Bye Makes Mark on the Industry

Jean Bye, president and CEO of AFS Corporate Member Dotson Iron Castings (Mankato, Minnesota) didn’t intend to spend her career in metalcasting, let alone at the same company. Yet opportunity, flexibility and stimulating responsibilities kept her at the iron casting facility, starting as a summer hire in high school and college and culminating at the helm of Dotson and as the 2018 AFS President.

“As a student, I had more interest in business and manufacturing. Fast-food or retail held no interest for me,” said Bye, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and also has an MBA. “Through college, I came back during the summers and school breaks and became more involved in a variety of projects and learned more about the foundry.”

Bye wasn’t expecting to return to Mankato after graduation until her husband landed a job there. She started out full-time at Dotson in human resources before moving through customer service, IT, purchasing, accounting and supervision roles.

“Lean has always been my passion,” Bye said. “At one point, I became involved in all our lean efforts and after that moved on to two or three years supervising operations, engineering and then sales.

“When you have been somewhere a long time, you get involved in a lot of areas cross functionally and at a high level,” she said. “ If you think you are the expert in everything, you will fail. It’s about bringing out the best in people and helping them solve issues strategically - without personally having the answers in every area.”

Bye became CEO of Dotson in 2010 after the person who hired her, Dennis Dotson, stepped down from the role. Dennis Dotson was an encouraging guide to Bye and advised her to join AFS and play an active role within the society.

“I was mentored, coached, and supported regarding joining AFS. Being involved was an intentional portion of my career path,” Bye said.

With her background in business administration, Bye used her time on the AFS Board and as AFS President to advocate for the management side of metalcasting within the Society.

“While technical is important and AFS has a strong technical presence there a multiple facets that need to be considered which includes the non-technical. I think the management council is going to be a big deal for AFS and an opportunity for an additional subset of employees to get involved at an industry level,” Bye said.

“You don’t see foundries go out of business very often because of technical mismanagement; it’s usually due to talent, strategic or financial mismanagement.”

Along with separating the AFS Division structure into two councils—Technical and Management—AFS is putting out a new conference in February for the management sector of the industry. The Metalcasting Management and Development Summit, to be held Feb. 7-8 in Charleston, South Carolina, offers sessions geared to anyone in the industry who leads or has aspirations to lead their company’s workforce to motivate talent and enhance the culture.

As CEO of Dotson, Bye has successfully continued the traditions of employee engagement established by Dennis Dotson, while putting her own stamp on the business’s strides in lean, 5S and value stream mapping.

 “Our foundry sells itself well,” Bye said. “We continue to improve on continuous flow of production, agility, and inventory resulting in a 5-day lead time.”

One of Bye’s biggest challenges as a leader came in 2017 when a major fire at the foundry caused more than $10 million damage and put it out of commission for 30 days. But Bye and the team she had in place were up to the test. While working determinedly toward opening up the foundry with as little delay as possible, Bye ensured no one would be laid off. During the recovery, workers without assigned fire recovery roles were dispersed throughout the Mankato community to help improve community parks, serve the local VINE Faith in Action and provide service to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota. These efforts earned Dotson a national Manufacturing Leadership Award from the Manufacturing Leadership Council and the Made in Minnesota Manufacturing Award in Community Impact from Minnesota Business Magazine.

“I’m super proud of the way our team pulled together and exceeded the expectations of customers,” Bye said. “It’s about the team and the way they work. They are proud of the short lead times and high-quality standards—it’s just what they do.”

Bye was the first woman to serve on the AFS executive board and started her term as AFS President in April 2018. Her term will be over in April 2019. She is a founding member of AFS’ Women in Metalcasting group and served as a board member of the Ductile Iron Society, Mankato Area YMCA, and the Minnesota Safety Council.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the January 2019 issue of Modern Casting