For many of those who work at Waupaca Foundry, the opportunity for advancement motivates them to excel.
They pass on their sense of opportunity to their children, who also come to work at the Foundry.
Doug Draeger is a project engineer who has been at the foundry for 30 years.
“When I started here, my first four years were in production,” Draeger said. “I went to school nights, but I learned more on the job.”
He has an associate’s degree in mechanical design, about half of which was covered by the foundry.
Tim Botting has been at Waupaca Foundry for 21 years.
“I was hired in the core room, then there was an opening for a truck driver,” Botting said.
Since 1996, Botting has worked in the warehouse.
“Anybody has a chance to be a team leader. Anybody has a chance to be a supervisor,” Botting said. “If you just want to come in and punch a clock, you might not last here. But if you want to work hard, you have an opportunity to grow.”
Waupaca Foundry has a history of training its employees. Many of those in management started in production and, through education, moved into leadership positions.
The company offers advancement through specific career paths for individual employees.
Because the foundry relies on skilled expertise throughout the process of creating castings, it offers technical training.
The foundry offers management training for employees who want to move into supervisory or management positions.
The foundry will also reimburse employees who take approved courses at technical colleges or four-year universities.
A summer intern program gives college students an opportunity to learn about how the foundry works.
“I started as a summer student in 2010 working in the stockroom,” said Deandre Draeger, whose father is a project engineer.
Deandre spent two summers doing inventory and moving materials from the warehouse to where they were needed in the plant.
“She was actually a very good forklift driver,” Botting said.
“It was fun to come to work here,” Deandre said.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in human resources and marketing, Deandre was hired full time in October 2012 as a human resources assistant.
“I mostly deal with the paperwork side of things,” she said, adding that she also helps plan for the company’s annual summer picnic, the anniversary parties for long-term employees and the Christmas party.
Her professional education continues.
“I just started my master’s program in HR management,” Deandre said, noting that she is taking online courses through Denver University.
“We promote very heavily from within,” according to Joey Leonard, Waupaca Foundry’s vice president of human resources. “There are plenty of high school graduates who come here and decide they want to improve themselves. We offer 100 percent tuition reimbursement. Waupaca Foundry recognizes talent even if they haven’t been formally educated.”
The training and educational opportunities are part of the foundry’s larger commitment to continuous improvement.
At every level of production and management, Waupaca Foundry has implemented steps to ensure continuous improvement.
Waupaca Foundry maintains a Quality Management System and is certified to ISO 9001 and ISO/TS 16949 standards at all six plants.
The equipment is constantly checked, the castings are all inspected and the sand and metal are tightly monitored for quality.
The foundry has programs in place, such as Kaizen, Six Sigma and Lean Production Systems that help monitor and improve production efficiency and workplace safety.
As project engineer, Doug Draeger has been among the foundry’s employees who contribute to continuous improvement.
“I’ve designed machines to shake out the castings faster,” Draeger said, noting that he helped with the design and the installation of the equipment.
“The rotors come in on a thick belt and are going in a circular motion all the time so they get clean faster,” Draeger said. “We’ve had these machines in operation for at least a decade before anyone else did.”
Draeger described how one design he worked on started as a drawing on a bar napkin.
He is also responsible for ensuring that the equipment is safe to operate.
“People bring up safety issues. Hopefully, you can fix them right away or you develop a plan to fix them,” Draeger said.
Teamwork, leadership, individual responsibility
Dan Botting has been at the foundry for almost 15 years. He is currently the molding supervisor for third shift at Plant 3.
He describes his job as “making sure we make the best quality parts we can as fast as we can.”
He started as a vertical molding machine operator in October 1999, joined the Marines in 2003, served for four years, then returned to the foundry. In January 2009, he was recalled to the Marines for one year.
“When I came back to the molding department at the beginning of 2010, I came back as a team leader rather than an operator,” Dan said.
“The foundry embraced the leadership skills he showed in the Marines and used it here,” Tim Botting added.
Dan noted that he works with nearly every department every day.
“I work with the melt department, the core room and the mill room, Dan said. “I work with management on better ways to make molds, better ideas for safety.”
Tim said one of the things he most appreciates about working at the foundry is that he is not micro-managed by his immediate supervisor.
He also appreciates that working at the foundry is like being part of a team.
“When I first started here as a helper in the core room, a guy came up to me, tapped me on the back and said, ‘Hi. I’m Gary Thoe.’ I’ve never had a CEO come up to me before,” Tim said.
“Gary Thoe would walk through the plant and shake a lot of hands. He was really down to earth,” Doug recalled.
The former president and CEO of Waupaca Foundry, Thoe started working there in September 1955, a few months after graduating from Iola High School.
In a September 2004 interview with the Waupaca County Post, Thoe recalled that his first job was hauling castings in a wagon from the foundry to the finishing shop. He said he was chosen for the job, in part, because he grew up on a farm and could operate the tractor that towed the wagon.
Thoe later worked as a grinder and finisher, then he worked in molding after he turned 18. By the time he was 20, Thoe was a supervisor. He was promoted to Plant 1 manager in 1965, then manager of manufacturing, overseeing all the foundry’s plants, in 1974. He became president and chief executive officer in 1988.
“This isn’t a one-man show by any means,” Thoe said when he retired in 2004. “I just happened to be selected to leadership.”
Waupaca Foundry’s philosophy of teamwork and individual responsibility has continued.
The foundry’s current CEO, Gary Gigante, started as a metallurgist at the Marinette plant. He was promoted to plant manager in Marinette in 1986, then later to vice-president of manufacturing. Gigante became the foundry’s CEO in 2007.
Thoe, who attended a 14-week management course at Harvard Business School in 1979 as part of his preparation to become head of the foundry, said in 2004, “It’s a lot easier to teach a good foundry man and give him an education than it is to hire a MBA and put him into the foundry.”