20 Questions With Kaitlin Lesser, Alpha Metal Finishing

Lesser also works alongside her husband, a fifth-generation farmer in Dexter, in the agricultural industry.
Although the Office Manager, occasionally Lesser will be pulled onto the production floor to help with racking, unracking, or packaging, or to help mask or plug parts.
Lesser and her husband had their first child in 2023.

Kaitlin Lesser is the Office Manager at Alpha Metal Finishing in Dexter, Michigan.

Lesser has a business degree from Washtenaw Community College, minoring in marketing. She also works alongside her husband, a fifth-generation farmer in Dexter, in the agricultural industry.

Lesser credits Alpha Metal Finishing owner Greg Wood and Vice President Jamie Barrus as her biggest mentors.

How did you get your start in the finishing and coating industry? I started in the finishing and coating industry by the grace of God. I was perusing Indeed.com and stumbled across a position as a “production specialist,” racking and unracking jobs for anodize and hardcoat. It sparked my interest in moving into the manufacturing industry, so I applied for the position. Once I stepped foot in the building and met Greg and Jamie, I was hooked.

What does your job entail? I was hired as a production specialist with hopes of moving into the office manager position once I understood how anodizing worked. I began with racking parts, unracking parts, inspecting, and packaging for shipments. Once I was acclimated and understood the anodizing world, I began to work more in the offices: billing invoices, applying for payments and completing necessary safety and regulatory paperwork.

Can you describe a typical day for you? I typically begin by checking emails and listening to voicemail messages. Once caught up with those, I generally work on safety and regulatory paperwork, inspections, and walk-throughs and document my findings accordingly. Then, I move on to invoicing, billing, and applying payments. Occasionally, I will be pulled onto the production floor to help with racking, unracking, or packaging or to help mask or plug parts.

What do you like best about working in the finishing and coating industry? I enjoy the people and the work we do. I work with one of the greatest teams around, and we serve some of the nicest customers. I can truly say that I love coming to work every day and interacting with my coworkers. Seeing finished products from our customers is also a great feeling because you get to see what your hard work contributed to.

What preconceived notions about the finishing and coating industry have changed since you started working in it? I thought that this job would be just like any other manufacturing job. I figured it would be dirty with long hours and very male-dominated. Instead, I encountered a clean and organized work environment with normal 8-hour work days and split about 50/50, male to female. Like most people who hear the word anodizing, I thought it was just dipping metal into dyes to make it different colors. After one day, I realized that was not the case and just how much individual care and intricacy go into doing what we do.

Can you describe a project you have been involved in that made you most proud? We work on quite a bit of medical devices, and I’d have to say that working on components of a heart pump makes me the most proud. It makes me realize that this device will single-handedly assist someone down the line who needs it.

Why would you recommend a career in the finishing and coating industry to a friend? I think it is an underrated industry. There is so much reward in what we do. You work with great people who love their work and treat you with kindness and respect.

What is the toughest part of your job? The toughest part of my job is figuring out racking methods for parts that require little to no rack marks. When anodizing, you have to have contact from an aluminum (or titanium) rack in order for the current to pass through it and into the part you’re anodizing. Sometimes parts are highly cosmetic and the customer wants no rack marks. Typically our VP and scheduling coordinator brainstorm ways for this to be possible with the customer.

How do you describe your job to family and friends and its importance? I explain it as raw aluminum parts brought into us for anodizing, an electrochemical process for producing controlled aluminum oxide films on aluminum. These films can be colored or clear, depending on the part’s need. The finish is very hard and exceptionally wear-resistant, which typically is good for many consumer products due to its aesthetic and corrosion protection properties.

What was your first job? Alpha is my first career in the metal finishing industry, but I had been doing office management and accounting for about six years before starting at Alpha. I was in customer service before that.

What type of college, school, or training have you had? I have a high school diploma and a business degree with a marketing minor. I had 6+ years of office and accounting experience before starting at Alpha Metal Finishing in 2021.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? I hope to still be at Alpha in 5-10 years. I have come to love and regard our customers and coworkers as family. I also just had my first child in 2023, so I hope to be done growing my family in the next 5-10 years as well.

What is your most humorous day/event in the finishing and coating industry? Occasionally, we will have a snowball or water balloon fight. Last winter, we had a snowball fight, and it was one of the best memories I have made at Alpha. Even our contractor, who was there working on a project, joined in on the fun. We also take birthdays pretty seriously around here, and you might get the occasional whipped cream pie to the face; you can check out our Facebook for a video.

What was your favorite subject in high school or college? My favorite school subject was history. I always enjoyed learning about past historical events and seeing how they have changed the world today.

What motivates you to work hard at your job? I am motivated by the services we provide and the great feedback we get from our customers. When we complete a job and hear positive customer feedback, it reminds me why we do what we do. Knowing what purpose the parts we anodize serve also motivates me, especially when it’s medical devices, because you know that your contributions are helping with life-saving devices.

Tell us about your outside hobbies and interests: I live and work on my husband’s 6th-generation family farm, so I enjoy spending lots of time outside, in nature, and with animals. From working with the cattle to helping bale hay, there is always some type of vigorous activity going on. Staying busy and working with my hands brings me great joy.

What three things do you think of the most each workday? The three things I think of the most each workday are our customers, quality and safety, and compliance. I believe our customers are #1. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have anything. Every day, we complete our jobs with the customer in mind by making sure to meet our customer’s requirements, including timeliness, communication, proper specifications, and quality, to name a few. Quality is a major factor in our day-to-day operations. Every employee is trained in quality and evaluates every piece before it leaves our facility. If there are any concerns, we will alert Quality Assurance (Alex), who will contact the company. We take pride in what we do and want only the best for our customers. Lastly, safety and compliance are very crucial aspects of our operations. As many know, the finishing and coating industry requires federal and state mandates to keep employees safe. I work diligently daily, researching new updates within OSHA, EPA, and EGLE to ensure the best practices are in place for our employees. Additionally, we work on implementing internal safety practices to ensure all our employees are safe and secure.

Who has been the biggest mentor in your career? Jamie Barrus, our Vice President, and Greg Wood, our President and Owner. They are both seasoned professionals who have experience and infinite knowledge within the anodizing industry. Although I have already learned so much from them both, I hope to continue developing certain skills they possess and share in their knowledge.

What is your favorite book? My favorite book I’ve read was one recently released by Dr. Henry Cloud called Trust. He explores the five foundational aspects of trust that must be present for any relationship to function successfully and helps us to understand how to implement them. He also guides us through the difficult process of repairing trust when it has been violated and broken, even when restoring trust feels impossible.