TS: Deanna Ellis, your title is “Plant Manager of Elgin Fastener’s Telefast Division”. To my knowledge, in the fastener industry there are not a lot of female plant managers. But, you paid your dues and worked your way up to that position and have held this position for many years. But first, let’s travel back in time a bit. How did you first get into the fastener industry?
Deanna: When I started at Telefast, Jeff Ferry was the owner. I was introduced to Jeff Ferry by his brother. Over the next couple of years, I moved into different roles, HR, AP/AR and the assistant to Jeff Ferry. After Jeff Ferry passed away his wife Kathleen Ferry took over formally running the company and I slowly moved more into the operations side of the business. Under Kathleen I learned about the company from the financial side and the operations side. I eventually started scheduling the production floor and just being more involved in the operation. Kathleen was a great mentor and she showed me every aspect of the business from the P&L to how to build, manage and lead a team.
TS: How did you transition into the manufacturing side of the business?
Deanna: Kathleen was the owner at this time and asked if I would be interested in learning other parts of the business. I think Kathleen noticed that I have a knack for setting up systems and processes and felt it would be a good fit. I was always willing to help or learn something new, so I moved into purchasing the tooling and eventually moved into scheduling when the opportunity came up. As I started scheduling the primary machines, I eventually took over scheduling the secondary machines and scheduling what needed to be done in our toolroom. Once I started spending more time out on the production floor I was hooked. I really enjoyed working with the operators as a team to get the product out the door.
TS: Today, you run a plant that manufactures nuts. But previously, bolts were also produced at Telefast. What different types of fastener products have been produced at factories where you were the Plant Manager?
Deanna: In the 30 years I have been in the fastener industry, I have always worked only at Telefast but in past years we produced nuts, standard hex head cap screws on our bolt makers and specialty bolts on our #89 & #56 Nationals.
TS: Have you personally run parts in your production facilities?
Deanna: Yes, I have run tappers and helped run the CNC machines that we use to make our tooling.
TS: Telefast is a division of the Elgin Fastener Group. Tell us a little bit more about Elgin.
Deanna: Sure, happy to do that. Elgin is made up of seven manufacturing plants. Three of those plants specialize in small screws (Holbrook, Rockford and Leland Powell), another one does bent wire products (Northern Wire) , another concentrates on larger diameter cold formed bolts (Quality Bolt). Ohio Rod is another unique operation as they make cold formed bolts but they can produce parts up to 84 inches long. And then of course there is Telefast which only makes nuts. We also have a few facilities that can do plating but for the most part those plants are plating our own parts.
TS: Is everything you make special order or do you stock some items?
Deanna: Of the Elgin factories, Telefast is the only plant that does stock some off the shelf items and those would be domestically produced hex nuts, but a lot of what we do are made-to-print special parts. There are very few manufacturers of domestic nuts these days in the fastener industry.
TS: Great, thanks for that info. Lets switch back to your career in the fastener industry for a moment. Have there been specific challenges you feel you have faced being a woman in what has been traditionally a male dominated role?
Deanna: I think earning the respect of the operators was difficult.
TS: How were you able to overcome that?
Deanna: By working with them. By helping them with whatever they needed to get done. Like helping get something fixed or ordering tooling or helping solve whatever issue comes up and listening to their issues. With each small step you build more credibility.
TS: What challenges have you seen in manufacturing over the last few years? What are some of the biggest challenges in manufacturing today?
Deanna: Finding skilled workers has been the biggest challenge over the past few years and will be for the future. With the younger generations focused on going to college we have seen a drop in candidates who want to work not just in manufacturing facilities but also skilled labor positions.
TS: So, you’ve worked hard and been able to establish yourself in the fastener manufacturing world. What about your time away from work?
Deanna: I am lucky there. I have been married for almost 30 years to my wonderful husband Mike. I have raised three great kids (two boys and a girl) and all have graduated from college. And we are excited because one of my sons is getting married in July, 2024. So, I am fortunate to have found that nice balance between work life and home life.
Note from TS: I have a regular column in Fastener Technology International (FTI) magazine called 10 Minutes with the Traveling Salesman, which can be read online at www.fastenertech.com Subscriptions to FTI, print and digital editions, are free-of-charge for fastener manufacturers, distributors and users as ell as suppliers to the industry.