Kathy Kester

Employee Spotlight: Kathy Kester’s 33 Years in the Metals Industry

10.08.2021

In the 80’s, Kathy Kester was working for a trucking company that hauled steel. There weren’t a lot of women in the metals industry back then. Even though it was the 80s, it felt more like the 50s – like Mad Men. Female professionals would be called “little girls,” for instance.

Kathy’s upbringing hadn’t prepared her for this. She wasn’t exposed to gendered role models presumed to be “normal.” In her household, her mother was the one who worked, her dad stayed home, and she was given as much responsibility as she thought she could handle.

As an eight-year-old, she took the responsibility of planning, budgeting, shopping, and cooking family dinners for five. Today, Kathy is the Regional Procurement Manager at Kloeckner Santa Fe Springs. The Mad Men days are over and the metals industry has reached the 21st century.

Kathy Kester Women of Steel

Luckily, the trucking company noticed the fire burning in Kathy’s eyes – her drive to learn and grow. They encouraged her to join the Association of Women in the Metals Industry (AWMI), an international organization with an inclusive platform hosting speakers at educational networking events and industry dinners. At its core, AWMI is about women supporting women. But the events are open to men too, and the meetings are always good, so men show up.

She wanted to understand product specifications and applications for different types of metal products. She had a lot of “why?” questions when her career started and was lucky to find support from coworkers and AWMI members who took the time to answer them.

Getting involved in AWMI early in her metals career helped Kathy build confidence. It was a dignified safe space that offered her the opportunity to ask questions, learn, and grow. Today, she’s the treasurer on AWMI’s Western Regional Board.

From Sales to Procurement

Eventually, Kathy left the trucking company to work in Sales and Purchasing at Thyssen Metals and later, Primary Steel. She stuck with procurement because she enjoys solving problems.

“It’s the same job every day, but not every day feels the same,” describes Kathy, “It’s not repetitive. There’s a lot going on.”

Finding the products customers need and resolving issues can feel like pulling rabbits out of a hat. But hands down the most rewarding aspect of her current role is the people.

“I’ve worked at other companies and people here work hard and work smart. You don’t see a lot of people who are just getting by. There’s a common goal that everyone is working toward. And that’s not just this location, I’ve seen this throughout the country.”

“I ended up where I belong.”

This serendipitous combination of finding a community of trusted professionals early on and working her way up in a challenging department has made the years fly by. It’s a path that wasn’t necessarily obvious from the get go.

Kathy ruminated about where she may have ended up if not in the metals industry. She laughs, recalling a conversation she’d had long ago with a friend, maybe someone with whom she’d attended a Peter Gabriel or The Dead Kennedy’s concerts.

“I knew you liked music,” she remembers her friend joking, “but I never thought you’d be into heavy metal.”

“I know,” she reciprocates in jest, “I thought I’d go into platinum, or gold, maybe silver, didn’t expect to go into carbon steel.”

Learn more about careers at Kloeckner and see more employee stories.

Sara Montijo
Sara Montijo is a writer for Kloeckner Metals. She graduated with honors from NYU and has previously facilitated multimedia programming and worked alongside renowned chefs. Her friends call her a time warp.

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