Waukegan, Illinois

What do dog grooming and maintenance have in common? Thom Knudsen. In his free time, Thom not only grooms dogs, but he is also a talented musician. As a kid, he began fixing things with his grandfather and learned early on the unique ability to spread joy through such a practical skill. Thom got his musical tendencies from his mother, who used to sing rock and roll in the car with him growing up. He now has his own home recording studio that he shares with his four daughters. Professionally, Thom works as the Maintenance Coordinator for American Blending and Filling. At his facility, the company fills bottles with fluids that go on or in your body – everything from shampoo to Windex to toothpaste. Because of Thom, people can rely on the products that his company makes to in turn make their lives better, easier, cleaner, or make them smell better. 

Thom says, “We fill bottles and I’ve never felt closer to the community than I do now, because the bottles that I support and help make end up at stores right next door to me. I can go into almost any store and find the products that have been made on the machines that I worked on…It’s like making something and giving it to your friend and then they pay you for it – except now I have a lot of friends. I consider them people who trust my work as a mechanic to make the machines make the things they use.”

Thom Knudsen, thank you for everything that you do. Your love for learning, passion for helping people, and desire to spread joy are so refreshing and so genuine.

How did you get started in maintenance?

My family is a big military family and I grew up around a lot of mechanics. My mechanical inclination definitely came from my grandfather; he had a really magical skill with fixing things and making things better. I was always taking things apart in his garage, and not necessarily putting them back together. I ended up with a lot of broken toys, but eventually learned how to fix them by watching him reassemble different things just from watching him. He and my grandmother used to go to the junkyard and old sewing machines, furniture, anything really to tinker with and they always ended up better than before. He’s only 5’1” but when I was a kid, he used to be a giant to me – not only because of size but because I looked up to him so much for what he could do with stuff. Now, I stand at 6’6” so he’s definitely not the giant anymore, but still gave me my love for fixing machines for other people.

When my first daughter was about to be born, I went to trade school for welding. I thought from there that I would go into production welding. In 2011, my instructor helped me get a job in maintenance. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but ended up joining Stericycle doing maintenance in a facility that processes medical waste. My welding background helped me some, but I learned so much on the job. I can’t stress enough the importance of learning alongside people who’ve done it before.

My role there changed as I developed a skill and a passion for using software for maintenance. I began to spread the word about digitizing efforts and creating a record of everything that we’re doing.

I left that company to work for an auto-parts manufacturing company, but now I work for American Blending & Filling as the Maintenance Coordinator. I recently got a promotion so now I have eight people working under me, and it’s my job to coordinate them correctly to run all of the machines. If I don’t do my job well, there’s no way they can do their jobs well. It’s a practical skill to have to be able to fix things and make them work well. But, it’s also one of the ways you can spread joy in people’s lives – by giving them something that they can rely on.

What is one of your proudest achievements?

I have two – one is mine and one isn’t as much my own. One of my proudest achievements I felt on a day when I was driving in the car with my daughters on a trip. I worked a lot with my kids before school to start helping them read and do math. So, we were driving together one day and we passed a billboard and, about a minute later, my kid says the entire sentence that was on the billboard. I was so shocked that I started crying while I was driving. It was a really special moment for me because it had all come together for her and she understood something about the world that I wanted her to – that there’s information out there that you can’t understand until you learn to read. The most important thing that I’ve achieved is not just that I’ve had kids, but that I’ve supported their education beyond being in school and parented them in ways that supplemented what they’ll learn in school.

The other achievement that I’m proudest of is being promoted to the position I’m in today. It’s a good feeling being in this position and I have really great guys under me. I feel like a leader and I have a lot of responsibility. I’m still learning leadership skills, but I earned this promotion and am loving every minute of it. Also, I’m proud I won 2nd place at the Pinewood Derby without cheating. Everyone else was cheating, but I kept within spec and I got second place!

What is one thing you wish people knew about your job?

I wish people knew how fun it can be and I wish people knew what goes into it. It’s not just that I can use a wrench or read a manual. Anyone can do those things. There are other aspects of it – paying attention, being kind and respectful of your coworkers, staying accountable, being honest. I wish people knew that if you put all of those qualities into action, your work can be fun. I try to remain positive and I know that at the end of the day, I did everything I could to support people.

Thank you, Thom!