Sponsored by Kohler Co.
Photo courtesy of Amy Mitchell
Growing as professionals means taking risks, picking up new things and not being afraid to put back down what doesn’t work for us. And multiple-time career pivoter Amy Mitchell has seen firsthand the value that leaning into this ethos can bring.
Today an IT systems project manager at Kohler Co., Mitchell is finding fulfillment in her work for the storied manufacturing company for the second time. After spending five years at Kohler as a project manager within its communications department, Mitchell was recruited by an agency and took a new job in 2018. It didn’t take her long, however, to realize that being away from Kohler was one pivot she didn’t want to make — and six months later, she was back at the company.
“I found myself missing Kohler on a lot of levels; I missed being proud of where I worked,” Mitchell said. “I missed working for a company that has the global reach and resources of Kohler… and lastly, a big part of wanting to get back to Kohler was for the flexibility that exists in how I work.”
After having two children, Mitchell says she realized that while some companies may talk the work-life balance talk, Kohler — which, coincidentally, is where her husband also works — truly does its part to support working parents. When returning to work after the birth of her first daughter, Mitchell was able to work at an 80% schedule for three years. And that’s just one example of the kind of support that makes Kohler too good a deal to pass up.
“I think Kohler has really stepped up in allowing for flexibility in how, where, and when we work,” she said. “I've seen that there are companies that tolerate flexibility, and then there are companies that embrace it. Kohler fully embraces it, and we have the tools and training that help make that flexibility possible.”
Recently, Mitchell shared why her new role at Kohler is her most exciting yet, how she’s developing her career without changing companies and what other boomerangers can learn from her experience.
What made you want to work for Kohler?
My husband was first recruited by Kohler right after we got married. We were living in Chicago at the time and knew we wanted to get back to Wisconsin before we started a family. As I became more familiar with the company through Aaron working here, I started to consider Kohler as a fit for me, too. I was interested in finding a place I could really settle into and spend my career at, and I saw potential in Kohler as a good fit for that. I first joined in May of 2013.
Describe the path you’ve taken that first brought you to Kohler.
My path is a little different. I spent nearly four years as a clinical laboratory science major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before being deployed to Kuwait and Iraq with my National Guard Unit the fall semester of my senior year. When I returned, I had a different outlook and changed my major. I focused on a communications-related degree that allowed me to apply a lot of my science credits. Ultimately, I got my degree in Agricultural Journalism — which (as I often have to explain) is basically a journalism degree with a science background. I went from there to roles at two different agencies that really solidified my career path in project management, working almost exclusively on digital projects.
Then, just after my husband and I got married, he was recruited by Kohler. That brought us back to Wisconsin, and later brought me to Kohler, too. While at Kohler, I've held a few roles within the Communications Department. My first role was a Digital Project Manager, focused on Kitchen and Bath projects. I was then promoted to a newly created role of Digital Program Manager.
Before I started that role, I was nominated and accepted into Kohler's NXT program for emerging leaders, which is an 18-month program involving three week-long “boot camps,” an on-the-job assignment and a stretch assignment. That was such a great opportunity and something that I always look back at with appreciation. When Communications started to form a true in-house agency, I took on a newly created role (again) of Creative Resource Manager to help with the roll out of a new organizational structure within the 30+ person creative team.
When and why did you decide to leave Kohler Co.?
I left Kohler in April of 2018. At the time, I was in a bit of an orphaned role and I wasn't sure where I fit or if I wanted to continue in a role like that. I had some desire to get back to my project management background (I was no longer in a true PM role) and didn’t see an immediate path to do that at Kohler. Additionally, I was being actively recruited by an agency in Milwaukee.
When did you return to Kohler Co. and what drew you back?
I was hired back at the end of October 2018. It was a combination of things that drew me back to Kohler. For one, my new role didn’t work out. On a big picture scale, I found that I had a hard time connecting with the company’s culture, the work they did and how they did it. I found myself missing Kohler on a lot of levels. I missed being proud of where I worked. I was always proud to say Kohler when asked where I worked. It's a name and brand people know and recognize — not just for being headquartered in Wisconsin, but for being a strong brand across many industries and being an employer people enjoy working for.
I missed working for a company that has the global reach and resources of Kohler. There are so many opportunities that exist at Kohler for simply being global and that's exciting — for example, I am planning a trip to Scotland in a few weeks for a project I'm working on.
Lastly, a big part of wanting to get back to Kohler is for the flexibility that exists in how I work. When I started at Kohler back in 2013, my husband and I didn't have kids. We now have two. I think Kohler has really stepped up in allowing for flexibility in how, where, and when we work. I've seen that there are companies that tolerate flexibility, and then there are companies that embrace it. Kohler fully embraces it, and we have the tools and training that help make that flexibility possible.
Describe what you currently do for Kohler Co. What's the daily routine like?
I am now in the IT group as a Systems Project Manager. Coming in, I anticipated leading various digital projects across the different business units of Kohler but have actually started working on a couple software implementations for the Hospitality Group. There's so much that's familiar after spending nearly five years at Kohler, but there's also a lot to learn given the IT angle. That said, in a way it’s very similar to a lot of the roles I've had in and out of Kohler — helping projects reach the best results possible.
Day-to-day, I facilitate the interactions and activities of the various stakeholders on the projects I'm leading. I collaborate with a lot of different people and disciplines at Kohler to keep the project progressing, from business leaders to accounting and other IT team members. And spreadsheets. IT seems to really like their spreadsheets!
What is your proudest achievement at work?
There are a couple of things that stick out, though they’re not really any one project or specific milestone. The completion of the NXT program is something that I am proud of. It was 18 months long, and I had a baby in the middle as well as a role change. Additionally, returning to work after having my first daughter is something I’m proud of. That transition was one of the hardest of my life, but Kohler was extremely supportive and I was able to work at an 80% schedule for nearly three years, which gave me the balance between working and being a mom.
What has surprised you the most about Kohler?
I think I've been (pleasantly) surprised most since coming back. I honestly had some preconceived notions of what IT groups are like, but it has been such a great team to join. I knew the overall Kohler culture as friendly and collaborative, but the Project Management group within IT has been an easy team to join. There's definitely a steep learning curve that I'm still navigating, but the team I'm on has made me feel very much connected.
What makes you continue to want to work for Kohler?
I think it's all the things that brought me back late last year. I feel that I've found a really good fit within the IT group and have enjoyed contributing to Kohler's success again in new ways.
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