Cecchini. Joe’s father still has all the original recipes.
Balancing work and family life can be a challenge to someone who is so highly goal-oriented, but Joe knows how important it is to build family relationships. He is proud of his Italian heritage and family traditions. He is leaving his own Lemma legacy to his sons.
“It is important to know where you came from and why you do the things you do,” he says. “Let’s know our story, our reputation and let’s protect that and carry it on. Let’s know what everyone went through so that we can be doing what we do.”
It’s pretty safe to say that Joe Sr. would be proud.