It was a plant tour that kicked off Karen Williams' enthusiasm for plastics. Now corporate quality manager at Continental Structural Plastics Inc., Williams in the summer of 2006 started as a manufacturing engineer for auto parts maker Meridian Automotive Systems, working on the JK hardtop for the Jeep Wrangler. The interview for the job included a tour of the plant.
“I was enthralled with the presses, watching the material going in, seeing the press run, and the final product that came out,” Williams said. “I wanted to keep standing at the press in order to figure out exactly how that material moved from being in the festoons to being a part. When the tour moved to the bonder, I saw how the parts were put together to form the final part. I couldn't wait to go home and look at the hardtop on my husband's Wrangler and compare to what I had just seen. I knew at that point, this was an industry in which I would be excited to work.”
In her current position, which she has held since October, Williams, 37, said a key challenge is working to learn and understand different plant cultures.
“Moving from a single plant role into a position that deals with several plants, it's been challenging to understand just how different all of the plants can be, while still being successful,” she said. “From differing management styles to varying team dynamics, they are all unique, and I have to understand where I fit in and how I can work best with all of them.”
One piece of advice Williams picked up from a senior manufacturing engineer, with whom she shared some desk space at Meridian, was the importance of investigating things personally and understanding what was going on out on the floor before making a decision.
The seasoned workmate did not mince words: “Get off your ass and go look at the bonder.”
Now, Williams said, “I like to go figure it out for myself first. … Because every plant has specific people that can help you get things done, and figuring out who you've got to talk to is half the problem sometimes.”
Williams holds a bachelor's degree from Kettering University and is currently working on her MBA from Indiana University full-time, a schedule driven by her goal to complete the degree in less than two years.
“I have a lot of support,” Williams said. “The kids have a countdown going; they know how long I have left, too. I don't sleep a lot, it seems like. I do a lot of homework, I purposely don't schedule things on the weekends during school and I just keep reminding myself, ‘It's just for now.'”
Williams' four children — two daughters, 12 and 14; and two sons, 8 and 9 — will occasionally join her for a run, a main form of relaxation. With not a lot of time for extracurriculars, Williams participates in LinkedIn communities, including Women in Manufacturing and the Composites Industry forum.