For Adam Tabor, many of today’s companies don’t practice his grandfather’s — or even his father’s — brand of manufacturing.
“That is a critical change that needs to happen for America to reclaim its former glory as a manufacturing superpower,” said Tabor, regional manager for Jackson-based Gerdau Special Steel North America, a producer of special bar quality carbon and alloy hot-rolled and bright cold-finished steel bar products.
As the 2017 winner of the Emerging Leader Award, Tabor embodies what could be considered the next generation to take the baton for the United States in the worldwide manufacturing relay race.
“We can keep people enthused about manufacturing by celebrating the wins with the team, recognizing when people are doing very good things, and providing input on opportunities where we can be better,” said Tabor. “Frankly, all of that is what keeps me excited about manufacturing — challenging myself to improve results in safety, quality and efficiency at Gerdau.”
With management responsibilities for Gerdau’s Michigan finishing operations in Jackson and Monroe and its Huntington, Ind. heat-treating facility, Tabor helps to direct the work of about 250 people.
“Adam is very talented at organizing complex problems into simpler forms in order to find achievable solutions,” said Lindsey Erb, communications and public affairs specialist at Gerdau Special Steel North America, which is headquartered in Jackson. “He is also very people-centric, which is critical to team building and people development.
“During his short time in manufacturing, he has already proven himself to be a dynamic leader at Gerdau who has produced superior results for our organization.”
Tabor traces his interest and enthusiasm in manufacturing to visits as a 10-year-old to a metro Detroit metalworking plant where his father worked. “My dad was a maintenance manager at DME, then a part of Cincinnati Milacron for a number of years, and he would bring me in on Saturdays to see how they transformed huge chunks of steel into precision die molds.
“I grew up on a farm, so I was used to being around large pieces of equipment — but the machines they had there were really impressive. And there were steel chips everywhere.”
Tabor credits Gerdau with practicing the type of modern management and quality philosophies that are reinvigorating manufacturing in America.
Some aspects of that enlightened philosophy are an emphasis on training and teamwork and a willingness to look past age when it comes to promotions within the company.
“Gerdau encourages people to reach their full potential,” said Tabor, who started with the company after graduating from Michigan State University in 2007 with a degree in metallurgical engineering. “The leadership here gives us opportunities to expand our responsibilities and provides feedback on how we can improve. That’s so different from the old style of management in manufacturing, along the lines of where you were told: You have to wait 30 years until we think you can be a plant manager.’”
In his first 18 months at Gerdau, the company encouraged Tabor to take a two-week series of courses that introduced him to practical aspects of lean manufacturing initiatives and continuous improvement. Entry-level engineers now go through a two-year management associate program that covers the concepts of Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.
Tabor is optimistic about manufacturing in America with all the country’s expertise, but he sees a challenge with the perception of high school and college students about the sector.
“We need to engage our generation in manufacturing — get younger people to see that there’s nothing wrong with manufacturing,” he said. “It’s fun and challenging to make things with your hands and get dirty. And it needs to be an important part of our future.”