Employee-Owner Profiles is a new feature that will highlight members of our team. As an employee-owned company, Sentry Equipment believes that employee ownership makes a difference. Our employee-owners are dedicated to hard work, positive results and continual improvement and innovation to provide our customers the highest quality products and services.
Materials Manager Karen Jones grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, as one of six children in a loud house that favored shouting over each other to listening to each other, with neighbors who were rumored to be connected to the Mob. In other words, a far cry from the cornfields and pastures of southeastern Wisconsin.
When she visited a cousin who lived in Oconomowoc, she met her husband, Bob. They married and eventually moved to Oconomowoc, where they raised their three sons, Robert, Daniel and Jack.
After years of staying home with her boys, Karen used her past experience in HR and payroll to join Sentry Equipment in 2006 as a purchasing clerk. Since that leap 11 years ago, she’s been promoted several times, from purchasing manager to procurement manager to her current role as materials manager.
She’s also advanced her education by earning a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Cardinal Stritch University, an opportunity she learned at a lunch-and-learn held at work.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” she says of her career. “Sentry’s been very good with providing opportunities. I feel really grateful.”
"Goodfellas and The Godfather (“I grew up hearing about mobsters, so it reminds me of home.”)"
Three things she’d take on a deserted island: "My husband, a book (right now I’m reading Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty) and a way to watch movies.”
Did she know how to pronounce Oconomowoc before working at Sentry Equipment? “Yes!”
Finding The Leader Within
Karen never considered herself a leader, but a leadership training opportunity changed her mind. “I’ve grown a lot through leadership training. I found the leader within me,” she says.
Now she is Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) through APICS, which amped up her supply chain management skills and helped her strategically streamline operations at Sentry Equipment. She’s also been instrumental in helping her 14 teammates to get APICS exposure, which she says allows her team to share best practices and understand why the department operates the way it does.
“It helps everyone know why we do things one way; for example, why we scrap some parts instead of keeping them. Or understand why buying a smaller batch of something – and not a year’s worth – is the most cost-effective choice,” she says.
Her day usually starts with a stop in the shop and a meeting with the supervisors of shipping and receiving to see what they need. She also handles inventory management, including shipping, and is working with the customer service department to efficiently hand off shipping from the sales team. In addition, she is learning about regulations and compliance, especially as it pertains to international shipping regulations.
Every day is different, but Karen always brings a strong sense of process and order to a system that can sometimes feel chaotic. “One variable changes and everything has to be revisited. I think it’s what I thrive on,” she says. “I love what I do.”
She recently visited Cobra Sampling, a Houston-based company Sentry Equipment acquired to create a Process Monitoring Tech Center that will better meet the demands of refining and petrochemical customers. She reviewed the purchasing and managing inventory process to assess how to improve the supply chain during the acquisition and beyond.
Now she’s focused on increasing the sophistication of technology in her department, particularly in barcoding and scanning, and automating traceability to further streamline operations – an ever-evolving process. “We’re always open to changing,” she says. “We’re always asking, ‘What do we need to do to adjust?’ It’s fun.”
She says she’s proud of the accomplishments her group has made together, especially a significant improvement in supplier on-time performance. “If they’re late, we’re late,” she says. Her team uses a supplier scorecard that measures on-time performance, which helps us maintain an average on-time rate of 93%.
A Place Of Pride
As an employee owner, Karen feels a deep sense of commitment to Sentry and its customers because she feels the company is just as committed to her. “You’re in it for definitely a sense of pride and ownership,” she says. “It’s a generous and good place to be.”
She learned the meaning of that promise five years ago, when she lost her son Dan at the age of 25 to addiction.
In the abyss of grief, work turned into an oasis. “It’s what gets you back on track. It was nice to come back,” she says of returning to work after the funeral. She drew on the lessons she learned in leadership training, particularly around servant leadership, to cope with her grief by starting a support group for bereaved parents. “It’s really rewarding to bring people together,” she says.
One the one-year anniversary of Dan’s death, Sentry CEO Brian Baker called Karen into his office to let her know he remembered the significance of the day. The memory of that moment brings tears to her eyes. “The fact that he remembered, it just meant so much to me,” she says. “And every person I worked with was just as thoughtful – they all said something to me, which is hard when you lose a child to addiction.”
Now her oldest son Robert lives in Chicago and is expecting her first grandchild in September. Her youngest son Jack is a student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After 35 years of marriage, Karen and Bob have discovered a new hobby: riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They’re part of their own “gang” that has traveled together around Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Memphis.
In 10 years, she hopes to be retired and traveling with Bob. But for now, she’s happy to keep growing her skills and working with her team.
“I feel like I’m never done learning,” she says. “I’m not content. I want to do more here.”