Technical careers shine out in the consumer industries
A company that makes consumer products must stay tuned in to its customers, ready to meet their current needs and expectations. This makes life both busy and interesting for the techies who work there
“Challenges come with each new opportunity. You can never stop learning and growing in this field.” – James Montague, 3M
By Laura Gater
3M, John Deere, Archer Daniels Midland and Anheuser-Busch are four very different companies. Together, they represent the remarkable range and variety of offerings that are used by, or in products for, a wide base of consumers.
3M (St. Paul, MN), a company originally thought of as the maker of the ubiquitous Scotch brand tape, now produces some 55,000 products in more than thirty core technologies, many of them consumer-oriented.
Deere & Co (Moline, IL) is the world’s largest maker of agricultural and forestry equipment, and also has a full line of products and services for lawn and turf care, landscaping and irrigation.
Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM, Decatur, IL) is one of the largest agricultural processors in the world, producing food ingredients that include soybean oil, corn sweeteners, flour and other value-added food and feed ingredients, plus increasingly important renewable biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol.
Anheuser Busch (St. Louis, MO), started in 1852, still cleaves to its original mission of brewing and selling beer: some eleven billion bottles a year under a hundred different labels.
The four skilled techies making their careers at these companies represent an interesting variety of jobs. An IT/QC guru, a mechanical designer, a plant and project engineer and an environmental strategist, they are all deeply involved in their own expanding facets of the fascinating and varied consumer products industries.
James Montague is IT manager at two 3M divisions
Last December James Montague was named IT manager of two divisions of 3M (St. Paul, MN): the building and commercial services division and the corrosion protection products division. He’s responsible for all aspects of IT in both divisions. That includes aligning IT resources and investments with business plans, and leveraging best practices and resources in IT to help his divisions grow.
He’s also accountable for the company’s safety, security and protection services business, and is process portfolio leader in the customer connection solution center, which includes a number of customer-facing applications.
“Every day is a career challenge,” Montague declares. “You can never stop learning and growing in this field. Challenges come with each new opportunity.”
Montague has always loved challenges, and was always a math whiz. He especially enjoyed solving problems by computer. “Math lays the foundation for strategic and logical thinking, which are critical to building the foundation of your life,” he says.
He received his BA in math from Fisk University (Nashville, TN) in 1984, and a CS certificate from the University of Minnesota in 1987. He earned his 1990 MS in software design and development at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), the first African American in the U.S. to earn an MS in that particular specialty. In 1992 St. Thomas also awarded him a
Montague began his career as a software engineer at Control Data (Bloomington, MN) in 1983. In 1985 he went to work for Honeywell (Minneapolis, MN) as a senior software engineer. In 1987 he became a senior technical consultant in the application business systems division of IBM (Rochester, MN).
When he completed his masters in 1990 he looked for work with a company that had many different products and markets. This, he thought, would help ensure job security. He had applied for a job with 3M before; now, armed with his MS, he found one.
“I wanted to be with a company I could retire from, one with a world of opportunity and a great variety of products. I also wanted a highly innovative company where I could focus on business applications and leverage my technical skills to solve business problems,” he declares.
His first job was as a senior analyst in IT financial planning. In 1995 he advanced to IT administrative services. In 1997 he became project/integration leader for IT CRM applications.
Montague became IT manager for global data services of IT applications in 2003, and IT manager for safety and security protection in 2005. Then he became IT manager for lean Six Sigma black belt on the IT DMAIC Six Sigma team, where he was responsible for applications portfolio management and more. And now he’s IT manager of two divisions.
All this moving around in the corporate world has taught Montague to be decisive, he says, and he’s obviously flexible to adapt to such a progression of new jobs.
Quality control is a critical part of his work because of the nature of 3M’s businesses. “From an IT perspective, we need to follow the laws surrounding Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, data privacy and other federal regulations that guide our business,” he explains. “IT’s role in this is the software side of QC, not the traditional engineering aspect. We protect the corporation.”
There’s a significant interpersonal component to IT work, Montague reflects. “Technical people are often not extroverts, but you must be an extrovert to be successful. Mentors can help you become more outgoing to benefit your career.”
Montague has done mentoring on the job, but prefers to do his outreach in Twin Cities schools, or staffing the 3M booth at diversity career fairs and recruiting new employees. He gets the greatest pleasure from telling diverse young techies about job opportunities available at 3M. “I enjoy showing students of color that they can be successful here,” he says.
Jane Liu is a product engineer at John Deere
Jane Liu is a product engineer II at John Deere. She works on new, compact utility tractor design and development, with a focus on engines and auxiliaries, at John Deere Commercial Products, the company’s manufacturing facility in Grovetown, GA. She’s one of just a few female engineers at the facility, which is near Atlanta.
Liu graduated from Nanjing University of Science and Technology (Nanjing, China) with a BSME in 1985. She went to work at Qing Hua Electric Apparatus Works (Xian, China) as an assistant engineer, providing engineering support to the company’s manufacturing lines. She moved up to product engineer, involved in design, specification, inspection and implementation of new products.
In 1992 Liu moved to the U.S. to attend the University of New Mexico. She got her MSCE with a focus on structural mechanics in 1995. While studying she worked as a research assistant for the CE department, concentrating on nondestructive testing, nonlinear system identification and finite analysis.
Armed with her MS, Liu found a job as a product engineer at Engine Master L.P. (Dallas, TX). Her work involved sourcing and verifying parts from Taiwan and China, and supporting daily production and quality control.
Liu went to work for John Deere in 2000, starting as a product engineer I in the product support group for compact utility tractors. She was handling production and warranty issues. In 2004 she was promoted to product engineer II.
“Every job I’ve had contributed to my knowledge base,” Liu says. “My basic training in quality control at Engine Master helps me in my position today.” Although she doesn’t do actual QC in her current job, “Quality is always a priority in design. We test parts to be sure they’re working right, and monitor parts on the assembly line.”
Liu’s team of engineers is continually working on new tractor designs. She specializes in the engine and auxiliary parts: air cleaners, exhaust muffler, tailpipe and cooling system.
The compact utility tractor market is very competitive, Liu notes, and Deere tries to provide just what its customers want. “Some consumers just want a basic tractor, and we meet their needs as well as those of the high-end users who want all the options.”
Her mentors have been her managers and supervisors at Deere and previous jobs. Although there is a formal mentoring program at Deere, Liu has not been part of it. “But if somebody comes to me looking for a mentor, I’m happy to help,” she says.
Chaka Elam is a project engineer in ADM’s corn-processing business
“I wanted to get into the food industry instead of oil and gas, which is so popular in Texas where I went to school,” says Chaka Elam. “I thought Archer Daniels Midland Company would be a very interesting place to work. It makes a wide range of products, and it’s a very big company so it can absorb economic swings,” she explains.
Today she’s a project engineer in an ADM corn-processing plant. ADM is a leading manufacturer of corn sweeteners, soybean oil and meal, flour and other food and feed ingredients, as well as biofuels: ethanol and biodiesel.
Elam attended Texas Tech University for her 1998 BSChE. Then she went to work at an ADM wet corn mill as a production assistant/shift supervisor. A year later she moved up to process/project engineer at the associated water treatment plant, responsible for the clarifiers, filtration system, chemical feed systems, distribution, storage and the plant’s lab.
In 2001 she became interim superintendent of the water treatment plant. Now she was in charge of everything, including startup, operation, staffing, training, even accounting and managing the chemical inventory.
Two years later Elam became a project engineer for ADM’s Decatur, IL utility division. This put her in charge of some fascinating projects, including a new cooling tower system and a generation system. She also designed and installed a recycling system to reduce the water plant’s chemical consumption.
“I learned what it takes to run a plant 24/7, 365 days a year,” she says. “We’re a team here, and it takes all of us to run the plant and consistently deliver product in the quality and quantity that we do.”
Her environmental work continues in her current role. She designs, integrates and upgrades technologies to reduce operating costs, meet safety, health and environmental parameters and increase capacity and operating reliability for wet-mill, fuel-grade ethanol and wastewater treatment facilities.
“We’re always concerned with reducing operating costs, especially energy consumption,” says Elam. “Energy prices have been on the rise, and we’re always looking for ways to reduce them. It’s an uphill battle.
“I facilitate communication between members and manage the project, but each person is responsible for his or her own part in it. Our teams are made up of engineering disciplines like plant instrumentation technicians, structural engineers, EEs and programmers,” she explains.
“There are always ways we can do things better,” Elam says. “In order to grow and change with the market, we have to take advantage of technology.”
Angie Slaughter is an engineering group manager at Anheuser-Busch
Angie Slaughter manages the environmental affairs strategic initiative group at Anheuser-Busch (St. Louis, MO). She’s responsible for developing global strategies for alternative energy, water supply and emerging environmental issues. She also provides technical content for environmental communications, works to incorporate environmental savings into supply-chain initiatives and provides technical environmental expertise for Anheuser-Busch companies.
That’s quite a lot to do, as Anheuser-Busch operates twelve breweries in the U.S. and more worldwide, along with ten entertainment and theme parks and an eleven-plant packaging group subsidiary.
Slaughter received her 1995 BSChE and her 1996 MSEnvE from the University of Illinois. “I’ve always been interested in math and science,” she says. “The real draw for me, though, is the creative side of engineering. You have to have a passion for what you do to succeed at it, and this job is a perfect blend of my my ChE and EnvE degrees.”
Slaughter has worked in various positions at Anheuser-Busch since 1997. She began as an engineer in the brewing and process engineering group and advanced to environmental affairs in 2001 and the utilities group in 2002.
In 2004 she became executive assistant to the VP of engineering, which exposed her to many areas and gave her a better understanding of the company in general. In 2006 she moved into her current role.
A company that manufactures consumer products must be constantly aware of consumer expectations. “Anheuser-Busch has a long history of environmental stewardship. Now consumers are becoming much more interested and educated about companies’ environmental impact, and it’s great to have that interest,” says Slaughter.
She oversees a small group, leads teams and works with others on team projects. Although she’s held various jobs, she’s always remained in the engineering group.
“Each position grew in responsibility level, time management and technical expertise. My cross-functionality and movement within the engineering department have been valuable to my career,” she says.
Anheuser-Busch has a strong mentor program, with formal mentoring for all new hires and co-op students.
“Mentors are there to guide you with work and company questions, but the best part of having mentors is feeling that you can go talk to them about anything,” Slaughter explains. “I often seek out mentoring opportunities with the new hires. It’s energizing to work with new college grads.”
Slaughter credits Anheuser-Busch with providing strong female and minority role models for other employees. She’s looking forward to new opportunities and further career development at the company.
OPPORTUNITIES IN CONSUMER PRODUCTS
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