AJ Farkus majored in criminal justice in college. After graduation, he had aspirations of using his degree as a springboard to becoming a private investigator or a police officer, working as a corrections officer at a prison, or maybe even tackling a career as a forensics analyst.
Plans change, priorities change, and none of that played out the way AJ thought it would.
Instead, he found himself needing a job after graduation. AJ was encouraged by a relative who works at NPC to consider taking a temporary position at the company. So he applied and was hired as a temp, but was still determined and “very much interested in finding a job in my field.”
AJ quickly picked up on the processes, procedures, and the computer technology used to manage them. After a few months he was transferred to NPC’s fulfillment center because the company needed quality support workers. A few months later he returned to his operations support role but with one difference — the “temp” tag was removed — and he was hired as a full-time employee.
With an eye on continuous improvement efforts in his work area, AJ would constantly suggest ways to do things faster, better and more efficient. He was quickly recognized by supervisors and managers as a go-to person in his department, someone who had potential to grow his role within the company.
Now, instead of private investigating or forensics analysis, AJ uses his investigative and analytical skills working as a program manager for NPC’s production and operations team.
“Originally, I had no interest in staying (at NPC) full-time” AJ explains. “I originally wanted to work in the criminal justice field, but the way they treat you here, the interactions I’ve had with people, and the family atmosphere — that really convinced me to stay.”
AJ’s main focus as a program manager is figuring out how operational planning processes work — determining which ones are not working as well as they should be — and finding ways to streamline these processes to improve efficiencies.
“I’ve been working on throughput mapping and how a job gets from start-to-finish through our production plant,” says AJ, who now specializes in industrial forensics. “I’m geared more toward improving some of the things we already have in place.”
AJ was sitting at his desk his first official day after being promoted to a program manager when operations manager Luke Barnhart walked in. Luke slapped a new contract onto the desk and said “Start reading.” To say AJ was surprised would have been an understatement. His knee-jerk reaction was probably similar to many others in that situation.
“I’m thinking, ‘What does any of this mean?’” he says as he retells the story. “That blew me away right from the start. As I was reading it, I was thinking ‘Maybe this isn’t for me because I’m not understanding any of it.’”
But then his initial concern started to wear off, and AJ began to get more and more comfortable with being a program manager.
“Yeah, I was nervous and I thought I was in over my head at first, but at the same time I was excited,” AJ says. “I wanted to do more, and knew I could do more for the company.”
His mindset got the attention of his supervisors and managers.
“One reason why we were interested in him as a project manager was that he really proved himself in a number of continuous improvement projects while working on the shrink-wrap machine,” Luke Barnhart said. “He was comfortable going to his managers and saying ‘This is how I think we can make this better.’ And one of the major pieces of his program manager role is process improvement.”
And even though AJ isn’t working in a job typically reserved for a criminal justice major, his investigative skills definitely aren’t going to waste.
“His college background is criminal justice; he’s very process oriented,” Luke Barnhart added. “He’s very good at investigating what (actually) happened versus what we think happened, and getting into the details of figuring out exactly how something works.”
In his approach to a new project, AJ recognizes the importance of finding the subject matter experts and tapping into their years of experience and knowledge on a particular process, piece of equipment or customer requirement.
“Working through the process with the people who know it best is definitely a good first step,” AJ says. “As program managers, when we go into some of this stuff, we know a little bit about a lot of things, but we’re not the experts. I need to get with the people who know it best so they can explain it in a way I can understand.”
That’s when AJ goes to work. He learns as much as possible to better answer those what, why and how questions. And once he analyzes a current process and then determines a better, more efficient and more effective way to do things, “I need to let it up to the executors to execute.”