Influential Women in Manufacturing: Kelly Finch

Kelly Finch is one of the 22 women being honored as part of the inaugural class of the Influential Women in Manufacturing.

By Erin Hallstrom, Food Processing Digital

Food Processing and its parent company, Putman Media, with the help of sponsoring partner Rockwell Automation, are proud and honored to present the inaugural class of Influential Women in Manufacturing. The program, which launched in early 2018, seeks to recognize women who are effecting change in manufacturing and industrial production. There are 22 women in all receiving the designation of a 2018 Influential Woman in Manufacturing, three of which work in food and beverage. We will be highlighting all three women on FoodProcessing.com. 

Kelly FinchOur first honoree we'll be highlighting is Kelly Finch, Director of Technology for O-AT-KA Milk Products Coop. Finch was nominated by Jill Smith, Senior Director at ERP provider Aptean. 

Finch began her career at O-AT-KA in 1992 as assistant to the CEO and quickly found a passion for manufacturing, said Smith when nominating Finch. By 1994, she was named systems administrator within the newly formed IT department – a role in which she laid the groundwork for O-AT-KA's first network.

"Her leadership has resulted in many technological advancements that emphasize the company's commitment to delivering a safe and quality product to consumers," added Smith.

Among the IWiM committee, we were thrilled when Finch accepted the nomination. Hers is a story that inspires. While Smith offered us a glimpse of what makes Finch an influential woman, we wanted to get to know more about the woman behind the computer. We sent Finch the following questions and she didn't disappoint with her answers. 

Tell us, what motivates you?
Challenges motivate me. I am very competitive and am motivated by doing what may be perceived as “impossible”. If someone says “you can’t do that”, I’m in! I think that’s why I am drawn to Technology. It is an area that is ever-changing, which naturally motivates me to step-up my game, gain understanding of what’s new, how to use it, figure out how technology can positively change a process. I thoroughly enjoy finding new ways to use technology to solve manufacturing challenges.

What keeps you awake at night?
Challenges! I’m a solver and the challenges that motivate me are also what keeps me up at night!

O AT KA Milk Aerial
How did you get your start in your current company?

Oh my, I began working for a defense company when I was still in high school and after 6 years, my job was eliminated due to defense cutbacks in the early 90s. On a whim, I interviewed at my current company, O-AT-KA Milk Products. So there I was, in my early 20s, not really sure what I wanted to do, interviewing at a company where I could not even pronounce the name, in an industry (dairy) that I knew nothing about, located in a city that was 45 minutes away from where I lived and it was manufacturing…not defense! 

When I interviewed with the Chief Operating Officer, I was blown away. The business and the people were fascinating, intriguing and the job was an opportunity to create a new role where I would be assisting the COO; I could write script. When I received an offer, I told myself “eh, I’ll give it a year or two and then I will move on.” 

The people and the endless opportunities had me hooked! There was such positive energy about manufacturing, it was contagious and captivating. I did not leave O-AT-KA after two years like I had planned, I actually found myself challenged with another brand new role. The IT Department was being created and I was asked to create and install their first client-based network throughout the business and plant. The company took a chance on me…the rest is history. 26 years later, I am honored to be working with eight talented and diverse team members where Technology and Automation continue to be supported by our Board, our Executive Team and our employees and provide endless opportunities for growth.

What do you find most gratifying in your current role?

Being able to positively influence and support teams using technology and automation. The gratification comes from working with teams to solve business challenges, design processes and eliminate non-value-add tasks using technology. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to make a difference!

What advice would you give to younger women who aren't sure how to make an impact on their career or workplace?
My experience and personal and professional success revolves around three things:

  • As quoted in many self development books, “seek to understand.” Often we will claim that we “listen”, it is more about actively listening, asking clarifying questions and seeking to understand where the other person is coming from before responding, reacting, etc. In this same context, “be a sponge”, soak up all that experience that is around you every day, use other people’s experience and lessons learned to grow and develop. 30+ years later, I am still a sponge and love every bit of it!
  • Equally as impactful, is to put yourself out there and be YOU! We all bring such a unique perspective, don’t hold that back, let people know who you are. It is hard not to compare yourself to others, especially if you are as competitive as I am, but your only competition should be yourself – enjoy being YOU. Share your opinions and share who you are and what makes you unique. The other side of that coin is, you need to be willing to accept the result and not take it personally – not every opinion or idea is well-received, but take the opportunity and risk to express them. 
  • Challenge the status quo, there’s always a better way; even though the “better way” may result in failure, keep trying – don’t give up on your passion, your ideas. Michael Jordan’s story is at the core of this. He went through a lot of perceived failures before his success, but never gave up. “"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life.”

What are your hobbies?
Very cliché, but first and foremost are Family and Friends. My 3 teenage kids are my full-time hobby - I enjoy vacationing with them, goofing off with them, watching them play sports, and am in awe of their transition into adulthood. And I have my circle of friends that are a necessity to survive, can’t manage life without them!

Kelly F KidsAdditional hobbies:
I am a big sports fan of any sport - pro, college, etc. - the more competitive a game, the better! Just to be transparent about that, I cannot (nor have a desire to) recite all the stats or all the players names, but I love a good, competitive game! Go Green Bay Packers and Boston Red Sox (ok, Go Buffalo Bills also)!

My whole life growing up, we spent weekends boating on Lake Erie or up at my parents Lakehouse, so anything around the water. In the winter, its snowmobiling (living near Buffalo, NY, ya gotta find something to do in the winter!).

Professional development and travel are the things I enjoy doing the most for me ☺

Any secret talents you wish to share?

I have been referred to as the Whiteboard Ninja ☺ Some times I cannot even speak unless I have a dry erase marker in my hand! 

If you didn't take your current career path, what path do you think you would have taken?
Some sort of Entrepreneur - I like having the opportunity and ability to make a difference, to lead people, and to be challenged. Or something within the Psychology field, the mind is amazingly powerful and complex.

What three people, living or dead, do you wish you could have dinner with?

  • Oprah Winfrey – she has had such a life of adversity and never gave up; she is inspirational, dedicated to personal growth, is self-aware and is transparent. 
  • Loretta Litwiller, my gramma - She was hard working, humble, and was so light hearted about life. She made me laugh and I miss being able to be part of her approach to life.
  • Aaron Rodgers – Besides being a huge Green Bay Packers fan, he is an awesome quarterback and is pretty easy on the eyes!

What are 5 things you constantly have with you at your desk/bag/pocket?
Fortunately and unfortunately, my cell phone and my laptop. I usually carry a notebook, pen and/or dry erase whiteboard marker so that I can capture conversations. Most often, I have a snack of some sort – you never know if a meeting unexpectedly runs late – and I’m just a natural snacker! My chapstick