Appearances can be deceiving, which is why Schwan’s Company invests thousands of dollars and countless hours in inspecting their production lines with ultrasound equipment. Every day, Tim Smith and a co-worker use expensive hand-held tools to listen for signs of wear-and-tear in the machines. “Predictive maintenance,” they call it.
“You will hear a defect long before you see a defect,” Smith said. “Sometimes you won’t see it until the machine stops.”
After 50 years pursuing quality and efficiency – personally, through martial arts, and professionally, through process-improvement training – Smith appreciates the importance of detecting a problem before it causes a breakdown. His personal “predictive maintenance” included wise words from Cincinnati Works staff members at two critical moments.
The first, from Cincinnati Works counselor Jacque Edmerson in 2007, helped save Smith’s life. The second, from then-Advancement coach Laura Hartung in 2010, helped jumpstart his career.
Today he celebrates 12 years of continuous employment at Schwan’s, during which time his salary has risen from $9.25 per hour to $30 per hour.
“His name was synonymous with success here for a lot of years,” said Vickie Mertz, an Advancement Coach at Cincinnati Works when Smith initially became a Member, and now a workshop trainer and volunteer coordinator.
“I have tried to pay so much forward,” Smith said. “I like teaching people to empower themselves. You can’t do it for them, you can’t empower them. They need to do it themselves.”
Smith’s empowerment began with a one-year prison stint for drug possession. While in jail, he committed to stop drinking, smoking and using drugs, and he cut ties with friends from his drug-using days.
Just a few months after he returned from prison, however, Smith’s mom suffered a stroke and died. And he lost his job when his employer discovered the felony conviction, which he had not divulged during the application process. Smith was distraught. “I thought the world didn’t want me anymore,” he said.
He considered ending his life and even wrote a suicide note, but he never acted on it. Instead, he told Edmerson, a mental health counselor with TriHealth who works with Cincinnati Works Members.
“She said, `You got clean by making honesty your cornerstone, but you aren’t honest when you apply for these jobs,’” Smith recalled. “She told me to admit my past and show them how I am reinventing myself.”
He took that advice at his next job interview and was hired on the spot for a sanitation job at Schwan’s, through a temporary employment agency. After completing a six-week probationary period, he became a full-time Schwan’s employee on September 27, 2007 – exactly 12 years ago. He has been there ever since.
“They realized they can rely on me,” Smith said. “I went from cleaning machines to fixing machines.”
A few years and at least one promotion later, Smith learned he was making less money than co-workers with similar titles and responsibilities. He mentioned it to Hartung, then an Advancement Coach at Cincinnati Works, and she helped Smith make a case for a raise.
“She told me to take emotion out of the equation and come up with a plan, so when I went to (human resources) I went there with a plan,” Smith said. “What you guys do here is phenomenal.”
He got the raise, and he has since earned more promotions and more raises. He said he remains drug-free, and he has committed to a fitness-and-diet regimen that has dropped his weight from 230 to 175. He continues to study and teach martial arts, and he regularly kayaks on the Ohio River.
“You are a rock star success,” Mertz told him.
Smith recounted some of those details for an article in our 2009 Annual Report: getting clean; the death of his mom; losing the first job he got after prison; learning to acknowledge his past while focusing on the future. He did not mention the suicide note or his conversation with Edmerson, but clearly it made an impact. He saved the crumpled note from 2007, along with a copy of the 2009 Annual Report.
While looking through an old briefcase recently, Smith found the article and the suicide note. He felt compelled to call Cincinnati Works, and earlier this week he reconnected with Mertz and Edmerson.
“I realized I’ve come a long way,” he said. “I did it all by following simple steps.”
Edmerson agreed. It does not take an ultrasound machine to see the grit Smith possesses.
“I’m glad that what I said helped,” Edmerson told him, “but this only happened because of what is inside you.”