Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E11 Careers Considered – Maintenance Management with April Johnson

Ryan Chan

April Johnson is a Maintenance Manager at Pepsico, an American multinational food, snack and beverage corporation.


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have April Johnson, Maintenance Manager at Pepsico, on the show! Continuing on in our short series, “Careers Considered”, where we dive deeper into the different jobs in the maintenance and reliability industry, we are excited to hear from April about what it is like working as a maintenance manager! Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • What are some of the main responsibilities of being a Maintenance Manager?
  • What are the hard and soft skills someone needs to develop in order to become a Maintenance Manager?
  • What does success look like as a Maintenance Manager, and how do you measure it?

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00:00 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host Ryan and the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shape things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times, their idea revolutionized the entire industry. Today, I’m super excited. We’ve got April Johnson Maintenance Manager of PepsiCo here on the show with us today. Welcome, I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation, April.

00:31 April Johnson: Hey, Ryan. I’m looking forward to it too.

00:34 RC: The way that we always kick things off is just sharing a little bit more about yourself, your background and how you were introduced to this field of maintenance and reliability.

00:43 AJ: So I started in maintenance about 15 years ago, give or take, and I was working in the Finance Department for a few years at the company that I was working at and they decided to restructure and outsource all those jobs. So I was laid off, I think for about 25 to three minutes [laughter] when the Maintenance Manager had called me back and said, “Hey, we wanna bring you to maintenance.” I had no maintenance background before that, and he brought me in to work on storeroom management, helping out with planning and scheduling, and I have been there ever since, I’ve been a storeroom Manager, Maintenance Planner, Maintenance Supervisor and CMMS roll out, integrations over regions and companies, integrated Lean Six Sigma, all those things. I’ve also earned both my CMRP and CRL certification, so I stuck with it, even though it was kind of like an accidental thing to ever even get into it.

01:44 RC: I remember that story of when we were talking just a few months ago, and I’m just like, “Wow, you went from Finance into this Maintenance Department, and it’s been 15 years of doing your CMRP your CRL.” That’s amazing, April, it sounds like you really love this space, this industry, to keep you in it for so long.

02:02 AJ: I do.

02:04 RC: As we continue our short series that dives deeper into the different jobs within the maintenance and reliability field, I’m really excited to take a closer look at what the day in a life looks like for a Maintenance Manager, April. So to kick things off, what are some responsibilities in day-to-day tasks that the Maintenance Manager has to be responsible for?

02:25 AJ: I’m in both leadership roles, I’m responsible to remove the obstacles from my team, it’s almost like being a orchestra conductor, there’s all these different functions that come together and I just kinda get to stand there and time everybody in and like, “Okay, parts, now it’s your turn, it’s your turn,” kind of deal, and Maintenance Managers deal a lot with budgets and overtime and stuff like that. The not so fun stuff. Also repeating priorities, finding the resources to do the work that needs to be done, scheduling, working with production and quality, and to get time and the resources on the machine that you need, the skills that you need, a lot of coaching and developing with my team, so I’m big on the Psychology 101, on Maslow hierarchy of needs, I’m like, “Yeah that really does apply to work, and for you guys to do your best and hear that self-actualization, I gotta make sure that you’re safe, you got your tools and materials that you need, you’re working in a supportive team and that everyone in the building respects the work that you do.” I give them all the… Everything they need at the bottom of the pyramid, they’re just gonna soar, that’s what I’m doing.

03:34 RC: There is this component of actually going out into the field, turning wrenches, getting the part supplies and scheduling, but that’s one of many different pieces of what it sounds like a Maintenance Manager does on a day-to-day basis.

03:48 AJ: You see us on the floor and, you probably see 10% of our work.

03:51 RC: Yeah.

03:52 AJ: If you called us on our break time, you saw about 10% of our work, you didn’t see the 90% of what goes into that. So that we can be able to do that, and what we’re doing when you guys aren’t here, to keep… To stop the breakdowns from happening and things like that.

04:07 RC: I’m super curious, would love to dig a little bit deeper into that. Like what does your team look like, April? And what are the different roles, responsibilities within your team, and what…

04:17 AJ: So I have the maintenance planner scheduler, and they’re constantly looking at… So we have like preventative and particular maintenance tasks that we’re doing, so they’re planning out, we know that we need to replace this every six months or we need to inspect this, they have to work really close with our Parts Team because they are getting the parts there for them. You can’t schedule and complete the work until the parts have arrived. So they work really close together, I have crew leads and also supervisors, so crew leads more reactive in what they’re responding to versus like the supervisors, the planners, they’re all doing the proactive work. Honestly, you have like reactive team, you might have a team of multi-skilled [05:03] ____, there’s electricians, mechanics and [05:08] ____ mechanic. Some of them will also have an additional skill, whether it be welding or something like that, but we kinda look for multi-skilled versus, in a lot of union facilities, “I have this skill, I have this skill,” here, we have like more blended workforce, and then there’s… We have some engineers who also fall under my umbrella, who work more on the reliability and process improvement, kind of working on change over, start up, streamlining those types of activities.

05:45 RC: There’s so much that goes into maintenance and like you mentioned it’s only 10% when you see someone turning wrenches, not on the connection call. [laughter] So I’m curious April, what are some of the hard and soft skills that someone needs to develop in order to become a Maintenance Manager?

06:02 AJ: Anyone who’s at the Maintenance Manager level it’s less about are you… Do you have mechanical and electrical aptitude. I think it’s somewhat assumed by that point that you will. Higher level troubleshooting skills would be important. Yeah, there is a saying that mechanics who troubleshoots or technicians who troubleshoot and ones that change parts and start the machine to see if it runs. [laughter] “Right, okay, that didn’t work, better change these parts. Sorry, no, that didn’t work, change these parts,” but when you get to the point where you’re really troubleshooting and following a logical process to assigning problems and where you can tie it and coach your team through that, becoming process-oriented on understanding all those different legs that make work happen, is really big, so that you can, help out the mechanics and it makes them faster, because really they’re your customer, as a maintenance manager, so you gotta understand your customer and how to service them, then problem-solving skills, I would say would be humongous, whether it’s, you’re doing RCA, you’re doing fish bones and breakdown analysis on a part. Really, really being grounded in those skills. And soft skills for maintenance managers, I find it hard, time management, communication skills.

07:23 AJ: You’re constantly talking to everybody from operators, the people on the floor, vendors. You gotta be able to communicate with them in a way that they can understand, but it’s also not, I don’t know, talking down to them, you know. Organizational skills and follow-up, every day, something new is coming up and have a methodical process about how you manage your work. Sometimes when you’re on the floor, you’re firefighting and you’re running around, you have the cape on like Superman, but you don’t really get to be Superman, as a maintenance manager, you gotta be Clark Kent.


08:00 RC: I love the analogies here, April. But what I’m hearing is to be a… Become a maintenance managers, it’s about developing the skills to be able to teach and train 10 others and when I hear you say process, it’s not just process to create more hoops and hurdles for other people, it’s process that people can follow a standardized format that all gets us to the same outcome, whether very little or, you know, a lot. How do you measure your own success, as a maintenance manager? And how should other maintenance managers measure their own success?

08:36 AJ: You know, there’s thousands of KPIs out there, there’s one for your whole plant, your cost to produce, cost per unit, availability, OEE. In the beginning of my career, I was always focused on three or four, and like, “Oh, these are my critical KPIs, and I gotta get this sent over.” Maybe the last year or two, I kinda changed my perspective and thought to myself, “Okay… ” A lot of times in maintenance we do, by default, kind of silo ourselves off, and I’ve even heard technicians as well say, “Our goals aren’t the same as theirs.” And so, as I’m growing up and getting older and say, “No, we are all working towards the same thing.” We have to be, we can’t be fragmented, so the way that I actually measure my success now, is, I look at the work that I’m doing and, I look to see if it’s aligned to the plant or the company’s objectives. And what am I doing to help further that.

09:35 AJ: And if I can’t clearly point, look at what I’m doing and say, “That is helping that objective or that’s our mission statement, or that’s in our vision statement.” [chuckle] If I can’t really do that, about what I spend the majority of my time doing, I’m probably focused on the wrong things, I’m being more maintenance-centric, but I need to understand where my company’s vision is, what my plant’s vision is, align my department to that vision and then measure our success based on that.

10:07 RC: That’s such an important perspective, April, ’cause I 100% hear you, when I hear other people talk about like, “Hurray! I’ve got close to 100% PM compliance, but we had 30 hours of downtime last month,” it’s like, that’s not great, hurray for you, but those goals aren’t aligned to the company’s goals or like, “Oh yeah, our mean time to beat… Between failures is really low, but we have like six mission-critical pieces of equipment go down.” Like, it’s not just the mean that the company cares about, and so what I hear you say is, it’s important to track all these KPIs, but if these KPIs don’t lead you to the same outcome, that your business is focused on, that your plant is focused on, what production is focused on, it doesn’t mean that we should all be cheering for success, and my guess is it goes the same way the other way, if the business is successful, if your plant is successful and sure, maybe we didn’t hit that 99% PM compliance like we wanted to, like, that’s okay, as well on the flipside.

11:12 AJ: To me, KPIs are supposed to tell you that you’re doing the right thing, they are supposed to… If it gets better, it’s supposed to mean that you’re making the right decisions, but when you get so obsessed with the KPI… I had a planter once, who was obsessed with getting to the 100% PM compliance, so he closed all PMs but two. Sure, so he was 100% for a year, ’cause there was only two. Now like… [laughter] that’s not it, dude.

11:40 RC: Yeah, that’s not it.

11:42 AJ: That is not it, that’s not success, that’s not what it was supposed to look like.

11:47 RC: So April, I’m curious, from when you first started out, to now, where you are today, what are some of the challenges that you’ve seen in the maintenance management space and being a maintenance manager?

11:58 AJ: There’s more collaboration than there used to be. Things like there’s even like, a podcast or… When I first started out in maintenance, it was so hard to get information, I really feel like it was, like I struggled, just like to, learn what another company was doing or what somebody else was doing within the same space, so I’ve noticed, over the years now, it’s much more open and much more inclusive even. I see more women doing this now than I did, when I started, I was like the only woman I knew, doing this for… [chuckle] For a while, so, I also see a lot of new technology, a lot of new ways to collect data, a lot of ways to analyze data too, to just pour information and then make it useable. So, I think those are the biggest changes that I have seen, since I came into the field.

12:54 RC: There is so much change, and you know, really glad to be doing these types of community building exercises for our community, for people who are in this space, in this group. So really excited about that. You know, April, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone, who’s interested in becoming a maintenance manager?

13:11 AJ: Work on building two skills, your people skills, and your problem-solving skills. And they kinda go together sometimes, ’cause sometimes people can be the problem. But you, if work with a very diverse group of people, I think, in maintenance, especially, generationally. There’s a lot of cross right now and I know a lot of people are about to retire out of the industry, and then you have technicians who are just starting out, and we all work so different. So, I mean, work on your people skills because you can’t lead people if you can’t work with people, and you need to be able to sometimes step back and take emotion out of it and most treat some of your people issues like a machine issue and doing RCA, and figure out what happened. It’s kind of weird, but I’ve done that before and it actually got me to an answer a lot faster than listening to…

14:08 RC: I can tell that you’ve been in the industry for quite some time, just the way that you problem solve, problem solve people problems too, but I love it as well.

14:17 AJ: It starts to leak into other stuff in your life. I think I wrote a 36 to 90 day plan for my kids, once, and they were like, “Mom, what is this?” [laughter]

14:27 RC: That’s great. I love it.

14:28 AJ: “Let’s sit down and figure out why you can’t get up for school on time.” You know. [laughter]

14:36 RC: April, lastly, what do you love about being a maintenance manager? What do you love about your job, your role?

14:43 AJ: I really enjoy working with the people that I work with, I think I work with amazing people, doing challenging work. So I’m never bored.

14:53 RC: That’s awesome, April. And lastly, how can our listeners connect with you and follow you on your journey?

15:00 AJ: So I’m on Linkedin, as, I think I use my middle initial, there’s like a million, April Johnsons in the world, as April C. Johnson, or also email me at [email protected]

15:17 RC: Well, thank you so much, April, for joining us, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email directly at [email protected] Until next time. Thanks again, April.

15:33 AJ: Thank you.

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