Woman-owned PTM Corp. leaving its stamp on industry and community

Team members work at their stations at PTM Corp.
For Donna Russell-Kuhr and her three sisters, the success of PTM Corp. started with the strong foundation built by their father in 1972.

Today Russell-Kuhr serves as CEO of the 46-year-old manufacturing company in Fair Haven, which produces billions of metal stampings for its clients, generating more than $50 million in sales annually.

"PTM metal stampings can be found on an estimated 70 percent to 75 percent of all cars and light trucks on the road today,"Donna Russell-Kuhr stands on the floor of the plant at PTM Corp. she says.

The company has made everything from small clips and fasteners to car roofs and mower decks. One of the keys to what the company offers, according to Russell-Kuhr, is their one-stop shop philosophy and ability.

She says it is important to understand that allowing PTM to design, prototype, build and then produce your parts in production, eliminates multiple vendors, cuts unnecessary steps in your supply chain, and most importantly cheats time.

Bundling services also allows PTM to maximize our internal cross-functional relationships and provide customers with a one-stop source for cost-saving solutions.

Russell-Kuhr and her three sisters, Nika Russell-Hess, Gina Russell and Danielle Russell, who own and operate the family business today, are adamant about showing women that to be successful, striving to be the best in an industry is always the goal to pursue--no matter what your gender may be.

Workers on the floor at PTM Corp.PTM Corp. was recently WEBNC certified, which affirms that the business is a woman-owned, operated and controlled entity. But Russell-Kuhr makes it clear that "being certified as a woman-owned business doesn't guarantee business, just an opportunity."

Success is about being as good or better than your competitors, she says.

"Our pricing, quality, safety, and delivery must be market competitive. I take pride in my company's excellent customer service and living out one of our missions which is to ‘deliver exceptional performance and peace of mind to our customers'. If we adhere to that, it helps to get and maintain customers regardless of my gender."

PTM Client Bob Evard, purchasing director for Fluid Carrying Systems at TI Automotive, agrees.

"She has thorough knowledge of the entire stamping and tooling processes and understands the business side, as well."
Even so, recognition continues to roll in for PTM Corp. as the company was named Michigan Women's Business Enterprise of the Year last year.

The women who run the business now see its success more as a continuation of the high-quality standards their father set long ago. The expertise and experience offered to customers is wide-ranging, including detail part design, prototype, tool build and high volume production.

To maintain success, though, the Russell sisters need to have employees who are as dedicated to the future as they are.Sparks fly as employees work on stamps at PTM Corp.

Finding employees

The high demand for their products creates the need for qualified employees. PTM Corp. is one of the top 20 employers in St. Clair County.

But finding well-qualified employees isn't always an easy task.

One of the biggest challenges, Russell-Kuhr says, is "finding people having the right skill sets and the related issues of training."

PTM Corp. works hard to create a quality workplace, which makes it easier to recruit potential employees. Leadership also works hard to cultivate a culture of inclusion and team so that no one feels like an outsider.

Russell-Kuhr lives this out daily as she prides herself in knowing the first names of all 300 employees. In addition, the leadership is passionate about making sure that no matter how much the company grows, that the family atmosphere and positive company culture is never lost.

Dan Casey, CEO of the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County knows all about the company's amazing treatment of its employees and he believes it is a huge reason for the high rate of retention,

"PTM offers a great corporate culture. It's a place where people truly want to work." And that environment is cultivated from the top down, according to Casey, "you can't take a plant tour without Donna proudly introducing you to nearly every employee she passes by; and often with a story about them, their family or their work ethic." At the same time, diversity is a huge component of PTM's hiring and the company has an excellent record regarding employing women and people of color.

PTM Corp. has benefited from a desire for people to live closer to their place of employment.
"I cannot count the number of times I have been told I can't wait to start so I won't have to commute so far to work," Russell-Kuhr says.

Because of this, PTM has been able to take advantage of the labor force in St. Clair County. According to the EDASCC, 23 percent of the area labor force works in manufacturing, making it the No. 1 industry in the area.

An employee works at PTM Corp.The company also recruits high school students, she says, and one of her favorite things is to "watch how my seasoned associates are sharing their knowledge, and together with our different on-the-job programs, we have been very successful in developing a new and talented workforce. It's very rewarding to see our seasoned people developing our newer people and really, we all learn from each other."

She is a firm believer that having a quality job and career does not have to come via a college degree.
Her husband, Steve, PTM's director of sales and estimating, says a technical school certification requires the same type of disciplines as a college degree with one exception.

"You can't teach passion," he says. "At the end of the day, you'll be successful when you're happy. Like her dad, he had a passion for what he did. We can't teach that to people. Machinists and plumbers, they have that passion because they're good at what they do."

A huge part of finding future employees comes down to educating the public about a potential career at PTM. Manufacturing has evolved over the years and one of the things that PTM has tried to do, according to Russell-Kuhr, is to "support and inform administrators, teachers, and counselors so they have a realistic and positive view of the opportunities available because there is a talent shortage."

To get the word out, she is passionate about the human resources department "reaching out to young people who don't realize what a good fit they are for manufacturing and skilled trade jobs and how the opportunities to make a good living and advance are there."

In addition, the company philosophy of providing opportunity has also been part of the success story.
Proof positive is an employee named Jerry who started working at PTM in high school and before long found himself moving There are many pieces to manufacturing at PTM Corp. into an apprenticeship.

"I wanted to learn the tool and die trade and realized this was my chance, so I accepted the position as an apprentice," Jerry says.

Looking back, Jerry is amazed how he was given the opportunity to learn all the aspects of the business as time progressed for prototype and production metal stampings, assemblies, welding, design, engineering, tooling, processing, sales, etc. That opportunity turned into something big because 34 years later he is now the plant manager.
The company works collaboratively with local organizations like the St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) and St. Clair County Community College (SC4) to find students to serve paid internships on their way to becoming journeymen.

"It exposes them to our trade, kind of a minor league," Russell-Kuhr explains. The opportunity is a four-year program that requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience, ranging from blueprint reading and shop math to machining, die build, safety and quality. In addition, students must complete 2,000 hours of online education training and pass a test. All training is paid for by PTM. "During the apprenticeship, they are paid and receive gradual raises," Russell-Kuhr says. "After they graduate and go full-time, they can make as much as $22 per hour. The great thing about our programs is there is zero debt for our associates in getting their education." The company also reimburses students for tuition each year as they progress. PTM even has training programs that begin as early as the junior level of high school as students are offered the chance to job shadow in order to gain real experience in a safe manufacturing setting.

Investing in the community

Safety is the No. 1 priority for team members at PTM Corp.The Russell family has always been dedicated to giving back to the community. After the company became profitable, it became imperative to invest locally.

For Russell-Kuhr, that PTM success story would not be complete unless the business was community minded and involved in improving the lives of those living in the area.

To that end, the company established a 501c3 non-profit called MTG. Russell-Kuhr says, "this entity is run by our associates, and we have many fundraisers through the year, as well as weekly payroll deductions if staff would like to contribute. When someone who works for us has a special need, the board meets quickly and makes decisions quickly to help the associate. I am proud to have our own non-profit and the dedication our associates have to support it."

The company also supports Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School robotics team, as well as St. Clair County Blue Water Robotics. The philosophy associated with this, Russell-Kuhr says, is that "high school robotics isn't just about robotics, it actually simulates business in general. Everything from cost estimating,Donna Russell-Kuhr considers her employees family and knows each of them by name, marketing, selling, design, building, assembly, tryout and ultimately competition with deadlines. The principles can be applied to any student who wants a hands-on approach to understanding a business."

Another cause she believes in strongly and one the company supports financially is the charity A Beautiful Me. The charity promotes underprivileged young girls' self-esteem and development. The girls learn to realize they can be leaders and take on roles they may never have thought they could. Russell-Kuhr is also a division chair for the 2018 United Way Campaign.

The company supports many other charities, as well as following the CEO's imperative that it is important to give back.
Grounded in the community, the future looks bright for PTM Corp. and the passionate women who run it. It all started with a goal to be the best and a passion to see it through