Reflections on 30 years in Manufacturing – and a very important lunch date

Held annually on the first Friday in October, Manufacturing Day helps show the reality of modern manufacturing careers by encouraging thousands of companies and educational institutions around the nation to open their doors to students, parents, teachers and community leaders.

There were six of us in our group when we joined Kellogg in 1989. When I left the Rossville, Tennessee plant where we worked, we made a pact to get in touch with each other on our work anniversary.

And since I’m the only one who went into management, I promised my friends that I’d come back to Rossville and buy them lunch on our 30th anniversary.

So, just a few weeks ago on Sept. 18, I popped down to Rossville as promised. Proudly donning our 30-year pins, the three friends who are still at the plant and I ate and laughed and reminisced about our three decades together.

For me, Kellogg was the only place I ever wanted to work.

It was a dream job for me, even at 14 years-old, because it was the place that made the Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes that my nine siblings and I ate growing up outside of Memphis.

The kid in me just wanted to work with Tony the Tiger and make the cereal.

So, when Kellogg announced it had acquired the Mrs. Smith’s plant in Rossville – and that it was hiring – I was all over it. Since they only had temporary positions in the beginning (and I needed something full-time), I worked briefly for the security company that guarded the plant.

I was thrilled. It got me in the building.

Shortly thereafter, a full-time Production Operator position opened up. Now I was really in.

Those first few years, I made a point to learn as much as I could about how we make Eggo waffles – even if it wasn’t part of my job. I’m inquisitive by nature. After 30 years, I know how to do every job in a plant (well, except for iron reconditioning, the station that cleans the Eggo waffle irons… I never did that, but I’d still be glad to learn how!).

I tried a couple of times to move up in the organization, but there was a problem: I didn’t have a college degree. But when new leadership took over at the plant, they appreciated my real-world plant floor experience.

They told me to apply for a management role.

Once I got the job, they recommended college because they could tell I was interested in moving up and around at Kellogg. So, I started with one class a semester, but quickly found that was too slow for me. I loaded up and went full-time, in addition to my job at the plant.

In hindsight, I’m so thankful my mentors told me to get my degree.

In addition to Rossville, my Kellogg career has taken me to leadership positions at facilities in Blue Anchor, N.J.; Wyoming, Mich.; Battle Creek, Mich.; Muncy, Penn.; and back to Wyoming, where I’m currently Plant Director.

I have the hunger to learn (one of our company’s K Values) and I’ve graduated cum laude or magna cum laude with my associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees. I’m currently working on my PhD in organizational development and leadership, with plans to graduate in 2020.

When people find out how long I’ve been with Kellogg, they often ask me what it is about this company that keeps me here.

Two reasons: the people and the opportunities.

I tell folks that we’re like a big family at Kellogg. And like any big family, we have our quarrels (remember, I’m one of 10). But at the end of the day, we have each other’s backs. We won’t let someone from outside the family separate us. 

When I say Kellogg has given me so many opportunities, I am not only talking about the various positions I’ve held. The company has been fully supportive while I was getting my degrees, as they are now while I pursue my PhD.

We had a town hall meeting at our plant the other day and someone asked me what advice I’d give to the next generation of students and young people who want to work in manufacturing.

I told them to picture what it takes to build a new house. What’s one of the first things you do, besides buy the land? You build a foundation. You build a career foundation by gaining a breath of knowledge, skills, and capabilities. You put tools in your toolbox by gaining as much experience as you can. And, by being flexible enough to take opportunities when they are available.

If you try to rise through the manufacturing ranks too quickly, your house will crumble because your foundation isn’t sturdy enough. You won’t have the necessary skills and tools.

That’s why I make a point to give candid feedback when I’m mentoring someone. I always try to help them advance if they tell me what they’d like to do, but I think part of helping them is telling them when they need a few more tools in their toolbox before they move up.

I was lucky enough that someone gave me that advice in Rossville decades ago.

And thanks to that great advice, and much more along the way, I’m enjoying lunch and 30 years of laughs with my friends.

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