Passion for engineering drives success in manufacturing
Sarah Daly considers herself fortunate to have found her calling early. Having a natural affinity for math and science, she has always loved being able to study things, take them apart and fix them. It’s no surprise then, that she became an engineer.
The spark came early. In a high school physics class, Daly, the youngest of three, so impressed her high school physics teacher on a project requiring that students build a catapult, that she encouraged her to pursue engineering. “After class, my teacher stopped me and told me that I desperately needed to be an engineer,” Daly said.
Daly listened to that advice and followed her father and sister-in-law’s examples to pursue a degree in engineering. Today, Daly is plant manager of FiberVisions’ plant in Covington, Georgia. The company is the world’s largest producer of polypropylene staple fiber for nonwoven consumer and industrial products.
Daly also is the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (GaMEP) February Face of Manufacturing.
She and the other 365,000 Georgians who work in the manufacturing industry are critical to the success of the Georgia economy. Her story is one example of how those who have made a career in manufacturing help their communities remain economically competitive.
For Daly, her first few years in manufacturing centered around process engineering and managing capital projects — large-scale endeavors for process and product improvement. She partnered with many different groups across the company, including operations, engineering, maintenance, and safety.
“I had great mentors and they wanted me to get project management experience,” Daly said. “On the first project I led, my team came in so far ahead of schedule and under budget, the company started giving me larger projects to manage.” That project management experience would serve her later in her career, when she moved to Atlanta and joined FiberVisions.
As FiberVisions’ plant manager, a role to which she was promoted 1½ years after joining the company, Daly leads a team of 70 people, including 12 direct reports and four operating crews. “I went from never managing anyone before to managing more than 70 people and many of them had been working at the plant longer than I’d been alive,” she said.
The promotion made her a little nervous; it would be a role unlike any other she held. And even though her bosses felt she was ready to lead the plant, it would be the first time she would have to manage people.
Daly reached out to one of her mentors for advice. “‘This position is out of your comfort zone, but don’t stick with something just because you are comfortable with it,’” Daly recounted her mentor saying. “‘By staying on the same path, you may never learn where you can make the most difference.’”
Daly continues to build a cohesive group across the FiberVisions plant and grow her team. “I have extremely talented and capable people working at our plant and it’s important for me to get them the resources they need, be an advocate for them to advance their careers, and just be their biggest supporter.”
— Péralte C. Paul