Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.
We would first like to introduce you to Alan Freeman, Plant Manager at Quadrant EPP in Wytheville, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Alan with a rewarding and beneficial career for 34 years. We sat down with Alan to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.
What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?
I was led to pursue a career in manufacturing mainly because of my degree in Chemical Engineering. When I graduated from Auburn University all of the job opportunities were in manufacturing so I naturally pursued this as my career route.
Tell us about your start in manufacturing
I got started in manufacturing when I worked summers in my home town in Alabama at a company called Samco Products. I worked as an operator’s helper on the production floor. Then after I graduated from Auburn, I started my career at Ciba-Geigy Corporation in McIntosh, Alabama as a Development Engineer where I provided process support to the production area I was assigned.
What education/training did you have before you started your job?
Other than my degree, I only had limited other experience prior to my first full time job. After graduation I worked as a research assistant at Auburn while searching for full time employment. I worked at the University for a year helping with one of the research projects.
Tell us about your education and training throughout your career.
My formal education was a Chemical Engineering degree from Auburn University. I also obtained my Executive Masters of Business Administration from Winthrop University while I was working for Hoechst Celanese in Rock Hill, South Carolina. There are also many opportunities to further your training and education while working. The companies where I worked had multiple opportunities for continuing training and education. Such as, company held training, conferences and seminars. Training ranging from Quality Improvement systems, ISO Six Sigma, Lean manufacturing, environmental health and safety as well as Leadership training etc.
Tell us about the progression of your career.
I started as a Development Engineer at Ciba-Geigy Corporation in McIntosh Alabama. Ciba-Geigy was a major specialty chemical company. The plant where I work was a huge plant with over 1,000 employees. I was working on process improvement work for the Diazinon manufacturing process. I did that for two
years and was the first person at Ciba-Giegy to be promoted to Production Engineer 2. Previously someone had to have more experience to be promoted to such a position. The production engineer was responsible for all of the technical aspects of the process and had to insure that day to day the process was operating efficiently and direct actions to address problems and initiate improvements. In addition this person filled in for the Area Supervisor who was in charge and also for the shift supervisors who led the day to day activities. This was a major step for me and entailed taking on a great degree of responsibility at a very young age.
My next career move was to take a Unit Supervisor position at Hoechst Celanese in Rock Hill, SC. I was responsible for part of the manufacturing process for making a technical fiber called PBI which was used in fire retardant clothing and other applications. Reorganizations and downsizing then occurred which resulted in me taking full responsibility of all the manufacturing operations at this site and a promotion to Production Superintendent. I then made a lateral move to the Mount Holly Plant which was a specialty chemical plant with Hoechst Celanese. At this plant I was responsible for the operations making chemicals which were used in textile manufacturing. Again reorganization, downsizing, streamlining, occurred and I became the Operations Leader for all specialty chemical operations at this Plant. From Mount Holly, I transferred to the Polyester Plant in Salisbury, NC where I took on the challenge of leading the Process Improvement efforts for the polyester staple area. From that position I moved back to manufacturing management and became the Production Superintendent for the polyester staple business which involved several different processes from polyester polymerization to polyester staple production and responsibility for over 300+ employees.
I had always had a career goal of being a Plant manager and when the call came that there was an opportunity in Wytheville Virginia, I took the leap and applied for the position. I ended up getting the job and 21 years later can say that this was one of the best career decisions I have ever made.
Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?
When I was a Development Engineer I worked on developing a new process for making diazinon and have a patent for that, so that was pretty cool.
Beyond that it’s just the gains and improvements you make over time when you look back at what the plant used to be ten years ago and where it is now, what we’re able to achieve today through the hard work of the people I work with each and every day and the accomplishments we achieve. Seeing others advance and develop in their careers and helping them achieve their career goals. I take great pride in what our team accomplishes and the progress we make together. Some managers come and stay a short time and never have the chance to really see over time the impact that has been made. When you look back over the years and can remember how it used to be and then see people smile and take pride in the progress that has been made. That is what it is all about. One particular accomplishment that involved everyone at our plant was being certified as an OSHA VPP Star site. There are less than 2,500 manufacturing sites in the USA who have this and our plant is honored to be one of them. Our team has worked over 13 years without a lost time and has gone 4 years without any injury which is rare in manufacturing. Making sure you have a safe operation and a culture built around truly caring about each other is ultimately the biggest responsibility. We all have people who care about us and count on us to come home safely.
What has your career meant to you?
It has meant being able to support my family in ways that other careers may not have been able to. It has meant establishing wonderful relationships with great people and achievements made together. It is a lot of fun and has offered so many learning opportunities and challenges throughout the years. It has brought me to a beautiful place to live in Southwest Virginia which will be my home forever. The best part is that it is not over and if the Lord is willing, I will continue to do this for many more years to come.
Watch the video below to find out more about why Alan has built his career in manufacturing.