Production Manager, Thrush Aircraft
“After graduating from Citadel I moved to Charleston, S.C. to be in hospitality,” said Alex Kut, production manager for Thrush Aircraft. He continued, “Within a few years and a couple of more moves, I was back in the South, but this time Savannah, and started looking for opportunities outside of the restaurant business.”
Alex applied to more than 100 jobs in the Southeast and through the Citadel Alumni network discovered the job at Thrush Aircraft, thus beginning his new career in aviation manufacturing.
"It’s been life-changing. I am learning as much as I can about the aviation industry and now have a work-life balance that I didn’t have in my previous career,” Alex said.
A partner in the industry said, “His ability to step into a key production role in a complex environment and achieve good results with his team distinguishes him as a fast learner. He has the humility to recognize what he doesn't know, the people skills to work well with his experienced colleagues, and the confidence to lead the team.”
Alex said, “I have gained amazing respect for mechanics, engineers, and manufacturing as a whole. My favorite part is watching one our finished planes fly off to our customer. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.”
Senior Vice President, Chaparral Boats
“Find what you are passionate about and pursue it,” advises Ann Baldree, Senior Vice President of Chaparral Boats.
That’s what Ann did. She grew up in Nashville, Ga., a small town in South Georgia and in 1981 went to work for the town’s largest employer, Chaparral Boats. “It was the first time I had been in a manufacturing plant and I was instantly intrigued.”
She has taken this passion and turned it into her life’s work. As a senior Vice President she interacting with dealerships worldwide and overseeing three large departments.
Buck Pegg, President and Founder said, “Ann is a trusted advisor and has achieved excellence within her teams and the company.”
She brings this same enthusiasm to the marine industry and her local community, where she serves on numerous boards and supports various regional initiatives.
Ann said, “My dad taught me to never be intimated by others. I use this advice to mentor women within the company, industry, and community.”
As a result of this dedication, Ann was the Darlene Briggs Marine Industry Woman of the Year recipient in 2008 and in 2015 was the first marine industry female to be awarded the National STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) award.
Ann said, “I was honored to be named an outstanding woman devoted to this great industry.”
Manufacturing Manager, Koyo Bearings
"I began working in agriculture and then turned to manufacturing due to an interest in innovation and driving improvements in producing products," Bobby Jones, manufacturing manager at Koyo Bearings, said. “I love the challenges and opportunities manufacturing has afforded me. I’m proud to be part of this family for 27 years.”
Bobby credits manufacturing to his personal and professional growth and desire to help others. He’s involved with Georgia Southern University’s engineering advisory program, Ogeechee Technical College’s Board of Directors, and a regional industrial group working to resolve manufacturing needs, which helped identify a need for industrial maintenance workers. Bobby’s influence advanced partnerships between local industries, Development Authorities, and Ogeechee Technical College to create an industrial maintenance lab, from grant funding, so employees could gain skills to advance their career. He and colleagues also provide technical sponsorships and tours to educate middle schoolers about manufacturing.
Bobby said, “Helping others is important to me. My wife and I own a certified therapy dog. We visit Assisted Living residents, Special Olympics, library reading programs, and school children bringing them comfort and enjoyment.”
STEM Coordinator, Mount Paran Christian School
For Brad Smith, there’s nothing better than teaching science and engineering to high school students. He said, “I majored in Physics and then pursued a seminary degree, and was offered a temporary position teaching high school.” He continued, “That ‘short-term assignment’ was in 1992 and I haven’t left the classroom since.”
“My earliest memories were playing with engineering toys and games and constructing structures. Now I get to bring those interests in to the classroom.”
Over the past 24 years, Brad has exposed his students to real-world application opportunities, such as touring local manufacturing plants and participating in the Mousetrap Vehicle Tournaments, Design Thinking Camps, and machining contests. He’s also led a competitive robotics team for the past 14 years.
“I’m incredibly proud of my students. I have students interning at Georgia Tech and former students working in engineering fields across the world,” he said.
“Today, I’m teaching two sophomores who developed an RFID device that carries a patients’ medical history and hospital charts in a wristband. If this is what they are doing at 15, imagine what they’ll do in a few years.”
Brad added, “I’m honored to play a small role in each of my students’ successes.”
Production Supervisor, Zep
“I started with Zep at age 19 right out of high school and have grown up here. It was my first real job.” said Brian Ezell, Production Supervisor for Zep.
Brian started at the bottom and has worked his way up in the organization with stops along the way in most every department in the plant.
His manager said, “Under his leadership Zep had a record year in 2016 while meeting all of our performance targets.”
He continued, “At home Brian serves as a mentor to his teenage children and their friends, where he helps them work on cars and takes them fishing.” Brian said, He continued, “The safe environment they’ve created means many of their friends even visit and hang out with us when my children are not home.”
Brian’s manager said “He is a true leader and role model for all employees. He’s positive, upbeat, and loves what he does. He shows the same dedication and determination as he did his first day on the job 26 years ago.”
Chief Financial Officer, Universal Pasteurization and Universal Cold Storage
“Prior to joining Universal Pasteurization and Universal Cold Storage, I had spent the majority of my career providing financial consulting to manufacturing companies,” said Chris Voudouris. He continued, “I really enjoyed working with new businesses and their management teams on four to five week engagements, but found myself more interested in delving deeper into the day-to-day operations of manufacturing.”
Three years ago Chris made the move and joined the Universal Pasteurization and Universal Cold Storage team as the Chief Financial Officer.
“My current position has afforded me many exciting opportunities, including the ability to open a new 90,000 square foot operation in Villa Rica, Georgia. With the establishment of this facility came the chance to work with my fellow executives to hire a team, remodel a facility, network with local businesses, and establish a footprint in our new community,” said Chris.
As the company was in the building phase, externally Chris and the Universal team worked with numerous partners to connect with local business leaders, educators, and influencers. Internally, Chris led the effort to incorporate the Lincoln, Nebraska facility’s culture and accounting & financial department practices into Villa Rica, to allow for seamless flow between the two locations.
Chris said, “I feel blessed to have started our operation in Georgia, and am looking forward to continuing to grow as a leader in our business as well as our neighborhood.”
Clarke Andrew Bentley
Business Director, Marietta Drapery & Window Coverings Co., Inc.
Born into manufacturing and raised in the halls of the plant, Clarke Andrew has seen it all. From the plant to the sales office and every aspect in-between.
“Not only did Clarke Andrew grow up in manufacturing, but he has the desire to understand the industry. That sets him apart as a leader,” one of his team members said.
The manufacturing industry has shaped him tremendously in regards to his personal life and experiences. Being the fourth generation of the Bentley family-owned corporation has allowed him to personally know many long-time employees.
“His name is on every product shipped and he ensures the product quality is the highest standard,” another colleague said.
When a long-time employee was diagnosed with ALS, a picnic was thrown in his honor to raise awareness and funds to help fight this disease. The guest of honor cheered as Clarke and everyone were doused with ice cold water for the ALS ice bucket challenge. Several thousand dollars were raised in his name, everyone left with a full stomach, but most importantly a company was united under unfortunate circumstances with the guest of honor there to witness it all.
Public Relations Director, Kia Motors
“We have a rule at our house. If you say Kia, you get a kiss,” said Corinne Hodges, Senior Manager, Head of Department Public Relations for Kia Motors. As a young girl, Corinne worked for her family’s trucking company, expediting the freight needs of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and their suppliers. Corinne said, “When I got the job offer from Kia, it was like I was getting back to my roots.”
“I’ve loved getting my hands in so many things over the past seven years. One of the first lessons I learned at Kia was to eliminate ‘can’t’ from my vocabulary.” She continued, “From that, I’ve realized my limitless potential and the capabilities of our team”.
She’s taken that to heart and keeps pushing herself, serving as a board member for THINC College and Career Academy, helping to educate elementary and middle school students on STEM programs to create a future qualified workforce.
One of her team members said, “Corrine has two sides – the side the community knows as the serious spokeswoman for Kia, and the one in the office – laid back, but always willing to roll her sleeves up and assist her team in anything.”
Vice President of Manufacturing Operations, YKK AP America Inc.
Greg Hultquist has always been focused. From a young age he would accompany his dad to work at a manufacturing plant during his summers. After college, he starting working at that same plant, gaining experience on how systems and people work together to manufacture a product.
“I’ve worked in manufacturing a long-time and I’ve been exposed to different cultures and different people. I’ve even lived in four different states during my career,” Greg said.
For the past 12 years Greg has worked at YKK AP America, Inc. in Dublin, Georgia, as the Vice President of Manufacturing Operations. Although he manages a 1 million square foot facility, a team member said, “Greg makes it a point to personally know everyone on the plant floor and build a positive culture of engagement.”
Another team member said, “Greg has a tireless approach to his enormous responsibilities and takes that same energy and commitment to his personal life.”
An avid P90X® user, Greg maintains a six-day a week regiment, stating, “I am never too old to challenge myself – both personally and professionally. Pushing myself to the limits allows me to continue to grow.”
Jack of All Trades, Bronner Bros.
“I help organize the world’s largest multicultural beauty show, generating $30 million in revenue for Atlanta each year,” said James Bronner, senior VP of trade show operations for Bronner Bros, a manufacturer of multicultural beauty products.
The youngest of six boys, after graduating from Georgia Tech, James followed in his brothers’ footsteps and entered the family business. One team member said, “James is innovative, forward-thinking and decisive, taking risks to implement new technology and processes to improve the Bronner Bros. operations.”
James throws himself into everything he does. Outside of his daily responsibilities at Bronner Bros., James is a serial entrepreneur, starting a business with his brother, manufacturing and distributing health food products to more than 15,000 stores nationwide.
In addition, he is an ordained minister and the youth pastor at the Ark of Salvation. “I have always believed in motivating and leading kids in the right direction. My wife and I have seven kids and have recently coauthored a book about our experiences,” James said.
His team member commended James by saying, “He has an amazing work ethic, and a quiet confidence that puts others at ease, while motivating his employees to operate with a spirit of excellence.”
Vice President of Integrated Supply Chain, Textron Specialized Vehicles
An introvert, Jason Alford’s love of books and movie quotes has helped him break down social barriers and motivate others.
Beginning his career in finance, Jason developed a knack for tying manufacturing processes together, and is now Vice President, Integrated Supply Chain for Textron Specialized Vehicles. His high-level knowledge of the organization, and his granular view of business processes, gives him a unique perspective of the company.
But where Jason excels is his understanding of people. Described as an ‘observer and thinker’, Jason teaches others to listen and understand. “He is in tune with our needs and challenges us to think smarter, work differently, and be on the cutting edge,” one employee said.
“He is one of the most inspirational people within Textron,” his team member said of Jason, who has been wheelchair-bound since a motorcycle accident only days into his Textron career. Overcoming his personal circumstances fed Jason’s desire to help others, leading him to partner with the Richmond County School System to develop a program to give at-risk high school students a pathway to learn manufacturing while earning their diploma.
“Jason is sarcastic and jokes around, but holds his team to a very high standard. He is well-respected and is sought after from all levels of the organization for his sound business advice.”
Vice President of Operations, KaMin
“I graduated with a chemical engineering degree and have been in manufacturing for 18 years,” Jason Maxwell said. Thirteen years ago, Jason joined KaMin, a kaolin clay manufacturer, has worked in many roles at the company, and today is the vice president of operations.
Jason’s boss and the president of KaMin, Harlan Archer, said, “He came in as one of the youngest supervisors and has done a great job – he constantly energizes his team and pushes them forward.” He continued, “He is a decision maker and a leader, and has helped our newly acquired Brazil plant feel linked to the company and culture.”
His ability to make decisions has worked to his advantage also in his personal life. Jason said, “Shortly after I started, one of our long-time team members set me up with her daughter. Three weeks later, we got married and are still going strong!”
Jason also volunteers his time, chairing two boards for his alma mater, and has been nominated for county and industry leadership awards. “I strive for excellence – it makes me a better leader within my company, my family, and my community,” Jason said.
Owner, Sweet Grass Dairy
“I met my wife in college and quickly became fascinated with her family’s dairy farm,” Jeremy Little, owner of Sweet Grass Dairy, said.
With a desire to change others’ perspectives on quality food, Little took an opportunity with a cheese manufacturer in South Georgia, and a few years later, he and his wife purchased the business. His wife Jessica said, “Jeremy learned the art of cheese making from my mother and then honed his skills working closely with a French cheesemaker. However it wasn’t always easy – Jeremy didn’t speak French and he didn’t speak English, so a lot of trial and error occurred.”
Little and his team utilize agricultural products that are sustainably farmed and humanely raised for their ingredients. Additionally he blends art and science to create unique, high quality, hand-crafted artisan cheeses and has won more than 20 domestic and international awards.
“My in-laws work hard to produce the highest possible quality of milk. My goal is to incorporate that same level of standards within the products we produce,” Little said.
Joel Iverson, Jonathan Baker, and Jeff Heck
Co-Founders, Monday Night Brewing
“Eleven years ago we were three guys working our day jobs and attending a weekly Bible Study group,” said Joel Iverson, Monday Night Brewing co-founder. They wanted to start hanging out more, so Joel’s wife bought him a home beer brewing kit and one Monday evening they brewed their first batch.
Joel said, “I joke around that the beer kit became the most expensive gift she’s ever given me.”
The guys got together every Monday night and while making their next batch, were taste testing previous ones. They soon had too much beer to consume themselves, so they invited neighbors and friends over and starting blogging about their experience.
“It took us five years to take the leap and open our own brewery, but once we did, Monday Night Brewing allowed us to build a company our way,” Joel said.
Each has their own role: Jeff is financially-focused, Joel manages production, and Jonathan heads up sales and marketing, but each of them focus on the people, stating they are the team’s greatest reward.
Joel continued, “Every day we get to create a product that we make with our own hands in Atlanta and that is the epitome of cool”.
CEO and President, CKS Packaging
“I started working for my dad as a teenager loading trucks and grinding plastic containers in his manufacturing plant and in 1985 he founded CKS Packaging,” John Sewell, CEO and president said. He continued, “After graduating from college I starting working as a line operator and over the past 30 years have taken on many different jobs to learn and eventually run the company.”
“We employ more than 2,000 people in the Southeast, so making sure our team comes first is my priority,” John said.
With the company based in Atlanta and an avid Georgia Tech fan, John and his family make the local community part of their extended family. John said, “We donate a minimum of 10% of our profits to community outreach programs and hold several major community events a year.” His team member added, “The company hosts more than 1,000 people at each of these events, providing hot meals, clothing, school supplies, and more to lower income people within the area.”
In addition, John and his team recently started a program to employ formerly incarcerated individuals. John said, “It’s all about giving back to the people and through this program we are able to give individuals an opportunity to begin remaking their lives.”
General Manager, I. Technical Services
“My father started I. Technical Services (ITS), an electronics manufacturing services company in 2001, and I’ve been working at the company ever since,” Lauren Thompson said. “We are a family and I would do anything for my team as a leader, caretaker, and friend”.
Lauren has held many positions at ITS and today is the general manager, where she focuses on process improvement efforts and managing the administrative functions. “I’ve learned through hands-on experience and find it incredibly rewarding to manufacture products from design through production that provide our customers with Georgia-made quality products,” she said.
For someone who once planned to be a pharmacist, Lauren is a proponent of educating local youth about manufacturing careers. “We’ve hosted Girl Scout troops and robotics clubs to expose kids to real-world robotics applications. I love seeing their expressions when they see the connection with what they are doing in their clubs to the technology in our facility,” Thompson commented.
As for working for the family business, Thompson couldn’t be happier with her choice. “I’ve been lucky to be part of ITS, and I’ve never looked back,” she said.
“I have a Lego collection that would rival any child,” Marten Hutchison, innovator for Shaw said.
Ever since he was a kid Marten tinkered with new ideas. Wanting to go into automobile manufacturing, he obtained a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. During his freshman year, he applied to Tech’s cooperative program. For the next 2 ½ years Marten was a co-op at Shaw, while finishing his degree at Tech. “I had such a great experience that I was hired on by Shaw full-time once I graduated,” Marten said.
Since joining the company in 1993, Marten has held numerous jobs and today is a true innovator for the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. He led a team to build one of the largest plastic bottle recycling facilities in North America and enjoys exploring equipment and technology to improve processes and incorporate automation into Shaw’s plants.
Outside the office, Marten uses his time to excite students about science and technology careers. He said, “I am a high school robotics team coach, where we get to conceptualize, prototype, design, build, and program robots to compete in the FIRST Robotics competitions.” He continued, “Recently our team won one of four Rookie Inspiration awards at the World competition.”
Product Creator, Jetaire Flight Systems
Since 1984 Mike Williams has enhanced the safety of commercial and military aircraft through innovative technologies. In South Florida, Mike founded Jetaire Flight Systems, a manufacturer of high-reliability electronic hardware and systems. In 1998, he moved the company to Atlanta to be closer to family and establish a closer working relationship with the FAA regional office.
Mike said, “Over the years we’ve progressed as an organization. We started out in product development, then established the ability to design and manufacture our prototypes in-house. Having full production capabilities allows turnkey and cost-efficient services for our customers.” He continued, “We designed and manufactured a smoke detection and fire suppression system for large passenger aircraft that is less expensive and can be manufactured in half the time of other products.”
For Mike, aviation has always been a passion and he is passing his love of airplanes onto his family. He said, “My two daughters now work for Jetaire and in my free time I take my grandson on small plane rides out of our local airports.”
Global Implementation of Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Technology, AGCO
“Having grown up in Germany, it is required to do an apprenticeship as part of our schooling. I chose a technical draftsman route,” said Susanne Lauda of AGCO. She continued, “I spent half of this program working on the shop floor and I became enamored with manufacturing and earned a degree in production engineering.”
Upon graduation Susanne took a job in the United States, working on the external tank of the space shuttle. She later became a naturalized citizen and moved to Georgia, where she began her career at AGCO.
“Today I lead a team across three continents, helping implement new manufacturing processes and tools.” She said, “I am also globally implementing a product lifecycle management program and leading cross-functional team to develop a strategy for Smart Factory operations across AGCO.
Susanne said, “What we are doing internally is a huge undertaking and I encourage my team to embrace challenges and not fear obstacles.”
“In addition to what I do in the office, I’ve gotten very involved in the women in manufacturing networking groups, helping to be a role model to young girls in STEM programs. I was recently named a 2017 STEP Award Honoree to honor my work in attracting women to industry.”
General Manager, G&K Services
“When I first started in manufacturing years ago my grandmother encouraged me to pursue other careers,” Tammie Hood, general manager for G&K Services said.
Holding a variety of jobs within G&K Services, Tammie starting off as a sewing machine operator, then began designing and producing emblems for uniforms, and with a couple of changes in between became the plant manager and then senior operations manager, where she oversaw 10 plants across the Southeast and developed processes that were implemented company-wide. Today, as general manager of the Atlanta facility, she is responsible for providing uniform options for metro Atlanta, North Georgia, and South Tennessee.
“I have had quite a career and have been able to experience many different jobs within the company. Recently I even checked a dream off my bucket list, when I got to be an extra (using an industrial presser) in a few movie scenes that Jamie Foxx was filming in our facility!”
Tammie said, “My grandmother always wanted me to have a better life than she did and I truly believe she would be amazed at the direction manufacturing has gone and to see what I’ve accomplished, and that she would now tell me I’ve chosen the perfect path.”
Human Resources Generalist, Advics Manufacturing
“Years ago, with no training in manufacturing and desperate for a job, I convinced my company to hire me as a machine operator,” said Viedra Sullivan, HR Generalist for Advics Manufacturing. “I told them what I lacked in experience I would over compensate with the desire to be the best.”
Since that day, Viedra has continued to prove herself at Advics, getting promoted to lab tech, quality assistant, and then training coordinator, where she blended her passions for teaching with helping others.
“I had a desire to keep furthering myself. I attended every class to become a more effective trainer. I also applied for tuition reimbursement at my company and earned my bachelor’s degree with a concentration in human resources.”
Today, Viedra is the HR Generalist at Advics and has started offering voluntary leadership development classes for her peers. She said, “This past October, I graduated 25 people from my first session, who will be able to continue to grow with the company and contribute at a higher level.”
Viedra said, “I was out to dinner one night and ran into a co-worker. Her husband hugged me and thanked me for changing his wife’s life.” She continued, “It’s the impact my training makes on others and moments like these that I will never forget.”