Cultivating Manufacturing Leadership
February 15, 2021
Like many manufacturing companies in the early 2000s, Timken’s leadership team noted an impending gap in their workforce.
“We had a bunch of fairly young people in our manufacturing pipeline,” says Rick Boyer, vice president of operations. “We also had a bunch of folks who were getting close to retirement. We didn’t have a lot of people in the middle who were going to be ready to step into larger leadership roles quickly.”
To solve the problem, Timken created an accelerated training program to increase the company’s pool of people prepared to take on those leadership positions. Since then, dozens of Timken associates have graduated from that Operations Development Program (ODP), quickly moving on to positions of greater responsibility within The Timken Company.
ODP graduates are so successful because the program emphasizes skill diversity, as well as leadership. It includes two years of intensive training broken into four, six-month assignments—one in each of four areas: manufacturing quality advancement, lean manufacturing, supply chain and manufacturing operations supervision. ODP associates in the United States split their rotations between two different facilities, and the company also runs programs in Romania and China.
Building connect-the-dots leadership skills
The typical ODP candidate is highly motivated, inquisitive, and driven to lifelong learning. “These are high-caliber people with strong academics,” says Boyer. “They’ve generally been through good co-op programs in their two or four years of university. We bring bright, strong people into the organization to grow the overall talent pool.”
Erin Amarello is a great example. One of just 30 American women to win the 2020 Step Ahead Emerging Leader award from the Manufacturing Institute, she started ODP in 2015, right after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Today, she manages the Aurora Bearing plant, a recent acquisition of The Timken Company.
During the program, ODP associates go through extensive training and then step into roles with full responsibility for their assigned areas. At the same time, they’re given access to a strong network of colleagues and mentors.
Having just six months on each rotation puts the focus on your ability to manage up, down and across, says Amarello. “Every time you start a new rotation, there’s so much to learn.”
Her strategy was to tap into the collective intelligence that awaited her in each position, quickly identifying and surrounding herself with knowledgeable people and then helping them in whatever way she could. “I learned how to draw information out to help me connect the dots,” she says.
Accelerated career opportunities
Good ODP candidates are “manufacturing people,” says Boyer. “They come in thinking they’d like to either manage a plant or achieve a high level within our supply chain organization.”
Lance Kelly fits that mold. As the third person hired into ODP in 2008, his is an early success story. “You have an opportunity as a new ODP associate to get in front of the top leadership of the company and explain the projects you’re working on and the impact you’re making,” he says. “That sets the stage for accelerated career opportunities.”
Kelly set his sights on a plant manager role early on, and he achieved that goal a mere five years after graduating from ODP. Today, he’s the general manager of Lovejoy, Timken’s coupling business.
It’s a prestigious job with significant financial responsibility. Business and plant managers work to create and maintain good local jobs in their communities. They’re also the face of Timken within those communities, working to support local schools and nonprofit organizations.
Sizeable challenges, along with mentorship
Boyer says most candidates find the ODP interview process quite rigorous. In the United States, they typically go through extensive interviews on their college campuses. Then, they join other candidates for a full day of answering questions and presenting ideas.
The rigor of the experience makes it clear to successful candidates that they are truly the cream of the crop. “When you make it past the ODP interview process, you know you already have a team of top-tier Timken leaders solidly behind you,” he says.
Stefan Iordache, in his second year of ODP in the Ploiesti, Romania facility, can vouch for the difficulty of the ODP recruiting process, as well as the support he has received since. He met the entire Timken Ploiesti plant leadership team in his first week, and credits plant manager Sorin Paltanea and others with mentoring him closely during his ODP rotations.
Iordache’s first rotation in LEAN manufacturing and continuous improvement impressed on him the need to continually reduce waste, but it was his second assignment that he enjoyed the most. “Supply chain gave me the opportunity to work with Timken’s SAP systems and to understand the logic of planning, acquisition, outsourced services and logistics,” he says.
Iordache attributes his success to mentorship, as well as an ability to think quickly and flexibly on his feet. “You have to be agile and adapt to change,” he says.
Investing in people first
After a few years of applying her ODP experience to the real world, Amarello says the most important thing she learned was “to know your ‘why’ and share it.” Helping people find meaning in their work is critical to leadership, she says. “When people have purpose and they feel like what they do matters, that’s when you get the best out of them.”
The insights that associates gain during ODP ultimately serve to reinforce core Timken values. “Even during tough times, we stand for people first,” says Kelly. “Timken is invested in the success of every individual, and that commitment shows up in the time they spend developing the next level of leadership.”
Boyer says the investment is well worth it. “In two years, ODP associates get, in my estimate, five years’ worth of experience,” he says. “ODP grads are often the ones taking on a variety of roles, making quick decisions, and keeping associates engaged.”
“Good leaders are good listeners,” he says. “ODP participants represent a diversity of viewpoints, as well as a diversity of skills, which helps them make sure that everyone on their team knows they’re an integral part of Timken’s success.”
Learn more about Timken’s culture of learning.