Defining yourself as a leader is essential to the success of any good manufacturer. A strong leader carries the trust of his or her employees, the respect of peers and the appreciation of the community. Valiena A. Allison, chairman of the board and CEO of Experi-Metal Inc. (EMI) has grown up around manufacturing, worked her way through the ranks, and is the definition of what a manufacturing leader should be. For this, she is the recipient of the 2015 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year (Small Tier) Award.
The Sterling Heights-based EMI was founded in 1959 and grew steadily after Allison’s father, Ivan Kurtenbach, took over the business in 1988. In 2002, Allison took over the day-to-day operations and EMI surged forward, growing faster than ever as its workforce doubled over the next decade.
“Manufacturers are amazing — they just get it,” said Allison. “You’re doing the things that make the lives of other people better. How can you not get excited about that?!”
That deep passion and excitement for manufacturing did not occur overnight. For Allison, it is the result of a lifetime spent in and around manufacturing. While her career at EMI began as a receptionist in 1988, her life as a manufacturer began much earlier. At the age of six, she recalls accompanying her father to work and helping with filing and cleaning.
“Manufacturers have an incredible work ethic,” said Allison. “I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family; I’d watch my father and it just became natural for me — you wake up, you go to work, you work hard, you come home and spend time with your family and then you end the day getting ready for tomorrow. This is just something that has always stuck with me.”
While hard work is a requirement for any manufacturing endeavor, effort alone cannot propel a company to the level of a world-class business. The effort must be harnessed, focused and directed in a clear manner to obtain success. Allison realized this early on and developed the EMI Core Value System as a lynchpin for everything the company did.
“It goes back to that idea of a manufacturing work ethic,” said Allison. “When something needs to be done, you do it. Manufacturing is a team effort.”
Her dedication to this value system transcends the workplace and shows itself in all aspects of her life, including how she and EMI present manufacturing to the Sterling Heights community and surrounding area.
“I love what I do and I love coming into work each day,” said Allison. “When you work in manufacturing there is such an excitement to it — you get energized by it and, for the most part, it’s a rare day when I don’t come to work with a smile on my face.”
While those who live and work as manufacturers see the incredible possibilities that exist in the career, the general public still has images of an outdated industry.
“Manufacturing depends on its people and talent has become more difficult for companies to find,” said Allison. “The idea of it being dark and dirty — that’s the negative perception we need to overcome and it takes work, hard work, to change people’s minds.”
Allison and the rest of the EMI team are active in Sterling Height’s variety of manufacturing and talent-related organizations. From her participation in the MMA and the Sterling Heights Chamber of Commerce, to hosting an annual National Manufacturing Day event and serving on many boards of directors, Allison knows that the promotion of manufacturing as a worthwhile and enjoyable career begins with manufacturers promoting themselves.
“We have to be our own future,” said Allison. “Manufacturing isn’t just a job, it can be a great adventure if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. ‘Do you have a manufacturer’s work ethic?’ That’s the question that needs to be asked. Manufacturing can have a bright future if we work for it.”
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of MiMfg Magazine.