Employees supply the power at Miller

By Monique Balas. Originally printed in the Appleton Post Crescent Fox Valley Inc., February 18, 2004

The real power fueling Miller's welders isn't electricity, says the company's top executive.

It's the more than 1,000 employees behind the scenes, designing and building the tools, according to its president.

"Empowerment and trust are key parts of our values," Mike Weller said. "These people make very good decisions outside of work, decisions that are more important than what we have

inside of work, such as to get married, raise a family. And if they can do those well, and many times they do, they can certainly help us run our company."

In 1982, the company came up with a process of employee involvement focusing on safety and cost savings.

In 2002, the "Mission Possible" program was established, a program that "fosters not only organizational goals, but also giving back to the community," said Mary Felton, director of Human Resources.

"We have one of the most empowered work forces in the Valley, if not the state," Weller said. "Our average seniority is 19 years and our turnover is less than 2 percent."

Miller workers are encouraged to make suggestions.

"These people are engaged. Do all people want to be engaged? Not all of them do," Weller said, "but they know it's a requirement we're asking of them. They're not just here to do things, they're here to often think and contribute."

Tom Bartel, who has been a lineworker at Miller for the past 35 years, is a prime example.

Bartel works in the plasma plant, where a banner hangs across the wall with the words, "Simplicity, Trust, Empower, Flow and Focus."

Bartel suggested a change to the product packaging that was ultimately integrated into the company's processes.

"It's the people out on the line that come up with ideas," he said.

Brian Stark, a 14-year Miller veteran, has a succinct description of his role at Miller: "They try to let us deal with things we feel aren't right," he said.

Each month, Stark and his co-workers attend a "shop committee" meeting, during which they discuss working conditions and ask questions. "They really listen to you now, they try to get everyone involved," he said.