Career Traveler

Determination helps machine operator soar to the top

by Chris Hermenitt

My career in manufacturing began in 1998 as a night-shift machine operator at a plastics injection molding company in Michigan. I had minimal knowledge about the plastics industry, but I paid close attention to training and work instructions. Soon, I was one of the most productive operators on the shift.

I was promoted to lead operator after a year and a half, but I was interested in doing more. One night, I placed a handwritten letter in a quality manager’s mailbox explaining that I was interested in advancing my career. I saw what the quality inspectors did—they checked parts and discussed problems with the supervisor—and I thought that would be more interesting than being a machine operator. A few days later, I found myself sitting across from two quality managers who vetted me for hours.

My credentials were a two-year liberal arts degree and a couple of years of relevant work experience. Not knowing what to expect after the interview, I was elated to hear my positive attitude and demonstrated ability to learn earned me the position of quality engineer-in-training.

I was thrilled to work in the office and tackle new projects. Because I was the lowest-ranking person in the quality department, I was stationed on the frontlines. Handling customer complaints on behalf of my department taught me to quickly and effectively solve problems.

After demonstrating strong performance as a quality engineer-in-training and becoming an ASQ-certified quality technician, I was promoted to full quality engineer and transferred to a different factory in 2003. As I settled into my new responsibilities, I was cherry picked to lead Six Sigma and lean initiatives. New to these methods, I sought training and earned an ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt certification to help me excel.

ASQ certification and my appetite for internal training bolstered and validated my experience in lieu of a formal education. I earned a bachelor’s degree in 2004—years after several lateral moves in the organization. My four-year degree qualified me for a promotion to quality manager. I became responsible for 12 personnel and was a peer of the quality manager I had delivered that handwritten letter to just a few years prior.

In 2007, I made a life-changing decision. I accepted a position as a quality director that would require me to relocate to Japan. Today, I am based in Shanghai as an Asia-Pacific regional quality director, responsible for 35 sites across 10 countries.

Awareness and confidence

I have traveled far and wide both geographically and professionally. From a night-shift machine operator in Michigan to a regional quality director in a foreign land, my mantra has been to never stop learning. I still learn every day by reading business journals and books on various topics.

It’s always important to know yourself, to be attuned to your capabilities and limitations and to view change as a way to improve. With each change I took on, I had confidence that I could manage it.

If you want to make a change in your career, my advice is to read voraciously and to be ready to share your perspective when someone asks for it. You also must be aware of what’s happening in your organization and be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that align with your career goals.

Chris Hermenitt is the Asia-Pacific regional quality director of Henkel Corp. and is based in Shanghai. A senior member of ASQ, he received a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development from Spring Arbor University in Kalamazoo, MI, and a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

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