Steel News

AWMI Annual Conference Provides Opportunities to Grow, Educate, Network and Mentor

11/19/2013 - More than 160 metals industry professionals gathered in Nashville, Tenn., 14–16 November for the Association of Women in the Metal Industries’ (AWMI) 2013 annual conference to hear industry updates and motivational speakers, to network and for leadership training.
AWMI is an international, professional organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the advancement of women in the metal industries. AWMI’s membership totaled 1,163 in 2013. It is made up of 21 individual chapters organized into five regions throughout the U.S. and Canada. The first chapters were founded in 1981, and the association continues to grow, with the latest chapter (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky) formed in 2012.
On the afternoon of Thursday, 14 November, board members from all 21 chapters gathered for leadership training sessions led by AWMI international president Tamela Olt of SSAB Americas and the other international executive committee members. Chapter leaders heard presentations and participated in exercises on membership, programs, marketing, mentoring and financials.
After a networking reception, conference delegates heard from the opening dinner keynote speaker, Leslie Shuman, director of operations readiness — Tennessee automotive expansion at Alcoa Inc. Ms. Shuman spoke on Alcoa’s many diversity initiatives — including gender, racial and sexual orientation groups, among others — and how they have affected her as a leader. Engaging and inspiring, Ms. Shuman shared the story of her growth in the Alcoa organization and the importance of values, connections, and role models in professional and personal growth. With 28 years of experience in the metals industry, Ms. Shuman has never been more optimistic for the opportunities for women. “Those who came before us paved a path. Now we have a seat at the table,” she said. “We must honor their legacy by continuing to do our part, fostering inclusion in the workplace by aligning actions with values, making time to connect and lift up other women, and embracing being the best role models we can be.”
Honored at the opening dinner was AWMI’s 2012 International Member of the Year, Lauren Kerekes, international treasurer and member of the Columbus Chapter. Ms. Kerekes was recognized for her service to the association and for exemplifying AWMI’s goals of education, mentoring, networking and growth. An AWMI member since 2004, she currently works for Worthington Cylinders as regional controller.
The meeting continued with a full agenda on Friday, 15 November. Kicking off the morning was Ronne Froman, a retired U.S. Navy 2-star admiral, who gave an inspirational speech on how to succeed in traditionally male environments, describing her struggles to become the first woman commander of Navy Region Southwest. Ms. Froman stressed the importance of teamwork: building a team, empowering the team and mentoring the team.  Much of what Ms. Froman had to say could be used not just in professional life, but in one’s personal life as well. “Have a positive attitude no matter what. Know what to fight for and know when to let go. Be a problem solver, not a problem maker,” she encouraged the women in the audience. “A sense of humor is absolutely critical. Have fun and don’t take life too seriously. Always tell the truth; it’s much easier. Listen to your gut.” Ms. Froman also shared her view of the future: “Someday, lady admirals will not be a rarity, and one will be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And the president will be a woman. And your daughters will be presidents of your companies and chairpersons of your boards. Most importantly, what I see in the future: women will be respected around the world, no longer be subjected to mutilation and prejudices and subjugation. And we’ll no longer have to tell girls that they can do anything. But until that happens, it’s up to each of you to share your stories and to support each other. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
A metals panel followed, with presentations from representatives of the aluminum, carbon steel and red metals industries. Doug Rife, sales manager at Nucor Steel Arkansas, gave an outlook for the steel industry, noting that trends in the industry are pointing in the right direction. Things will really start to turn around after 2014, with 2015–2017 being solid years for the industry. Jeffrey Henderson, marketing director of Sapa Extrusions North America, said the aluminum extrusions industry is cautiously optimistic for 2014, as there is some optimism for continued recovery in the North American market, especially within the automotive and housing industries. Thomas Werner, vice president of marketing and sales for Olin Brass, said there is much hope in the copper industry, especially for his company’s CuVerro® antimicrobial copper surfaces which kill bacteria naturally and help stop the spread of infections. The product has much potential for creating a safer environment in hospitals, schools, hotels and nursing homes, he said.
At an association business meeting during lunch, Carol Chizmar, AWMI international membership chair, announced the recipient of the first Chapter of the Year award. The annual award recognizes the chapter that meets their annual membership goal and exceeds the previous year’s final number by the greatest percentage. The California Chapter met 156% of its membership goal, clinching the award. The second place winner was the Pittsburgh Chapter, with 154% of its goal, and third place went to the Birmingham Chapter, which reached 143% of its goal.
An afternoon keynote session featured Rick Youngblood, director/plant manager — power train operations, at Nissan North America. Mr. Youngblood focused on leadership and the differences between being a manager and being a leader. “Managers manage processes. Leaders lead people. In the end, it’s always about the people,” he emphasized. He also shared his “Ten Commandments of Leadership.”
An automotive supply chain panel in the afternoon covered the great opportunities for the metals industry in North America. John Hollander, senior vice president — automotive sales at Steel Technologies, said his company has seen an incredible uptick of business in the automotive sector. His company is in the process of commissioning new eco pickled surface (EPS) technology at its plant in Mexico to utilize the new eco-friendly, green alternative to traditional acid pickling. Julie Farr, sales account manager at Timken, detailed how key market drivers, including pent-up demand and fuel efficiency improvements, as well as technology shifts, including transmission, engine and fuel redesigns, are creating opportunities for suppliers. Steve Rutledge, owner of IKE Transportation Inc., spoke on the need for superior customer service and the importance of relationships in business. He reminded the audience how important it is to remember that you’re not just in the trucking — or steel or metals — business, but you’re “in the people business.”
On Saturday, 16 November, each of the five AWMI regions met for individual regional meetings, where board members gave updates on each chapter and the chapters shared ideas on a variety of issues. The International Board of Directors held its meeting later that afternoon.
Several optional tours, including one of a Nissan plant, were offered as part of the conference, as were fun optional events such as “An Evening of Honky Tonks & Nashville Night Life.” A hospitality suite sponsored by the AWMI Southern Region provided an opportunity for further networking, and members of various AWMI regions interacted through a fun game. New friendships and business relationships were formed through the many conference activities.
One thing is evident from AWMI’s annual conference: it helps the association realize each of its goals: to Grow, Educate, Network and Mentor, thereby providing opportunities for individuals to achieve each one.
Next year’s conference will be held in Savannah, Ga., 13–15 November 2014. For more information about the association, visit
 Written by Laura Miller, AIST industry news editor and AWMI Pittsburgh Chapter president