My Wabash Story: Terri Horton

  • Diversity & Inclusion
by Aidan Freeman | Feb 14, 2023

Terri Horton began her Wabash story during a time of exceptional responsibility. Following a recent divorce, Terri was in the midst of caring for her niece, as well as her three daughters, and was in search of a better paying job that could help support her family. With four girls around the house and no one else to look after them while she worked, jobs that had her working late into the evening were out of the question. A stroke of luck would have Terri applying for a position with Wabash through a talent recruitment agency in 2003. She remarked that she was "fortunate enough to be hired on for the day shift despite them typically only hiring for the night shift." While the opportunity was a welcome one, the excitement was somewhat short lived as she was immediately greeted by rather unappetizing conditions upon her first couple of weeks. She began as a joiner on the glue line, where conditions were incredibly tough for new hires.

"We didn’t really have the safety precautions we have now," she said. "When I first started, it was extremely rough... [But] I was never late, and I never missed a day of work, except for vacation."

Regardless of the treatment of her fellow employees, she pressed forward, challenging her difficult coworkers who suggested she would not last in the environment. Certain days were easier than others, but the constant difficulty of clashing ideologies and an imbalanced team made for long shifts early on in her career. Terri remarked that there were nights when she wasn’t sure about the path she was taking, or if remaining in her position was going to be worth it. However, determination, her family, and a desire to refute the claims made by those who thought she would fail kept her pressing forward. While Terri admits the conditions upon her arrival were sub-par, to say the least, she was glad to share that she’d seen considerable growth not only in the position itself and the glue line, but rather in Wabash as a whole.

"Everyone’s more respectful of each other," she says. "It’s a lot more pleasant to work on the glue line now than it was when I started."

In 2008, Terri was promoted to glue line coordinator, where she became responsible for developing the team, making sure the plant had materials, and being the general overseer for all matters regarding the line. She remembered that during her transition to the role, the conditions were still very product-driven, where management "only worried about getting the products out the door more than anything else." But in 2012, Terri began to see a completely different Wabash from the one she began her journey with. She remembered the day when new management practices were adopted and remarked that "they just started turning everything around." The workplace conditions had drastically improved, and while there was still a lot of work to do, it was refreshing to see that adjustment.

"The environment started to change, and they started working with us," she said. "[Now] they just want us to do the best we can. We have a really good management team now."

Terri discussed some of the major changes that she saw throughout the company that helped construct new management, including opportunities to implore the necessity of safety and equal treatment of employees. As a coordinator, she also was subjected to professional development courses offered by Wabash that prepared her and the members of her team to not only improve their hard skills, but their soft skills as well.

"The classes taught us how to talk to people," she said. "Your approach and how you talk to someone when they don’t know something is essential. Maybe they have something going on, and if they do, you need to listen. Sometimes people have problems, and they just need to talk."

Even now, in her position as a glue line coordinator, she employs the same practices that she gleaned from the leadership courses that she and her team underwent years ago. She wanted to ensure a safe, welcoming, and strong environment that employees were proud to be a part of. Terri shared that Wabash's core values are still ingrained in her daily routine every time she walks into work, even though she believes they mean different things to different employees. Terri told us a story of an interaction she had with an employee, where she witnessed a group that seemed to be falling behind on their work. Instinctively, she remarked that they weren’t doing something right, which prompted a later conversation with one of her employees. He asked Terri if, instead of coming down so hard on the staff, she could instead ask what was happening on the glue line and why work had been stopped.

"That stopped me for a moment, and I realized he’s right," she said. "So now when I walk into something, I’ll ask them what happened instead."

Today, Terri remains a coordinator for the glue line for Harrison’s plant 2, entirely by choice. She remarked that she "wants to be there with her team and to see what they can do next." She’s always thrilled to see where she and the team can take it, whether it’s being more optimized, or building a stronger team connection.

"The glue line is almost like my family," said Terri. "I want Wabash to know that they can count on me, and that I can count on them. I have no desire to leave because I care about the people."

We asked Terri if she had any final pieces of advice for those looking to grow in their career:

"Whatever job you’re doing, you need to expand. You should learn all the jobs to have a better understanding of the facility; sit in on supervisor meetings if you can, offer to take classes. You have to get out of your comfort zone, and you’ll be amazed at what you can do. Even now, I’m learning new computer skills that put me completely out of my comfort zone, but I’m also learning that I can do it."

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