Meet Team Kadant - Al Ives, Director of Engineering
Department/Title: Director of Engineering
Worked at Kadant Johnson Since: 1993
Tell me about your career path and how you got to Kadant Johnson.
My experience prior to Kadant Johnson was diverse and it started at a young age. I worked many different jobs while I was in school from working on local farms and on a logging crew to working at a local ski resort.
While in college I worked for several different building and excavating contractors and did some contracting work on my own. The jobs ranged from framing, roofing, and finish work to survey, excavating, concrete, and masonry. In addition to construction, I was also contracting farm services, primarily detasseling and derouging crews for Pioneer Hybrids.
I spent my senior year in college working as a co-op at James River Corporation in Kalamazoo, now Graphics Packaging. That was my first experience in the paper industry. I left that job when I graduated from Western Michigan University with a BSME degree and went to work full time on my Dad's logging crew while I searched for the perfect engineering job. Two years later, I found that job working as a fuel systems development engineer for Caterpillar.
Working for Caterpillar was a great experience and challenging one. In addition to working in the product development department, I was able to work directly in the automated assembly area building fuel injectors and I spent several weeks working in the maintenance department repairing production machines.
After two years working for Caterpillar we moved back to Michigan and I started as a project manager at what was then The Johnson Corporation, now Kadant Johnson. I had the privilege of working for a great leader and mentor and was able to apply the knowledge that I gained in engineering school along with the widely varying work experience I had. That was over 25 years ago and I'm still learning new things.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Working with great people from all over the world. It is a unique aspect of our company and it really puts world politics and the global economy into a more personal perspective!
I really enjoy being able to create new products/processes or ideas that have a noticeable positive impact on the company. Kadant is unique in that regard because we are made up of a group of individual businesses with a diverse product line. The size of the company is large enough to ensure we maintain a high level of diversity but small enough to allow each division to have a meaningful impact. We can see the effects of our development efforts in the financial results of the division as well as the corporation.
How do you mentor your team and help them grow?
Working with new or younger engineers and designers is very rewarding. I try to focus on a relatively small number of topics at any given time to allow the person enough time to focus effectively on the subject at hand and thoroughly understand it. Creating a list of items to choose from is usually helpful but I also think it's important for each person to create a list of their own ideas, regardless if the topics are directly related to their current job or not. The focus should be on helping each team member grow personally as well as professionally.
What words of wisdom would you share with someone starting out in engineering?
Read “The Unwritten Laws of Engineering”, by W. J. King before starting your first job. Read it again at the midpoint of your first year working as an engineer and then periodically throughout your career.
Tell me about your family.
My wife Teresa and I celebrated our 26th anniversary last year. We have three daughters, four horses, a dog, a rabbit, and four cats. It's amazing how many pets you wind up with when you have three daughters! I wouldn't trade any of it, even though the horses are a lot of work. Our daughters love them, and it's been a great way for the girls to grow up.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My Dad. The life lessons that he taught me as a kid and young adult proved themselves time after time.
What do you like to do in your free time and why?
With all the kids' sports events, horses, our family farm, and careers there isn't much free time left. We usually spend it with our extended family, camping, running, swimming, biking, fishing, hunting, building/projects, gardening, and planting trees.