JM’s Women’s Inclusive Network group, WIN@JM, connects female employees and provides a forum for engagement around topics that uniquely impact women within Johns Manville.
Recently the group interviewed Erica Kemp, Production Superintendent at the JM Engineered Products site in Etowah, TN. Learn about Erica’s background, career, and advice for the next generation of powerful women at JM.
Name: Erica Kemp
Title: Production Superintendent
Division: Engineered Products
At JM since: 2018
What is your background?
I have a degree in Chemical engineering from the University of Delaware. I started straight out of school in process engineering and have worked in building products manufacturing my whole career. After process engineering, I went into production supervision. I had a role as a process improvement manager and then a quality and engineering management role. For the last 12 years, I’ve worked in operations management.
Along the way, I got an MBA from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. In my career I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in Pennsylvania, Oregon (two times), Georgia and now in Tennessee. My family and I love living in East Tennessee; the weather here is great and we enjoy being next to the Appalachian Mountains. We like being in the country and the people here are very authentic.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia, living in the same town my whole childhood I was an exchange student in Liechtenstein, a country between Switzerland and Austria, for a year before college. Visiting Liechtenstein was something I became interested in during my senior year for a different experience, and this opportunity to travel kickstarted traveling for my career.
How did you end up at JM?
The last plant I worked at shut down, so I began looking for a new opportunity and JM was hiring at the time. I had a chance to meet the plant manager at that time, and I loved meeting a female plant manager, which was very inspiring. I enjoyed working for a woman in operations; it felt right. I felt like this was the place that was calling to me next in my career.
Tell us about any turning points in your career.
Every job along the way has been a turning point; I had to learn so many different things about the job and the organization and also about myself. From being an engineer to a leader, I figured out that while I loved process engineering, I also enjoy the opportunity to help develop other teams and people.
The first experience that I had on a plant leadership team was becoming a quality and engineering manager in Georgia. I was the first woman on the plant leadership team, and it was a different experience to go from a manufacturing organization where there were many strong women in leadership roles, to one that had very few. This experience gave me the opportunity to grow in later roles and help develop other women engineers.
What is your perspective on work life balance?
You have to go above and beyond and put in time and effort, but you also need to make sure you enjoy the times when production is running well and celebrate your successes. I am a mom of two boys and my husband has supported me in my career; he’s the primary caregiver for our children. I always make sure I take quality time for family.
What kinds of challenges have you faced and how have you worked through them?
Everyone has challenges in their career, but it’s what you make of them. To me, everywhere has a different culture that you need to understand and learn when you go to different organizations. Take the time to understand how people work together and develop relationships to be successful. I see challenges as opportunities; it’s all about perspective.
Do you have any guidelines, principles, values, or specific life lessons that you have leaned on during your career? If so, tell us about them.
You have to do the right thing when no one else is watching. This is fundamental. Whether it’s safety, quality, or something else, I make sure that I am working on learning and developing every day. I focus on developing either the technical side of things or interactions on how people work and how they can be more successful. If you get so bogged down in day-to-day, things get very stale and frustrating.
Tell us about your family.
I could talk about my kids all day! My son just got his learner’s permit and is excited about learning to drive. My youngest is into tumbling, and he’s learning how to do backflips right now. My husband is very into farm life; we bought a small farm and have 24 chickens and a vegetable garden. We love it and have been really lucky that with COVID we didn’t have to worry about being inside all of the time because we had the space to spread out.
I enjoy leadership books. Simon Sinek and Patrick Lencioni are some of my favorite authors. A fiction novel I just read was Demon Copperhead. It was interesting because it is about the Appalachians and the rural struggle, set in Virginia but not far from the Tennessee border.
What do you do for fun or in your spare time?
My family and I do Taekwondo and are all first-degree black belts! By June 2024 we want to get second-degree black belts. It’s really cool to do Taekwondo as a family. We started in Oregon and have continued over the past few years. My husband wanted to do it as a way for exercise and health, and it turned out to be something we could do as a family. It challenges me to do things differently and stay healthy, and I particularly love the process of working toward levels and goals and obtaining achievements. We’ve always stayed at the same level as a family, which helps us to continue to develop good teamwork and accountability skills.
I really enjoy anything that we grow and can eat. Eggs, kale, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries – I get excited about that. It’s a double accomplishment: a nice meal and the satisfaction of knowing we grew the food!
What is the best advice you would give to your younger self or next generation of women?
I think the best thing you can do is to not limit yourself in any way. When you work hard and work at something and you try different things, the sky is the limit. I don’t feel like there is a glass ceiling; it’s up to you and the choices you make. There are opportunities out there, so don’t limit yourself.
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