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Kadant Johnson, Leading Ahead as a Team

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Michael Lanka
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Since inventing the rotary pressure joint in 1930, Kadant Johnson, headquartered in Three Rivers, has continued to innovate through almost a century of change to the process industries it serves. The company now offers a variety of flow control equipment and services. Short interviews follow, illustrating the values of family and personal development at Kadant Johnson. Now, under the leadership of 30-year veteran Wes Martz, president of this Kadant Inc. subsidiary, each individual plays an active role to support the needs of customers and each other.

Jackie Bowen & Danielle Rohrer

Getting it right on the people side; Danielle Rohrer, Director of Marketing 

Our level of people focus and people development has never been higher. Each of us is challenged to be a leader. We are supported through training and encouragement to do so. When your skills and confidence go up, you have built-in agility. The best way to know if you are succeeding is when others around you have stepped up to a higher level.

To be successful it matters to know who others are as people; what drives them. That way a personal connection happens. This sense of understanding makes each of us more committed.  Getting it right on the people side makes you better on the job and in your life outside of work.

Community matters; Jackie Bowen, director of human resources

We are all about work and personal life balance. That’s why we support people choosing to leave early, or taking a moment out of the day for themselves. We also know people to show up if needed on a Sunday or drive to Chicago to achieve a tight deadline for product delivery.

When you visit KJ, you can feel Main Street, Three Rivers all around you. Small town values. People there for each other. That’s what we are about. Add to that our global connections and you have a special mix.

Al Ives

Creativity & innovation; Al Ives, vice president of operations

Really good ideas come from anywhere. We always seek creative innovations to make a product better. Easier, faster, lighter. Raising quality. More energy efficient. Long-lasting.

The teams we build are uniquely qualified for this. Groups put together from manufacturing, development, engineering, finance, sales, customer service raise performance to a higher level. We draw upon colleagues from all over the world.

In any creative product development cycle, the voice of the customer is key. If you lose track of that, the chance of actually producing what the customer values is very low.

Mentoring matters and is very rewarding. With younger engineers and designers, I try to focus on a relatively small number of topics. This allows the person enough time to focus effectively on the subject at hand and thoroughly understand it. Valuing their ideas and input, we see professional and personal growth result.

Ken Lahrke

Customer-centric; Ken Lahrke, director of industrial sales

Our company strength comes from experience across a wide range of process industries. These industries include paper mills, corrugated packaging, metal, plastic, chemical, textile, and food and beverage.

We are responsive and customer-centric. Always focused on helping customers achieve their production goals. I often visit customer sites to observe first-hand what they do…and how we might advise on improvements.

We are good at identifying shortcomings in customer processes and equipment, being very nimble about providing solutions. I am proud of the results our customers are able to achieve because of our engineering expertise.

Our teams have the willingness to step up to meet and exceed customer expectations. Solving their identified problems, and others that were not obvious. We provide a technical response to achieve goals that may not have been available to them before. Support after the sale is strong and ongoing.

New challenges with Covid 19

Teamwork occurs daily and has been changed significantly by our current homebound life.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and we are all eager to be back in front of our customers and colleagues.  We are leveraging technology to stay in touch with our customers and each other.  Conducting training sessions and sales calls with the video conferencing tools that are available has helped us navigate these challenging times.  Doing that well has required tremendous teamwork to coordinate the deployment of these technology platforms and ensure quality meetings….to make sure the show goes on for our customers and us.

Volunteering to grow as a person

I coach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, children and adults.  Coaching kids helps me be better at coaching adults and both help me sharpen my own technique.  Teaching technique and having the student learn how to perform and implement that technique is rewarding, but coaching them in a way where you see them reach their full potential and learn to love the sport is very rewarding.  So, seeing my colleagues, especially my subordinates, thrive, and really enjoy what they do, is rewarding.

Tim Henry

Face-to-face; Tim Henry, R & D manager

Because we run live trials at our R & D center, we have the rare opportunity to be creative and brainstorm with customers.

There’s always a small team, face-to-face with customers when we run a trial at our R&D Center in Three Rivers. But there are dozens of people behind the scenes, waiting and jumping into action if needed.  Between keeping these complicated machines running during the trial and on the fly requests from the customer, our team is always on the ready.

Matt Beach

Failure is OK; Matt Beach, director of research and product development

In R & D to be successful, you need a high tolerance for short-term failure. If you are not breaking things, you are not pushing the limits. If you are not pushing the limits, you are not putting things on the table, which can advance the company way beyond competitors.

Our way of doing business greatly benefits our customers and each of us on the team. We have confidence in our equipment. We have good relationships with OEMs and builders of the machines.

We are always searching for the next big idea ahead. Face to face; we always ask, what is the next step? Where are you struggling? There is always something on or off the menu to try. Usually, we have the intent to test something specific. Then we see something that calls for a new twist. Why not try something new?

Our Holy Grail includes rotary joints to stationary siphons, then Turbulator bars, which have revolutionized the paper and packaging industries. That’s why we are trusted to be called upon when a mill or plant is struggling with something small; we educate on that little thing. Sometimes we help in areas completely outside of our scope.

While our customers are primarily in the packaging, food processing, and metals industries, we serve industrial manufacturers in a variety of other material processing industries including mining, oil and gas, chemical, plastics, and factory automation, among many others. What we learn in one segment often gives us an edge in another.

Jeff Herder

Performance rises from work-life balance; Jeff Herder, supply chain manager

Just like leading the supply chain team is important to me, so is family and community life.  KJ offers everyone the opportunity to come to work each day, fulfill professional values, and go home to fulfill family commitments. Leading by example has always been valued here, but now, it’s clearly risen to the top. I am able to bring leadership to my children, coaching sports, because of skills acquired here.  They, in turn, have greater leadership skills, becoming role models themselves.

We also want great relationships with our suppliers So we are fair and reasonable. Stable supply is largely about relationships. We are first in class with suppliers and our customers. Fair, respectful, and honest are the words often used to describe us.

Our Wuxi, China plant is a big supplier, which works well because of excellent communications. We spend time getting together once per year. Our engineering and supply chain teams gets together in rotation from Three Rivers to Amsterdam to Wuxi.

Ryan Shoesmith

3rd generation; Ryan Shoesmith, supply chain

I am a 3rd generation member of the KJ family, starting as a co-op worker at seventeen. Management allowed me the flexibility to do my job and maintain schooling at the same time. KJ invested in me all through college and throughout my career.

Figuring out how to navigate problems comes rather easily to me, because of what I have learned from others. When a critical casting supplier went out of business on short notice, I knew we needed to act with a sense of urgency. This included communicating with our customers, and finding a substitute in a hurry. Since casting parts can take sixteen weeks, we had no time to lose.

Working as a team, having the freedom to be creative on the spot, we came through.

Claudia Gadsen

Best of Family; Claudia Gadsen, accounting

One year at KJ has already taught me a lot. Everyone has each other’s back; that’s my idea of family. Everyone truly works as a team.

Since joining the team a little over a year ago, I have provided another set of eyes to our team and help improve the process. I like to bring a smile to my co-workers’ faces especially during stressful times.   Like any family, we have our good days and our bad, but we always work together to get things done.

Outside of KJ work hours, I have taken part in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Kadant Johnson forms a team each year to raise funds related to programs that support cancer patients. I have also been involved with our involvement in the Water Festival held in the summer in Three Rivers. And I am the treasurer for our JOCO Club and love being part of it.  The group is a way to “break bread” with our co-workers and share a laugh or two.

Tiffany Lotts

Feeling lucky; Tiffany Lotts, accounts payable

I feel lucky to be part of this team. From my job interview to the first day at work, KJ came across as different.  Different is a real way. A place to belong. When you are valued as a person, everything about the job is better. If I have an idea for something new, I am taken seriously. So is everyone else. For me, that’s true leadership.

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