by Rachael Pfenninger, director of strategic execution, American Mold Builders Association
On July 28, 2022, Ashleigh Walters, CEO at Onex, Inc., joined over 40 young professionals and emerging leaders on camera to kick off the AMBA’s newest virtual series for its Emerging Leaders Network, “Perspectives from the Top.” This five-part series, offered to AMBA’s Emerging Leaders, as well as young professionals from the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP) and the Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers (ARPM), was designed to provide access to a series of industry executives and the intimate details of their journeys.
Walters, who had been invited to talk family, leadership and the balancing act that comes with managing both, represents the series well. As CEO at Onex, a 100% employee-owned company that designs and services industrial furnaces across the US, Walters was able to share the unique circumstances that led to her leadership path, as well as illustrate the many successes and pitfalls she experienced along the way.
Leading Through Empowerment, Not Authority
As Walters outlined in her presentation, leadership is rarely a straightforward path, and it frequently comes with unexpected opportunities, pitfalls and crises – of both the home and work variety. For this reason, “leadership” tends to be a tough subject to teach, and its lessons are often more valuable when paired with instances of success, failure and lessons learned.
In Walters’ case, she “fell” into leadership through her husband’s family’s company and quickly learned that there was a dire need for a transformative culture and a shift of focus within the organization – but she didn’t find her path forward through technical knowledge or an overbearing sense of leadership. Rather, she turned to the core values that fuel some of the most successful companies, including embracing a humble attitude, cultivating creativity, seeking inspiration, listening to other perspectives and putting in the work.
A major lesson of leadership shared by Walters was not the celebration of instant success, but rather the patient evaluation of what processes were broken at the company and why. To address these issues, Walters didn’t jump in with authority and solutions; rather, she went directly to the source, worked alongside employees, teams, departments and other managers, and slowly implemented a continuous improvement culture.
While both leadership and company success wasn’t instant for Walters, today, the transformation is clear. Not only did the company embody its message of employee empowerment by transitioning from a family-owned company to one that is 100% employee-owned, but the company’s homepage reflects more about its core values and mission – “To Make Things Better” – than it does about its services and role in manufacturing.
Varied Lessons of Leadership
What is exciting about the virtual series is that, while some of Walters’ leadership lessons are certainly shared by others, other presenters have completely different messages to impart. In the series’ second session on August 25, Dan Clark and Kyle Lane, Wise Plastics, will present an interactive experience through a demonstration of the RACI Model, which represents the roles that individual members of a team must share – i.e., who is responsible, who is accountable, who needs to be consulted and who needs to be informed. This perspective of leadership is less about the invitation of input from leader to employee; instead, more about the shared roles of members in a team, the varied instances where roles shift based on what a project requires and how leaders are occasionally needed to see a project differently – and play a different role – in order to produce success for the entire team.
Moving forward, the series will continue once per month (with the exception of November) and will represent industry executives and leaders from a variety of manufacturers in mold building, plastics processing and rubber products manufacturing.
To learn more about the next session of this virtual series and for registration details, visit www.AMBA.org/Events.