The KTP/LAP WiM organization hosted KTP Assistant Plant Manager Karen Mills at the March meeting as part of their Speaker Series. Karen shared her career path, learnings and observations with the women at KTP and LAP.
Karen Mills Bio
“I call myself the Ford nomad,” says KTP Assistant Plant Manager Karen Mills. And, in her almost 25 years with Ford, Karen has held 17 positions in 11 different plants, so the label is fitting and well earned.
Karen, a native of Michigan, is a graduate of GMI Engineering and Management Institute and spent her first ten years in the automotive industry at GM.
In 1994 Karen joined Ford at the Saline plant as a Maintenance Superintendent. Saline manufactured the instrument panels and consoles for most Ford vehicles at that time. In 1996, as a New Model Engineering Supervisor, Karen traveled to Hiroshima, Japan to work with Mazda on the development of the Escape and Mazda Tribute. Karen then moved to Milan plant as a Quality Manager. “This was during the Y2K panic so we were very focused on making sure none of our quality equipment and computer programs crashed,” commented Mills.
From Milan, she moved to the MBO (Manufacturing Business Office) as a Strategic Planner where she replaced another familiar KTP employee, Andrew Tapp. The next four years saw Mills at the Twin Cities Assembly Plant (TCAP). First as a Manufacturing Planning Manager and then Body Area Manager. During her time at TCAP, Karen was “loaned out” to Chicago Assembly (CAP) for the Ford 500 Launch. It is also during this time that she completed her six-sigma certification.
From there, she moved to the Susan Brennon region as the Productivity and Optimization Manager.
In October of 2005, Karen went to Wixom as the Body Area Manager and then Paint Area Manager. Wixom produced the Lincoln Town Car, LS, Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Thunderbird.
The closing of Wixom in 2007 took Karen to DDMP, also known as Dearborn Frame, as the Lean Manufacturing Manager. DDMP produced the frames for the Town Car and Crown Victoria, Ranger stampings, as wells as, the tire and axle assemblies the Dearborn Truck. Next, it was on to Woodhaven Stamping as Assembly Area Manager and then Press Area Manager.
Woodhaven lead to Ohio Assembly (OHAP) where Karen furthered her Ford experience as Body Area Manager, Final Area Manager and Quality Manager.
With her extensive experience in a wide variety of areas at Ford, Karen was a natural choice for the position of Assistance Plant Manager and joined Kentucky Truck Plant in August of 2018. At KTP she oversees Stamping and all areas of the SUV production.
“At a young age and as a woman in a male-dominant industry, I had to be assertive to get by the biases. It always felt like a fight not fit into those stereotypes. For example, anytime there was a celebration, someone would hand me the knife to cut the cake since I was usually the only woman in the room. I would not so politely point out that men can cut lots of things, including cake.”
“I think my greatest challenge over the years has been turning my high expectations into coaching moments and thinking about the people.” says Mills. “The culture at Ford has really changed in the past three years as new leadership is breaking the cycle of old-style management.”
Mills is excited about this new generation of workers and admires their energy, multi-tasking mind-set and efficiency. She thinks we underestimate their abilities and try to fit them into older workstyles instead of leveraging their strengths. Over her 24 years with Ford, she has seen women’s roles and responsibilities increase but still feels Ford could be doing better, but is on the right path.
In her years at Ford, Karen as experienced the many ups and downs in the auto industry, but one particular incident stands out as the most memorable. Arriving one morning at the now closed Wixom plant, she opened the door to her office to find a raccoon draped across her keyboard. Sometime during the night, one had fallen through the ceiling tiles into her office. Her fellow workers had trapped the animal and called local Animal Control but neglected to tell Karen. Needing paperwork for a morning meeting, Karen eased into the room and gently pulled the reports from under the raccoon as it watched her. “When I came back from my meeting my office looked like a crime scene. The raccoon was injured and had tried to climb the walls to get out. There was blood everywhere! You just aren’t prepared for that when you come to work”, said Mills.
Karen is a member of Theta Phi Alpha, and maintains an active network of sorority sisters, some for more than 30 years, across the nation. She believes in the sorority’s creed, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring” - St. Catherine of Siena.
Karen also enjoys travel and lists Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, and Germany as just some of the many places she’s visited. Her next travel plans are back to Germany where she has family. Another passion is her Harley Heritage Classic and some day she would like to cross off a bucket list item to ride Route 66.