Georgia Manufacturing Summit Keynote Speakers Tout Good-to-Great Experiences

John Tabellione

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

As keynote speakers at the recent 2016 Georgia Manufacturing Summit in Atlanta, two prominent Georgia manufacturing executives provided good-to-great, real-life examples, strategies, and personal business philosophies to over 500 attendees.  

Kathleen Edge, Executive Vice-President, Human Resources at Southwire Company, spoke of a key challenge manufacturers must confront—the major demographic shift she called “the next America”—and practical means to address it. 

Using the example of the carpet industry as one of the few textile industries still manufactured in the U.S., Steve Hillis, President of Beaulieu Commercial and Aqua Hospitality Business, gave insights into “leadership with focus” that can enable and empower employees.

A manufacturing industry veteran for 25 years, Edge explained that the graying of the nation, combined with a skill gap shortage, portends a deficit of two million unfilled jobs over the next ten years. To go from good to great, her company’s solutions, and what she recommended for the audience, center on employee engagement, investment in talent, and strengthening the organization for growth. 

At Southwire, leaders are encouraged to walk in their employees’ shoes, to empathize with them, and to build relationships

The company’s “Twelve for Life” program for local high schools, for instance, has helped to improve the graduation rate in Carroll County from 35% ten years ago to its current level of 85%. Southwire, she further noted, has promoted a skilled trade academy, which offers two-year paid apprenticeships and various certifications.

Lastly, Edge challenged the Summit attendees by asking, “Are you creating an atmosphere for people to thrive and for your company to grow?”

Hillis later shared his personal leadership style and insights gained through his thirty-plus years of experience. He spoke of how companies can go from good to great if they have outstanding leaders who empower their employees; by focusing on the top five business goals; and, by sharing those goals with everyone in the company. “Leaders lead people whereas managers manage things. So, prepare yourself to lead with a humble, positive attitude and by setting an example.” 

With regard to setting goals, Hillis explained, “Narrow the goals to a 12 months time frame. Make them specific, measurable, write them down, and review them frequently.” He looks at his goals twice a day. “Identify the ‘why’ in your company goals, and then find a picture that represents each goal to help crystallize it.” The carpet industry executive also suggested defining personal goals and to blend them with business goals.  

Lastly, Hillis recommended a few practical tips about how to create a focused work environment without distractions, and emphasized the necessity to limit procrastination. “Spend time Sunday night planning your calendar for the week. Email is the number one distraction, so set up an automatic response that states, for example, ‘I’ll return your message between 11:00-12:00 or between 4:00-5:00. If urgent, text me.’ Do the same for your cell phone.”

Jason Moss, CEO and Founder of the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance, which organized the Summit, also paid tribute to one of last year’s speakers, the late Randy Jackson, formerly Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration for Kia. Moss presented a plaque to Jackson’s son, Jamey, for the positive effects the elder Jackson had on thousands of lives. Jackson’s son spoke of his father’s can-do mindset and his ability to get people to work with one another.  

The Georgia Manufacturing Alliance, founded in 2008, is the most active industry association in the state that focuses on supporting Georgia’s manufacturing community. Year-to-date, it has promoted 80 events for over 1,500 state manufacturing managers, such as plant visits and educational meetings, as well as six additional, special training sessions for attendees at the Summit. 

“The People in Manufacturing” Awards Program 

During the 2016 Manufacturing Summit, “The People in Manufacturing” awards program recognized the following individuals and companies for their achievements.

Individual Awards:

Front Line Leader

Allison Giddens of Win-Tech Inc.

Plant Manager 

Steve Brown of KaMin-Macon 


Team Awards: 

Team Operational Excellence 

Production Team of Enviropak 

Team Safety 

Safety Team of KaMin-Sandersville


Georgia Manufacturing Hall of Fame 

The Legends Award 

Janelle Whalen accepted the award on behalf of her late husband Gus Whalen. Presented by Jason Moss

The Legends Award 

Jamey Jackson accepted the award on behalf of his late father Randy. Presented by Jason Moss and Mel Haas

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.