Find a path to compromise on the plant floor

Nolan Lestage, a utilities supervisor for West Liberty Foods in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, shares his story of his manufacturing experience and the pride he has in his work.

By Leading2Lean May 19, 2017

In its "People of the Plant Floor" video series, Leading2Lean, a Plant Engineering content partner, has shared the stories of manufacturing workers and their pride in their work. One of the people they interviewed was Nolan Lestage, a 33-year-old utilities supervisor for West Liberty Foods in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The edited transcript of the video follows. The full video can be found here.

I started out in a small town and moved to a bigger town when I was about six years old, so I have always been kind of a small country boy.

I like to be outdoors, I go fishing a lot. Between my family there and growing up on the river here in Burlington on the Mississippi, and that’s what we did every weekend, we went out on the river. Fishing was always peaceful. Just relaxing, just being out on the water in general. I learned the hard way, you know, I didn’t have dad there to help me all the time, sometimes I’d think, "Well maybe, what would he do?"

(I remember) I came home from work and it was probably about my 13th day in a row and I was working Sundays. I was just saying, "Am I going to have a life beyond work? Am I going to have a weekday off, weekend off?" I kind of decided that night that I wasn’t going to go back and I was going to look for something new.

I started at West Liberty Foods in 2003. Before that I worked at a temp agency. After about a year and half, and I was still working at the temp agency and not getting hired on, I needed to do something for myself better. I needed more money, needed better benefits, more stability in my life.

And now I have a job to come to everyday. When I was a temp, you don’t know if you are going to be employed the next day, because maybe they don’t need you anymore after that. Here, what we are processing and what we are making is something that is needed.

I started as a molder on the line. I was one of the guys that stood there and took the meat off the conveyer and put it into the machine. I kind of got interested in how the machines run; the settings of them, how to make them run how you really want to. Then one day, there was a job bid outside H.R. for maintenance, and I thought, "Well, you don’t know if you never try, right?" So I put in for it, and went through the interviews, and they picked me.

My first couple of supervisors kind of took me under their wing, and there were a couple of older mechanics that I’d follow around, and they’d give their knowledge out, and help me along.

Transitioning from an hourly employee to a management position, that relationship changes. In the end, I think it’s worked out, and we all have to get along, we all have a job to do. Being angry at somebody all day, that’s not going to get you anywhere. I think talking to them, and working out your problems is best. Maybe the way I think it should be done is not the best way. You know, talk with your employees, maybe they have a better idea. You’ve got to hear them out. That’s why I like to try and be the peacemaker—compromise, keep everybody happy.

If I don’t train them right, or give them bad knowledge, or something incorrect, it could affect everybody. Just like if I was to go fishing, I like to have quality fishing equipment, or quality fish that we brought in on the fishing line.

We want to make a good product. At the end of the day we’re all people, and compromise on whatever the problem is to solve it and move on with our day. And if there is a disagreement, work it out, talk it out.

I had no idea I’d make a career out of this, but I have. I’ve learned a lot, and got a lot of good knowledge and training out of it, and it’s been a good experience.