A Catalyst for Growth
Industry trailblazer Jean Bye, retired CEO of Dotson Iron Castings, took her career at a Minnesota iron foundry and broadened it exponentially through service to the U.S. metalcasting industry on a national level. Through mentorship in the AFS Women in Metalcasting division, leadership in metalcasting technical societies like AFS, and friendship with peers worldwide, Bye has pushed the boundaries of what can be achieved by foundries as well as represented a path to the boardroom for women during an era of the industry when very few were in management.
Modern Casting approached Bye to discuss her legacy and her outlook on the future of the industry.
Q: What’s your background in the foundry industry?
Bye: I started in the foundry industry in 1974. My first significant responsibilities were for human resources, culture, and safety, and that experience has stayed with me and influenced my decisions over the rest of my career. Over the years, I added responsibility for administration, finance, manufacturing, engineering, and sales before moving into the position of CEO. I’ve been involved in leadership positions at both Ductile Iron Society and American Foundry Society. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the industry at the international level attending GIFA in Germany frequently, attending the WFO including speaking at their meeting in Rome, and seeking out leading-edge foundry practices while visiting foundries in Turkey, Thailand, China, Japan, Germany, Poland, and Italy.
Q: How and when did you first become involved with AFS?
Bye: Early in my career, I attended a variety of training seminars and local AFS chapter meetings. Over the years, I’ve given quite a few speeches to the industry on subjects such as lean, agility, culture, cost drivers, disaster recovery, and dealing with adversity. Most recently, I served on the AFS Board of Directors, worked on getting the Women in Metalcasting group started, and worked my way through the chairs to President of the Society. I’m currently serving on the AFS Board of Awards and will deliver the Hoyt Memorial Lecture for AFS this April.
Q: What has kept you active in the Society?
Bye: The knowledge sharing and the networking. Our industry is made up of a great group of people. Being involved is both enjoyable and beneficial to your career and your foundry. This can be a tough industry, and one way for all of us to weather those bumps is to work together and raise up the entire industry rather than beat each other up in a race for the bottom. Working together, there is room for all of us to succeed … AFS provides a platform for that.
Q: How has Dotson utilized its AFS Corporate Membership benefits?
Bye: Dotson tries to assure we have people involved in committee, council, and board positions. This increases our networking and industry knowledge. We also try to take advantage of the training opportunities—particularly for our new employees. AFS provides both entry-level education on the industry and processes and also highly technical knowledge. We get the best complex technical knowledge through our involvement on the committees. Involvement at all levels is a major plus. One real-life example of the benefit is that when we had a major fire, we were connected with and able to sign up eight “partner” foundries to produce castings for us very, very quickly.
Q: You’ve accomplished much in your career, what are you most proud of?
Bye: I am proud of the world-class leadtimes, very high quality, and amazing on-time delivery Dotson has accomplished. It shows it can be done and done profitably. There is no reason the foundry industry can’t set the standards of excellence for other manufacturing sectors.
I’m also proud of the technological advances we made at Dotson. The automation and standardized processes have resulted in consistently high quality—again, for an industry with a reputation of dark, dirty, and heavy. We have shown it can be clean, meet silica standards, and use automation to take out the heavy work.
I’m also excited for the changes in diversity that have happened over the past decade in the foundry industry. When I started in the industry, very few women held significant positions. More women in executive positions will help promote more diverse decisions and a stronger industry. Women in Metalcasting and the Management Council are two examples of changes that will help promote a more diverse pipeline. While always important for its impact on quality decisions, increasing diversity is especially important now when the talent pool is not as large as we need. And it is important for young women to know that if they have the desire and put in the work, it is possible for them to become executives. A decade or two ago that would not have seemed likely.
Q: For those in the early half of their careers, what advice do you have?
Bye: My advice would be to get involved in the industry. The most helpful resources are the network of individuals you form and nurture through that involvement. Starting with chapter activity, look for opportunities to then move on to be involved in the committee and council structure. Join the Young Professionals group and participate in those activities. A wise person once told me that you work your first 40 hours for your employer and over 40 hours is investing in your career. The time spent building your industry network can increase your value to your employer with the creative thoughts and ideas you bring back.
Never stop learning. Be curious and use that curiosity to learn from any and every source possible: customers, competitors, suppliers, and co-workers.