Sharon Young was a graduate of Western High School in May, 1969. But instead of planning a summer trip to the Woodstock Music Festival, she started a new job on June 11th at Whip Mix in the motor department at 22nd and Woodland, where Sharon’s aptitude for numbers & can-do attitude first took a back seat to learning how an assembly line works.
At that time, Mary Catherine Krebs worked in the manufacturing office. Each day, Mr. Harvey Sollinger, Company Vice President, would send in a production order and it was Mary Catherine’s job to get it together and send it across town on a 1940’s era Chevrolet flatbed truck (with a canvas tarp in case it rained) to the Main office at 4th and Avery. After a month, Mary Catherine got sick and Sharon was asked to fill in. Sharon recalls being so nervous when Mr. Sollinger would call and ask for Cristobalite or Ceramigold and she had no idea what those crazy names meant. Then she would get even more nervous.
When Mary Catherine finally returned she liked the job that Sharon had done so much that she made it a permanent arrangement. That was the start of a wonderful friendship and working relationship. She and Mary Catherine really hit it off. In fact, since Mary Catherine didn’t have a driver’s license, Sharon would come by and pick her up and take her to work each morning. This worked out so well that when Sharon and her husband, Todd, finally got a house, Mary Catherine and her husband moved in an apartment closer to them to make the ride to work easy on Sharon.
As Sharon recalls, we ran out of room at the 22nd street location and bought another building on Woodland. Then we had the truck buzzing back forth between three buildings. Motors would be assembled in one building, trucked over to another to get painted, then back to the first building for packaging and then finally over to a third (Avery) for shipment. Imagine over 3500 motors a year and offered in blue, green, white, cream white, and coral, plus 2 voltages and 3 different international plugs. It was quite the circus!
The move to Farmington brought more changes.
At the time Whip Mix moved from Avery to the Farmington location in 1970, Mr. Jack Reilly ran purchasing, HECK, he was purchasing. Weekly he would send out his green sheets telling Sharon and crew what to count. When he would get all of the sheets back he would determine how much had been used since the last count and place new orders. Sharon and Mary Catherine decided they could take on that task and pitched it to MR. ED Steinbock Jr. He advised them that in order to get Jack to buy in to the idea, they needed to be able to show Jack how it benefitted him. When they approached Mr. Reilly he said, “darling it’s all yours.” Keep in mind, there were no computers to help them at this time, everything was pencil and paper.
We took a big step in the summer of 1976 when Sharon’s sister, Paula, came home from the University of Kentucky to work part time at Whip Mix. Sharon and Paula decided to put in a two-bin card system to track inventory and reorder points. This was a HUGE HELP! Paula could arguably be the most impactful summer help we ever hired. Of course, those Steinbock boys were also there busily scraping peeling paint off window sashes in the hot summer sun and repainting them as carefully as teenagers are able.
Thinking back it amazes Sharon how hard Laura Schoen must have worked because Laura had to type up every international customer order and send it over for Sharon to check inventory against the order, schedule the picks and the production, and then the follow up parts orders. The length and detail that was manually typed each day could be pretty extensive and Laura was doing it all the time. Sharon said in that day and time, no one could type like Laura. Again, the whole procurement and production control process was completely manual.
NEW COMPUTER SOFTWARE TO AUTOMATE PROCUREMENT
Fourth Shift integrated enterprise software came in 1995 when the company decided to implement an ERP system (enterprise resource planning system). This would end up being the most labor-intensive project Sharon had ever been a part of. It was the hardest project she has ever experienced, followed closely by the adoption of the ISO quality system, but more on that below. Working for months and months, many times seven days a week, often till 8 or 9 o’clock at night, she and Andy Steinbock finally got their data entered and the modules working for the mechanical side of the business. David Steinbock told them “we’re crossing over with or without you.” Everything was in their heads. They had no Bills of Materials (BOM’s), no routes…nothing. It nearly took them to their breaking points, but their perseverance paid off. Sharon gives the credit to Andy. She believed it was because of his smarts and his ability to figure the system out that they were successful. Andy was able to not only figure out things no one else could, but could then explain and demonstrate to Sharon.
And now, some 22 years later, Sharon finds herself once again immersed in an ERP launch, as we are making the switch from Fourth Shift to Microsoft Dynamic AX. Sharon is confident when she says that this launch is nothing compared to the challenges faced those many years ago now that the data is at least computer-ready. She is also energized by the fact that this time she can see the benefit of the change. She admits that the set-up phase is difficult, but firmly believes that in the end we will love some of the advantages that AX brings to Whip Mix.
The adoption of the ISO quality system was a similarly challenging task. Just as we had no BOMS and routes to enter into the computers, we also didn’t have any work instructions. But they recognized the structure it would bring was necessary. We were growing and our customers expected the highest level of quality from Whip Mix. Following the ISO quality standard was a way for us to ensure that our quality and service would be sustained. They knew it would be a difficult change, and they knew they might even lose some people by adding that type of rigor to their work, but the company felt it was important. In the end, all felt we were in a better place and our customers were better served.
While Mary Catherine was her friend and co-worker, Mr. Ed was her mentor. Sharon simply states that “Mr. Ed was the best man ever. He was so well-respected, humble, and so loved.” An example was in the late 70’s and a supervisor, Sharon and Mr. Ed were to make a supplier visit to Gast up in Michigan. Mr. Ed chartered a little plane out of Lexington and it would be the first airplane ride of her life. If that wasn’t memorable enough, it was Mr. Ed’s actions that made the most impression. Once assembled in the Gast conference room they went around the room making introductions and explaining job titles with each company. Sharon had no title. She was nervous. When the head of Gast turned to Sharon and asked her title and responsibilities, Mr. Ed jumped in and said “she runs the place.” It was just the type of thing he would do.
She admired him for many reasons, but it always stood out to Sharon that he was a man that would let you find your own way. He believed in letting you try your ideas and learn from your mistakes.
The Whip Mix Family
Whip Mix is family owned and we keep the family touches. Sharon can fondly remember “our garden.” At one time we had quite the contingent of Korean immigrants working in the plant. One day, one of the ladies, Okcha, went to Mr. Ed and asked if they could have a vegetable garden. Well, having the space, he agreed. In the end many Whip Mix employees would grow their own garden and raise their vegetables on company property. Sharon believed it showed how we are different and how we maintained the family touch.
She feels Whip Mix truly had that family touch when we started the Employee Activities Committee (EAC) in 1987. She recalls that we sponsored a men’s basketball team, and a women’s softball team. “They were the real bad news bears” in those days. Sharon laughs at the thought of her playing catcher on that team. There was also a bowling team and a bunko group. There were skating parties, the March of Dimes Walk, the Breast Cancer Walk. All of these just really brought the team together as well as providing great opportunities to serve the community.
According to Sharon, Whip Mix team members aren’t just numbers, but individuals who the CEO knows by name and sees on a daily basis. And they are valued for their improvement ideas, not just for hard work.
She recalls the close relationship between Fritz Backscheider at Recto and Mr. Ed. Fritz would do anything we asked and his company has been supplying us with plastic products “forever”. She is proud of the fact that we still work with vendors that were with us over 48 years ago when she started.
She was so grateful when we switched over to a modernized pay grade system. Prior to this you would only get a $0.05 or a $0.10 raise depending on how much you made an hour. Team Members were all glad to see the implementation of a real pay system.
Most Proud of …
Sharon is most proud of being the first President’s Award recipient way back when Jim Myers had just joined the Company. And, she proudly remembers being a part of our many acquisitions since we acquired CF Price out in California back in 1987. It was hard work to integrate them into Whip Mix and she’s proud to see how they have grown and helped our team members grow as well.
When asked what Sharon would like to take with her as a memory of her 44 years at Whip Mix, she slowly & wistfully responded, “I really just savor the memory of working so well and for so long with a wonderful, caring group of hardworking & honest co-workers.”
What’s Next in retirement
Having lost a close friend earlier this year, Sharon recognizes the need to finally stop and smell the roses. So she and Todd are taking time to do a family trip with grandchildren to Gulf Shores this summer. Can you imagine her sleeping in till 5:30 or 6am on weekday mornings??
Authors Note: This blog was co-written by Jim Myers, President of Whip Mix Corporation. Jim has been with Whip Mix for 15 years, previously serving as Vice President of Manufacturing, managing the activities of the Louisville and Ft. Collins, CO plants. In 2011 the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers awarded Jim the Kentucky Manufacturing Employee of the Year Award in recognition of his excellence in 4 areas: Innovation, Teamwork, Community Service and Leadership.