Before brad kuharik was Axon’s director of manufacturing and safety, he served as an aircraft maintenance officer in the U.S. Marines Corps, where he upheld the leadership principles that have since guided him through various operations management roles in consumer goods, power utilities, and the packaging industry. His transition from active duty to a manufacturing career was challenging, however, Kuharik has adapted and progressed quickly into key roles. He has now been at Axon Corp., a ProMach company, for three years, and he has advice for how packaging and processing OEMs can assist in welcoming veterans into the industry.
As the director of manufacturing and safety, what are some of the challenges you face in your role?
I oversee the assembly, set-up, validation, and verification testing for all of the packaging equipment we manufacture, as well as safety for the entire site. One challenge I am continually faced with is performing tasks both correctly and safely, while maintaining efficiency and meeting project timelines. Between the level of machine customization requested by the customers, as well as the push to meet project deadlines, we have to modify parts at our plant. While we do have trained personnel, our specialty is assembling and integrating machines into a fully functional sleeve labeling system. Completing projects safely is our number one goal.
How have you advanced your career while at Axon?
I started my career at Axon as director of manufacturing, and shortly thereafter, I was appointed as the director of safety as a result of my safety background from both the Marine Corps and previous manufacturing roles. I am proud to say Axon is approaching three years without an OSHA recordable incident.
How do you ensure Axon employees are always keeping safety on the forefront of their mind?
Creating a safe environment is a full-time job that requires constant communication among all employees at Axon. The number of safe days we have reached as a team are highlighted at the beginning of every meeting and are also displayed on the televisions we have throughout the building. In order to grab Axon employees’ attention, examples of different safety mishaps are shown. I continually talk with my team about new and potential hazards with each machine order. I encourage employees to bring safety concerns to the attention of the leadership team, and most importantly I ensure we as a leadership team address the concerns promptly. When employees see action being taken, they realize the level of importance that comes with a safe working environment.
What are some goals or initiatives you are excited about at Axon?
I am very optimistic and excited about reaching our three year safety milestone. Throughout ProMach as a whole, we are continuing to provide an exceptional safety culture for our employees. I am also very enthusiastic about ProMach’s Pro Vet Connect initiative. This plan will allow veterans who are employed all across ProMach to come together to discuss their particular experiences in the manufacturing industry. Veterans can provide very unique skill sets that can be extremely beneficial to this business. I also believe there is a great opportunity to reach out to transitioning veterans to see how their leadership can contribute to manufacturing.
What helped you transition from active duty to a career in packaging?
It can be pretty overwhelming to look for a job as a veteran. We are used to one way of doing things, and having an array of opportunities can quickly become paralyzing. Networking with fellow veterans, as well as veteran recruiters, helped me when searching for a career path. Manufacturing was something that I felt would be a good fit for me and for my family as well, but there was still a lot to learn in the industry since that wasn’t my background while serving in the Marine Corps. I credit two veterans, Bob Williams, Axon’s general manager and Bud Lane, who was Axon’s business unit president, for understanding the leadership, drive, and dedication I had to offer, and allowing me the opportunity to be a part of the team. The bond we share as veterans is powerful and serves as a great tool for helping others to overcome any hardships they might face when beginning this career path.
How have the leadership skills you learned in the Marine Corps helped you?
It was a challenge to shift from the mindset and mentality of a leader of Marines to a leader in the manufacturing and packaging industry. I stepped into an unfamiliar environment with a much less rigid audience, which in turn humbled me. Even through that learning process, I found myself relying on the same leadership traits and principles that I leaned on and upheld while in the Marine Corps. As a leader you must be able to adapt to both the environment and audience you are leading in order to be successful.
What advice do you have for emerging leaders coming into the industry or transitioning veterans?
Humble yourself, and do not be afraid to ask questions. Don’t hesitate to do the work that your employees are doing. Showing an eagerness and willingness to learn will allow respectful working relationships to form, therefore allowing projects to run smoothly. Get involved with as many facets of the business as you can to help yourself gain a better understanding of how your specific job impacts other departments and processes within your company.