We’ve heard from a few of our leaders around the corporate office, but now it’s time to learn a bit about the folks who keep our operations running at the branch level. Hop over to our Alpharetta branch with us for this month’s installment of Ask Me Anything, and hear from an Inside Salesperson who’s always ready to learn something new and down for a good cause. Today, we’re talking to Christina Austin about maintaining joy on and off the clock, general Millennial mentality, and growing where you’re watered. Let’s get into it!
Slingin’ Chicken Sandwiches & Juggling Wedding Dresses
Lauren Wiggins: Alright, we always start with the easy one – what was your very first job? What’s something you loved about it and hated about it? Did you learn anything from it that you still use today?
Christina Austin: My first job was front of house at Chick-fil-A when I was 16, slingin’ sandwiches. I met one of my best friends at that job, and we’re still close today. I loved earning money and was a hard worker. I did make mistakes and learned that even with all your hard work, sometimes you mess up and just have to own it. As an environment with high standards, Chick-fil-A was an excellent way to learn about accepting constructive criticism, managing my schedule, and delivering customer service. It was also a great introduction to working with different types of managers. I had one that was a little bit of a micromanager and another one that was more laid back; having one of each was educational for me.
LW: Nice. Yeah, I appreciate the dive-right-in approach, especially when learning different management styles and personality types. Those things matter to folks our age.
CA: Exactly. I’m really grateful for my team in Alpharetta. It’s an environment with high standards, but we all enjoy working with each other because there’s respect for what we all bring. We get to interact a lot and cut up, but we all contribute to making our branch better every day.
LW: It’s all about collaborative workplaces for our generation.
So, I stalked your LinkedIn to prep for this and saw that you worked as a Bridal Consultant for several years. How did you end up in the metals industry? How’d you shift from wedding dresses to steel at Kloeckner?
CA: I always joke that I got here completely by accident. Bridal Consulting is a lot harder than people think it is! Lugging around dresses is very physical and you have to be really good at time management with back-to-back appointments. I was also nannying full-time around my class schedule and wanted to get back into corporate life. I applied for an internal job through an Express Employment office. They called me about an open position at Kloeckner Metals. I decided to go for it; it’s been interesting jumping into a completely different industry! I wanted to grow with the job, and my bets have been paying off – next month, I’ll hit my five-year anniversary.
Giving Back Never Goes Out of Style
LW: Awesome, and here’s to at least five more! I also stumbled into steel, but it’s working out. There’s never a shortage of fascinating things to learn.
Okay, you’re part of an organization called the Junior League of Atlanta, and you’re a big part of our KloecknerCares efforts in the area, so you’ve obviously got a strong spirit of service. What’s your favorite part of volunteering, and do you have a special organization that you love being involved with?
CA: I was raised to give back, but as an adult, I didn’t have a place to plug in for a long time. I joined the Junior League of Atlanta in 2018 and have absolutely loved it. Our specialty is providing trained volunteers to organizations all over the metro area, and we partner with hundreds of charities, including some that Kloeckner works with, like Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Through the JLA, I have also worked very closely with Atlanta Mission’s women and children’s shelter and have learned so much from other members. I am constantly benefiting from other women believing in me and lifting me up to other opportunities. One person I volunteered with directed me to the United Way VIP program, where I learned how to be an effective nonprofit board member. Other people have pushed me to raise my hand, and I will now be testing out my knowledge next year in my first board role within the JLA as Vice President of Community Impact.
I am very passionate about social justice, income inequality, homelessness, and other issues, so I love doing everything I can to make a positive impact. Having face time with people and making genuine connections, being able to go back again and again and see the same people is one of the things I love. Having a constructive way to give back gives me a sense of purpose, and I am deeply grateful to have that opportunity with Junior League and Kloeckner Cares!
Getting Hitched & Hidden Talents
LW: Beautifully said. That’s so cool; congratulations on your board chair! Service is definitely a part of my personal fabric as well. I guess I owe you another congrats – you’re getting married soon! How’s that going?
CA: Thanks! We’re pretty excited, and the big day is coming in February 2023. Having been in the wedding industry (and having dated my partner for a while), I jumped right into planning and got most of it handled quickly. Right now, we have to decide on catering and book our honeymoon – it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
LW: Yep, I can testify to that and would never want to plan another wedding. Don’t worry; planning the honeymoon will be a lot easier.
Here’s one of my fave questions – do you have a hidden talent? If not, what’s your greatest passion/hobby when you’re off the clock?
CA: I’ve always hated this question because I think we’re reluctant to claim something as a talent since the word implies a certain level of mastery. However, I’ve done different forms of dance throughout my life – everything from Bollywood to Hip Hop. I’m currently part of an amateur troupe! I also love doing creative things like painting or writing for fun, but wouldn’t claim to be good.
LW: That’s a great answer. The cool thing about a hidden talent is that you don’t have to be an expert at it. In this case, I’m just looking for something you enjoy and are mildly proud of, even if you don’t share it with the world.
So what do you do at Kloeckner anyway? Tell us about your branch and day-to-day.
Customer Commitment & Future Goals
CA: I’m Inside Sales, so I manage customer orders and inventory. It’s not typically what you’d think of when you hear ‘sales,’ though. I do a lot of reflecting on and reacting to customer requests. A lot of account management. In true Millennial fashion, I try to handle everything through email, so I’m pretty tied to my inbox. We have three people here who handle different parts of the Southeast, with my territory being Alabama. Our branch is pretty unique in the fact that we handle not only quoting and order entry but also deal with the production vouchers. I enjoy using the digital tools we’ve built to help manage customer expectations and have gotten to participate in more of the process; understanding the inventory side is rewarding for me. It’s not always fun telling a customer that we can’t deliver in 20 minutes just because they’re right down the road from us…but if I could fit it in my Subaru, I would do it for them.
LW: Now, that’s true commitment to your customer! Okay, so you see yourself sticking to sales and growing there?
CA: Yeah, I’d love to see what Outside Sales is like next, maybe hit the road and build customer rapport on the next level. I understand that sometimes customers just want to be seen, you know, feeling like they matter to you. I was looking forward to going on a trip to meet my Alabama customers with someone from Outside Sales, but COVID shut everything down. We’re starting to plan those kinds of things again, so we’ll see.
LW: Cool, I’m of the mentality that strong performers deserve new challenges. Good luck!
Here’s an important one – what’s your favorite type of music? Do you have a favorite band or song?
CA: I tried to keep this brief, but I truly listen to everything. I like to listen to a variety of indie, hip hop, pop-punk, jazz, or even select country, depending on my mood. My top band is Interpol, which my fiancé also loves. We recently went to Brooklyn to see them at the King’s Theatre and will see them again when they come to Atlanta this September. I love concerts and have already seen a handful this year, from Joywave to The Moody Blues. That’s an expensive hobby.
Concerts & Heroes Spread Joy
LW: I love a good concert, but I’ve gotten too old to go to three-day music festivals or anything that requires trying to fall asleep on the ground of a parking lot while listening to people being weird a few feet away.
Tell us about your hero, a leader, or a public figure you admire – is there a principle they stand for that you’ve adopted as your own, or something in their work that inspires yours at Kloeckner?
CA: I always admired the civil rights icon and politician John Lewis. He’s an incredible example for anyone, but probably my favorite thing about him is how joyful he always was. Obviously, I’m not doing the same kind of work as he did, and I can get overwhelmed by workloads or details. John Lewis is a great reminder to have fun, even if the work that you are doing is terribly important and filled with obstacles. I admire the relentlessness of his work, and it just reminds me never to let myself become too cynical. The environment at my branch is pretty fun. We’re small but mighty, and I think we embrace the idea that you can work and laugh at the same time.
A Funny Farm with No Regrets
LW: Absolutely, and I say that as someone who can become cynical. It’s hard to wake up to some of the national and global tragedies that we’ve been going through, and I prefer to call myself a realist. I do appreciate my team’s ability to inject levity into the day on our shared Slack channel. A cute .gif that displays a shared sentiment can go a long way.
Onto lighter stuff – how about your family – what are your responsibilities like at home? Is there a fun activity/tradition you enjoy together?
CA: From a wider family perspective, we just like getting everybody together when we can. Especially these days, that’s a pretty big accomplishment. For me and my soon-to-be-husband, our household includes three cats and four chickens, and we try to split most of the home and animal care evenly. We’re lucky to have most of our parents and my sister close by, and we enjoy getting together with them often for everything from holidays to casual drop-ins.
LW: Final Question – if you could turn back the hands of time and do one thing differently at any point in your life, what would it be, and why would you change it?
CA: Nothing. You know, there were a lot of things that did not happen or go perfectly to plan in my life. I have thought about some of those things a good bit, but eventually, I got to a point of accepting that I can only control right now. I can’t control my upbringing or my past choices, but I can continue to make the most of my life. Just because it could have been different doesn’t mean it could have been better. It sort of goes back to my first answer about Chick-fil-A; you can work hard and still lose. It’s the lesson you take along the way that counts. That said, the one thing I do regret is that I wish I had been nicer to myself and trusted myself from an earlier age.
Well, that’s pretty much the best way to end one of these interviews. We appreciate these wise words from someone who’s learned the hard way. As always, we want to thank Christina for letting us pick her brain and for being so candid with us when we asked her anything. Stay tuned for next month’s AMA installment when we talk to a Transportation Manager who’s third-generation steel!