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The Curious Mind of Kimberly Howard

Sept. 5, 2017
Always be learning, suggests Owens Corning VP as she encourages women to excel.

If anyone ever suggests you're too curious for your own good, point to Owens Corning's Kimberly Howard and say, "Well, look where it has taken her." 

Howard is vice president and managing director, Glass Reinforcement Solutions, Americas, for the Toledo-based manufacturer of insulation, roofing and fiberglass composites. It's a position that has her leading a business of approximately $750 million in annual revenue and more than 2,500 people.

Sit down and talk with Howard for a bit about her career, as this editor did, and you'll soon hear the word "curiosity" pop up frequently. That strong desire to know or learn – the definition of curiosity -- has been a significant impetus for a manufacturing career that has been both steadily upward bound and diversified in roles.

For example, Howard joined Owens Corning some two decades ago in a finance role at the corporate level. Her desire to get closer to where production occurred and better understand the manufacturing business led her to request a finance assignment more closely tied to manufacturing activities. From there, her interest in the business led to a variety of Owens Corning opportunities along the way, including in sourcing, operations and plant leadership, and strategy. Prior to her current position, Howard was vice president and managing director, Glass Reinforcement Solutions, EMEA.

Earlier this year Howard received a STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead award from the Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers focused on manufacturing workforce development. The STEP Ahead initiative highlights the impact of women in manufacturing as a means to attract and retain their talent in manufacturing.

In her STEP Ahead profile, Howard said, "I love solving problems, learning how things work, and continuous improvement. In the operations environment, I enjoyed enrolling and engaging employees at the plant to solve problems and improve performance."

She continued, "As a general manager, I utilize this same skills set to enroll and engage customers in solving problems."

IndustryWeek spoke with Howard in the spring about her career. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

On being a woman in manufacturing:

"I have never seen [here at Owens Corning] that me being a woman mattered. And I mean that in a good way," she says.

In fact, Howard says of her years with Owens Corning, "I received lots of encouragement" to explore new opportunities. "People were welcoming because they saw my curiosity. I'm a learner and I learned a ton."

"My biggest barrier, this is a global company. I don't speak multiple languages."

On paving the way for women to excel:

Howard mentors women both inside and outside of Owens Corning. At the time of her STEP Ahead award, she was coaching 10 individuals. Why so active on this front?

"Partially because people did it for me," she says. Additionally, Howard has four daughters. "I try to be a good role model for them."

On her leadership style:

"I love solving problems and I don't like doing it myself," Howard says.

She describes her leadership style as "collaborative, team-oriented," and she's a big believer in collective thought. "I'm the ultimate tie-breaker if needed. I prefer to hear all voices, choose a direction and then we move."

On advising the next generation of women leaders:

Howard suggests that women are more inclined than men to believe they need to know everything before they pursue new opportunities. Instead, she says, "Be more confident. You don't need to know everything."

It is a realization Howard said she has reached over time, and with the help of her own mentors. Indeed, asked about the best business advice she ever received, Howard cites that from a leader of a business unit she once was in. That leader's advice: "Be vocal in what you are thinking. Do not be afraid to share what you are thinking."

Says Howard: "We reach a better decision."

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