Imagine someone so critical to a business, to a community and to an industry that people say losing her would be like taking oxygen from a room.
That’s Donna Russell-Kuhr and that’s what she has come to mean to PTM Corporation, St. Clair County and Michigan’s manufacturing sector. Her traits are what you would want from any leader — energy, passion, vision, dedication and kindness. She looks at the world the way she thinks it should be, not the way it is, then pushes herself, her team and her community to make it happen.
“Manufacturing is in my blood — it’s what my dad did and it’s what my sisters and I are doing and the third generation have already started to gather and join us in the ranks,” Russell-Kuhr said, enthusiasm evident. “Everybody has some special talent. This is who I am.”
Russell-Kuhr seeks to build connections everywhere and everyone close to her becomes part of an extended family. A second-generation co-owner of PTM Corporation along with her three sisters, Russell-Kuhr would have excelled anywhere but it’s no surprise that she chose manufacturing.
“I would come here with my dad and help run presses, clean floors and machines, I got my driver’s license as early as I could to help as a truck driver here,” Russell-Kuhr recalled. “When it’s a small family business, you do whatever it takes — you roll up your sleeves and dive in.”
Today, the slogan at PTM Corporation is We make magic with metal. But the magic doesn’t happen out of nowhere. It comes from hard work, years of sacrifice and a team that Donna Russell-Kuhr believes in, trusts and loves to her core.
“I truly feel I have the best team around. They each have the drive to succeed in their areas and that’s what makes us go,” said Russell-Kuhr. “Nobody does manufacturing alone — it’s not a career you can just turn off when you leave for the night. It doesn’t shut off. It’s a lifestyle; you either love it or you don’t and I surround myself with the ones who love it.”
With so many jobs needing to be filled, manufacturing is a career where young women can thrive and advance in perhaps now more than ever. For Russell-Kuhr, it’s just a matter of how you reach them and keep them interested.
“I was always intrigued by how manufacturers help solve people’s problems,” she said. “It’s easy to do easy things but problems are rarely easy — they are complex. Being able to help someone overcome a problem and giving them that ‘Aha!’ moment is gratifying.”
Manufacturing is among the most rapidly changing industries in the world. From the way it connects with customers to the technology being invented and re-adapted every day, there are countless routes into the industry. Whether you want to work with your hands, manage a business, interact with people or have an accounting, legal or sales background, manufacturing has a place for you.
To help locate the next generation of skilled female leaders — and men as well — Russell-Kuhr makes sure the PTM brand is everywhere. They sponsor FIRST Robotics, participate in MFG Day, go into schools and invite their community to come and explore. They participate in local charities and Russell-Kuhr is a big supporter for A Beautiful Me, a charity dedicated to building up the self-esteem and self-worth in young women and provide them a visible path to become community leaders, business leaders and positive role models.
All it takes is one positive experience and one moment where a child thinks “I can do this” to make them a manufacturer for life.
“Manufacturing is amazing,” Russell-Kuhr will often exclaim, the excitement in her voice palpable. “The stuff that happens out there, we’re the backbone of America. We make stuff. We create stuff. How many people can say they live each day creating something?”
Once she starts talking about manufacturing, it’s hard for her to stop. The passion for it is in her eyes.
“You have to be out there. People drive by manufacturing all the time and never know what is happening inside,” she admitted. “The sky really is the limit for women entering our field, but we have to do our part. Be a mentor at high schools, middle schools, elementary schools — the sooner the better — and show them what is possible, what dreams they can chase, and there is a path to get there.”
Now honored for her efforts and her drive to ensure manufacturing’s future is better than its past, she can’t help but look back at a lifetime spent doing what she loves.
“When I found out that I’d been selected as the MFG Woman of the Year, to be honest, 37 years flashed before my eyes,” she said, recalling a career worth celebrating. “It’s not easy to do what we do. Our customers, our suppliers and my amazing team — I’m just so grateful to them. The work we do is so demanding but it also has so many rewards. Getting this award, it brings back all the good memories and all the things we’ve overcome and it focuses me on where I want us to go. I’m just very thankful.”
The MFG Woman of the Year honors the roles women play in manufacturing, her significant achievements in the industry and positives impacts within her company and community. The award is presented at the annual MFG Excellence Awards in November.