For Pineville production manager, success driven by communication, people-first focus
At IPEX’s Pineville, North Carolina facility, investments in new technology, processes and innovation are boosting employee morale every day — but for Extrusion Production Manager Steve Miller, keeping people, diversity and communication at the heart of the production process are the real key to making sure his team not only produces the best piping solutions in the business, but also continues to feel heard and supported.
Mentorship to leadership
Looking to grow his career and make a difference, Steve joined IPEX’s Pineville plant in 2006 after working in manufacturing roles with a couple of other large companies. He started his IPEX journey as a Molding Supervisor before progressing into an Extrusion Supervisor role.
“I came in, and I felt that my knowledge that I had learned at other facilities was going to help IPEX out,” he says. “And it did–it worked out great for both of us.”
He was promoted to Extrusion Production Manager of the Pineville plant in January 2020, and he currently manages seven supervisors in the extrusion department, with responsibility for overseeing 80 IPEX employees.
Mentorship has been a vital part of Steve’s career journey. After turning down his current role twice over the years due to not feeling ready, he finally accepted after his mentor, former Extrusion Plant Manager and current Director of Manufacturing at Pineville, Johnny Drummond, convinced him that the time was right for a leadership role.
“He had that insight that I didn’t have in myself. He knew that I could do the job, and after I started doing it, I just took off with it,” says Steve. “In the back of his mind, he always knew what it would take to make a good team, and I’m part of that good team, and he encouraged me when I thought there was no encouragement.”
Diversity in focus
Steve is now supporting and leading his team with the same vision, building on IPEX’s focus on fostering diversity throughout the entire organization.
Following the welcoming of his team’s first female member in recent months, Steve has been driving to increase the diversity of his traditionally male-dominated teams even further, with more women set to start shortly.
“We’re mixing things up, and that’s one thing about IPEX I really do enjoy – because if you’ve got the skill and the talent, nothing else matters. At the end of the day, we all want to be successful and be safe,” he says. “Just because you’re different, it doesn’t mean your experience doesn’t count, and that’s what makes us better.”
Investments in state-of-the art technology
Steve’s team is responsible for ensuring the pipe production process within the Pineville plant runs smoothly with every shift, and they’ve received a boost recently with new technology.
For example, the extrusion department has three new high-speed CPVC extruders that have increased production with less down time, allowing employees to produce products faster and get them to the customer ahead of schedule. In September, the department installed a new grinder that grinds twice as much, and three times as fast as the previous model.
Next year, construction will also begin on a state-of-the-art, fully automated compound facility that will be capable of producing material twice as fast, with more capacity.
A personal approach to management
While developments in automation are vital to help enhance productivity in the department, strong communication and a people-first approach remains at the centre of Steve’s management style.
“It all starts with people, and IPEX does not at all put pipe before people. That’s something I can honestly say,” says Steve.
When he arrives at work for a typical day shift at 5:30 a.m., his first stop is the production floor – with the aim of listening to the feedback of the night shift employees who may not yet have had an opportunity to share concerns with management.
“I start off every morning and I tell the team, ‘I might not make it to your department, but you know I’m on the floor. There’s one way to get to my office and one way out of my office. My door’s always open,’” Steve explains.
Steve also decided to move morning production meetings from the conference room to the more central extrusion production office, to increase visibility and participation from the entire department.
The benefits of open communication
Taking steps to open the lines of communication, he says, changes employees’ perception of management and creates a new dialogue – so when the meeting’s over, team members have the opportunity to bring up issues, concerns or ask questions. This, he says, is necessary to ensure the safety, well-being and job satisfaction of everyone working in extrusion.
“People unseen are voices unheard. We need to discuss some things before we hit that production floor,” says Steve. “We need to have that communication. That’s one thing I’m super big on.”
In Steve’s department – and IPEX as a whole — employees are always pushing to do better and move forward, whether that drive is coming from managers and supervisors, or from unexpected voices.
“Our footprint in Pineville is small, but what we do here is so much bigger.”