In her own words: Ashleigh Walters, President, Onex Inc.
What or who fueled your interest in manufacturing?
When I was 13 years old, my father took me on a plant tour of the paper mill where he worked. I will never forget the sights and sounds as we left the quiet hallway and walked into the manufacturing facility. The machinery was huge and paper was flying through the machine. I was in awe and could not believe the cool process of turning pine trees into newsprint. I guess you could say manufacturing is in my blood since I come from multiple generations of manufacturing. My paternal grandfather worked in the wood yard at the paper mill. My maternal grandfather worked in a cardboard box factory. During WWII, my maternal grandmother worked in a sock factory.
What is your current role in manufacturing?
While my title is President, my job is to run an industrial furnace manufacturing company. Everyday I oversee finance, human resources, procurement, sales and marketing as well as operations. I am responsible for leading a team, setting the company’s strategic goals, and creating an inclusive organizational culture.
Describe your path to get to where you are today.
I graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Auburn University. I had a co-op in the paper industry, but ended up accepting a full-time job in the nuclear power industry as a safety systems engineer. I was only there for a year when a position in pulp and paper technical sales opened up at Onex, my husband’s family’s business.
I worked alongside Drew running Onex’s southeastern division for 6 years before our first baby was born. Jackson came 6 weeks early so his lungs were not fully developed, and he had trouble breathing. I went from a working mom to a stay-at-home mom literally overnight.
In the fall of 2013, my father-in-law called and told me the CFO had left the company. He needed me to step up to review the finances and lead the company. So, I became the general manager and began the company turnaround. Drew and I purchased the business from his father in 2018. We have since gone on to sell the company to our employees making the business 100% employee-owned!
What is your Superpower?
I like to think that I have two superpowers. Grit is the my determination, courage, persistence and strength which determines my chances of success when everything is falling apart around me. Grace is my ability to be humble, teachable, and willing to serve and engage my team so that we can all be successful.
Why is your role important to others – like to customers or end users?
I believe every stakeholder plays an important role in manufacturing. Manufacturing is especially important in our small towns since for every 1 manufacturing job, 3 to 4 other jobs are created in our community. For this reason, Onex’s mission to ‘Make Things Better: empowered employees, happy clients and thriving communities’.
What do you think the future holds for your career or others you inspire?
I love inspiring other leaders to think differently. I enjoy working with other companies at the board of directors level sharing my story and helping them hurdle challenges as they arise. In 2020, I wrote a book called Leading with Grit and Grace. The book details Onex’s journey through two crises so that other company leaders may have a roadmap when they are in need.