50 years strong: P&G impacts on eight alumni
BY JAY WOLZ
The impact Procter & Gamble has had on Cape Girardeau and the surrounding region over the past 50 years is virtually impossible to calculate.
Since opening its first production line here in 1969, P&G has added hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy through its payroll. Its employees have supported and continue to support a myriad of local organizations and philanthropies ranging from sports teams to the United Way, and the company itself is among the region's leading corporate entities.
"There aren't enough words to express what Procter & Gamble means to our community and this area," remarks Cape Chamber President John Mehner, commenting on what P&G has brought to the community over the past half century.
"You simply cannot talk about business and industry in Cape Girardeau without talking about Procter & Gamble," he adds. "The company's impact has been and continues to be overwhelming."
Located on a 1,300-acre site approximately 15 miles north of Cape Girardeau, the Procter & Gamble plant is one of the company's largest P&G facilities in the United States, with more than 3 million square feet -- or approximately 70 acres -- of manufacturing space under roof.
The plant's original manufacturing lines produced Pampers diapers in what was then an emerging disposable diaper industry. Today, after multiple expansions, the Cape Girardeau P&G plant also produces Bounty paper towels, Charmin toilet paper and Luvs diapers, in addition to Pampers.
But beyond the products that make their way to store shelves and ultimately to our homes, the local P&G plant has produced other valuable commodities that have helped businesses and industries throughout the region. The commodities we speak of are former employees who have applied the skills, experience and business expertise they gained at P&G to the benefit of other local area companies.
The local Procter & Gamble plant has employed thousands of people over the years, including engineers, technicians, managers and others, many of whom the company recruited and brought to Cape Girardeau. Many of these people have remained here with the company, while others have left P&G to start their own companies, invest in existing firms or join the management teams of various businesses in the Southeast Missouri region.
The following is a glimpse of eight P&G "alumni." While they each have unique career paths, they all credit Procter & Gamble for helping them learn what it takes to be successful business leaders and entrepreneurs.
Mike Himmelberg, NAPA Auto Tire and Parts
grew up in St. Louis and attended the University of Missouri -- Rolla (now Missouri S&T), where he earned an engineering degree in 1985.
"I started with P&G when they recruited me right out of school," says Himmelberg, who was an engineer at the local P&G plant for about five years, from 1985 until May 1990.
For Himmelberg, P&G was an excellent place to start his business career. "Procter & Gamble does a lot of training, especially with their young managers. It's a good environment to learn in."
He says the most important thing he learned during his years with the company was how to be a better people manager. "Procter & Gamble does a lot of formalized training in that regard," Himmelberg says.
Soon after he came to Cape Girardeau, Himmelberg met John Tlapek of Auto Tire and Parts. "He was looking to grow the business and needed operations help," Himmelberg explains. "So in 1990, I left P&G, and I bought into the Tlapek family business."
Today Himmelberg is vice president at NAPA Auto Tire and Parts and over the past 34 years has helped the business grow from about a dozen stores and a small warehouse to where it is now with more than 50 locations with approximately 400 employees in four states.
Himmelberg says his experience at Procter & Gamble helped give him the people management skills and "know how" to help NAPA Auto Tire and Parts become what it is today. "At Procter & Gamble, I was having a small impact on a big company, but at a smaller company, I was able to have a large impact," he says.
Todd Shelton, NAPA Auto Tire and Parts
"I completely agree with Mike," comments Todd Shelton, another former Procter & Gamble employee who also now works for NAPA Auto Tire and Parts. "I learned a lot at Procter & Gamble, and there are a lot of small businesses in the community that could definitely gain from the processes they instill in their employees."
Shelton worked at Procter & Gamble for about 10 years and, like Himmelberg, was recruited to join P&G shortly after he graduated from Missouri S&T with a degree in mechanical engineering.
"I have a very high regard for P&G as one of the premiere employers in the area," he says. "I definitely picked up a lot of leadership skills during my time there."
Shelton was a department leader at P&G. "That had me involved in their storeroom, which is very similar to a warehouse," he says. Today, he manages warehouse operations for NAPA Auto Tire and Parts, supplying parts to the company's stores throughout a 200-mile radius.
At Procter & Gamble, Shelton says he developed problem-solving skills and learned about standardization techniques and continuous process improvement principles, which he has applied at his current company's warehouse operations.
Angie Brewer, Perry County Memorial Hospital
Angie Brewer started her Procter & Gamble career as an intern in 1990 at the company's plant that manufactured Folger's Coffee in Kansas City, Kansas. Originally from Perryville, Missouri, Brewer earned a degree in engineering management from the University of Missouri -- Rolla (now Missouri S&T), and received a full-time job offer to work for P&G in Cape Girardeau in 1991.
"Both of my parents were working at the Cape plant at the time, so I was a second-generation P&G'er," she says.
Brewer spent 25 years with Procter & Gamble with roles in warehouse/shipping operations, process improvement, quality assurance, education and training, baby care operations and human resources. She left P&G in 2016 to become the director of human resources at Perry County Memorial Hospital in Perryville, but says she never would have pursued a career in human resources had she not been given a "people management" opportunity at Procter & Gamble.
"P&G typically rotates their managers through assignments every two to five years to build skills, keep them challenged and ensure process improvement is always happening," she says in explaining how she eventually transitioned into human resources. As part of the job rotation process, managers such as Brewer would meet with their supervisors to discuss career goals, personal strengths and job opportunities.
"Through this succession and career planning process, I got my first HR job at a department level. After doing the role for a while and loving it, I asked for additional HR roles as they became available," she says. "I eventually moved into an HR role at the plant level that allowed me to set policy and manage culture for both the baby care and family care parts of the Cape plant. This was a great role to work with a lot of great people. I knew I loved HR after completing my first HR role and wanted to stay in this career path."
When asked what she learned during her quarter century at Procter & Gamble that she has been able to apply to her role at Perry County Memorial Hospital, Brewer says "all of the HR-related skills that I have today and use daily were developed while I worked at P&G." Those include personnel management, strategy and vision setting, prioritizing, process improvement/workflow efficiency and teamwork.
"P&G is known for training its employees and developing leadership skills," Brewer notes. "I feel blessed to have built these skills and have been able to use them as I transitioned to health care to be closer to home."
Allen Toole, Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures
As it was for Brewer, working at Procter & Gamble was also something of a family tradition for Allen Toole.
"My dad farmed in Gideon in the 1960s, and he was struggling to keep food on the table. He heard P&G was opening a plant, so he came up, and it was the best thing that ever happened in my life," he says. "It opened up a great opportunity for our family."
Allen was in the third grade in 1969 when his family moved from Gideon to Cape Girardeau. In the years that followed, his older brothers, Larry and Dennis, joined their father at P&G after they completed their military service. Allen became the fourth member of the Toole family at the Procter & Gamble plant in 1984 after earning a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "I was an engineering intern there in the summer of 1982 and had taken a job in St. Louis when P&G called to let me know they were hiring," he recalls.
During his four years at Procter & Gamble, he was a project manager and team manager before being promoted to department manager. By 1988, he had the option of staying with the company and accepting a transfer to another P&G facility.
"By then, I had young children and a wife who was a nurse at Southeast Hospital," he explains. "We really wanted to raise our kids in Cape Girardeau and stay close to their grandparents. I had an opportunity to buy into Cape Electrical Supply which later bought Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures, which was one of Cape Electric's suppliers."
Between 1988 and 2013, Toole was vice president, CEO and vice chairman of Cape Electrical Supply. In late 2013, he became an officer with Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures and is now the company's part owner and managing director.
"I have no doubt the experience I got at P&G and the culture that P&G has created has been a big part of my career success," he says, noting some of his business partners also came to Schaefer's via Procter & Gamble.
Cliff Brooks, Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures
One of Toole's business partners who also came from Procter & Gamble is Cliff Brooks, Schaefer's chief financial officer. His path to Cape Girardeau took him through P&G's corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Brooks grew up in Florida, went to college in Tennessee and then moved to Cincinnati, where he was an auditor with the public accounting firms of Arthur Anderson for a year and a half and then Deloitte & Touche for three years, before joining Procter & Gamble as a senior financial analyst in Spring 2007.
In the summer of 2009, P&G assigned him to be plant finance manager at the Cape Girardeau facility. "I got here, and I enjoyed the autonomy of being independent of the 'mother ship,'" he says. "It was my first time working in a manufacturing environment; the people were -- and are -- great."
Brooks says he and his wife felt right at home in Cape Girardeau. "We liked the town. It's a great place to raise a family, and it kind of hit me that this is where I wanted to stay," he says.
"In 2011, I was getting ready to move to Arkansas for my next P&G assignment when I met the Schaefer guys. They were growing and needed some help on the financial side," explains Brooks. He joined Schaefer's as the company's chief financial officer and credits P&G for helping prepare him for his current role.
"Can you take exactly what you did in the P&G culture and adapt it? No, it's not the same, but still, there are principles you can apply," Brooks says, explaining that through P&G he learned a great deal about people management and "structured thinking," which he uses to create crisp and concise communications.
"I was fortunate in my roles at P&G in Cincinnati and here where I was able to be around people at different levels of the organization," he says. "I learned a lot by watching them about how to get a large organization rolling in the same direction, which can really help people do amazing things."
Mark Diamond Schaefer's Electrical Engineering and Andy's Frozen Custard
Like several others, Mark Diamond came to Procter & Gamble after earning a degree in mechanical engineering and eventually found himself associated with Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures. However, he also branched out to acquire the Andy's Frozen Custard franchise in Cape Girardeau.
"I graduated from Rolla in '92 and came to Cape to work at P&G after interning there between my junior and senior years," he says. Originally from Carbondale, Illinois, Diamond says he initially didn't want to come to Cape Girardeau. "I wanted to go to a big city. I thought Cape was going to be too small and too close to home, but after moving here, I loved it!"
Diamond worked here for P&G for seven years. "After that many years, I was getting ready to get promoted to a level where I would have been transferred, but by then I had a family and a great church, and we didn't want to leave," he says. "So I left in '99 and bought Schaefer's."
At Procter & Gamble, Diamond says he "soaked everything up like a sponge. I had great mentors who had a big impact on me personally and professionally. P&G was a great experience. You learn a ton there because it's so well-run, well-managed. I learned a lot about managing people, analytical problem-solving and how to make things more efficient."
P&G, he says, "has been a big benefit to our community in so many ways, including bringing in talented people to Cape Girardeau. And the plant here is very well-respected within the P&G organization, as well."
Although he left Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures in 2015, Diamond is still a part-owner and serves as an industrial sales representative for the company. As for the frozen custard franchise, Diamond explains, "We were really good Andy's customers and, to make a long story short, we were able to come to an agreement and bought the Cape location in 2016."
Laura Jones, Horst Jones LLC
Laura Jones of Jackson worked for Procter & Gamble for 10 years, from 2005 until 2015, and was able to apply some of the business skills she learned at P&G when she became an entrepreneur and started her own company, Horst Jones LLC.
She earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2004. During her college years, she served as an intern with the Missouri Department of Transportation and helped supervise several road and bridge construction projects, including the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau.
At Procter & Gamble, Jones started as an engineering manager for the offline group that managed bulk materials and supplies for the production lines. She was also a line leader, offline department leader and served in a supply chain role.
"Now I do web design and digital marketing," she says, explaining she left P&G to help her husband market his business online. "My husband's family owns Missouri Great Dane, and he wanted to sell a specific type of trailer online. He was dabbling in web design for the company's website, but he needed someone with web design skills, and I saw it as a business opportunity."
Working at P&G taught Jones how to collaborate with others. "P&G definitely teaches you how to work with a team, not only in person but remotely as well, through web meetings, conference calls and so forth," she says. "We did a lot of results-driven work at P&G. Being able to measure success is very important in the work I do now, and I certainly learned that at P&G."
Jones says she also learned how to define problem statements and apply critical thinking to work projects while at P&G. "Being able to see and measure results is so important in digital marketing," she says. "P&G taught me how to do that."
Linda Greaser, Saint Francis Healthcare System
Of all the P&G "alumni" who are still working in Cape Girardeau, perhaps none worked at the local plant longer than Linda Greaser. After 38 years with P&G, Greaser retired from the company earlier this spring and became vice president of human resources at Saint Francis Healthcare System.
Greaser grew up in South St. Louis County and attended the University of Missouri at Rolla (now Missouri S&T), where she graduated summa cum laude with an engineering degree. "Procter & Gamble had a strong reputation on campus, and I came to work at P&G directly after graduation and have been here ever since," she says.
She held numerous positions over the years, including roles in operations, finance, human resources, materials, project management, quality, logistics, employee benefits and external relations. "P&G prepared us to be strong business leaders that drive systemic improvement through the various positions we held," Greaser remarks.
At Saint Francis, Greaser says she has been able to easily transition to her new role thanks, in part, to her Procter & Gamble background. "The values of P&G align with my personal values, and the company's high performance organization training shaped my approach to leading others," she explains. "I worked with some fabulous people there who were servant leaders, and I have aspired to model myself after their example."
Greaser adds, "I knew in my heart that God had been preparing me for this. I was happy at P&G and would still be there if I had not been approached to join this ministry of serving others. I have had a heart to make a difference in our community, and there are 3,000 colleagues I can serve as the Saint Francis vice president of human resources."
In summary, Greaser says Procter & Gamble "is known for growing leaders, and our community has benefited from these leaders coaching sports, leading and volunteering in service organizations or leading in other civic capacities. I have found that my training has readily equipped me to step into Saint Francis and immediately be able to have a positive impact. I am certain that other leaders have found themselves equally prepared for their new endeavors."
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