This is My Story.
This is My Story.
Watch Randell’s Video
‘Manufacturing gave our family everything we needed.’
The youngest of seven children, Randell Harper always had a tight-knit circle surrounding him. With an 18-year age gap between him and his oldest sibling, his six sisters and brothers influenced him, showed him right from wrong, and taught him about respect. To help provide for Harper’s family, his mom, who imparted on him responsibility and a strong work ethic, worked as a weaver in a cotton mill in LaGrange, Ga. Over the course of her 35 years working at the manufacturing plant, Harper visited the mill on many occasions. He experienced the changes in manufacturing technology first hand, as he watched her go from the manual work of running ten presses at a time to automated manufacturing, where she managed 100 frames at once. At a young age, Harper also quickly realized the financial stability that manufacturing brought to his large family.
‘Getting my team to show up for work was 50 percent of the battle.’
At 17 Harper married and soon after had his first child. To provide for his family, he began working with his cousin and brother, hanging wallpaper. As he was learning the craft, the business was getting a larger volume of work and he began taking on more responsibility. Within three years he was running his own wallpaper company and paint crew, with eight employees. Relying on repeat customers and recommendations to fuel almost his entire business, Harper knew he had to employ a staff that had the same ideals and focus as he did. “I was managing a team of people younger than I was. I had to get them to show up every day, ready to work hard, and learn,” Harper said. “As the owner of a small business, I was responsible for their actions while on the job, so it was important that I earned their respect.”
During the slower months of his business, Harper began to take on additional jobs to supplement his income. He picked up weekend shifts at the cotton mill where his mom worked. It was during this time that he recognized how completely different manufacturing had become since visiting his mom at the mill when he was a kid. Now in his early 30s with five kids, Harper was spending his weekdays hanging wallpaper, his weekends at the mill, and his nights thinking about his family’s future.
‘I wanted a steady, reliable job.‘
Knowing that he wanted a better health insurance policy and to start planning for retirement, Harper began contemplating a career change. With his experience working weekends at the cotton mill and his understanding of the stability that manufacturing could provide his family, he began applying for jobs. In 2004, he accepted a position at Bonnell Aluminum, an extruder of the metal in Newnan, Ga. Not entirely ready to leave his comfort zone, he kept his wallpaper business on the side while making sure his new career choice was a good fit for him.
Harper discovered the skills he developed from managing his own business and a team of people were easily transferrable to his new job in manufacturing. He was motivated to learn all of the equipment on the plant floor, as well as learn about his superiors’ day-to-day activities. As other opportunities within the company became available, Harper applied and continued to advance professionally.
Although he had the experience and expertise to continue moving up, all jobs above his assistant operations manager position required a college degree. He saw new jobs open and people around him advancing into those positions or others being hired from the outside. Seeing that he wanted to progress in his career, the human resources manager at his company continuously encouraged him to pursue his degree. “I would pass her in the hall and she’d ask me if I applied to colleges yet,” Harper recounted. “I just kept putting college off. I wasn’t ready to go back and didn’t believe I had the time.”
‘I finally stopped making the excuse of “I don’t have time”.’
One day, “something just changed. I decided if I really wanted to move up in the company that I would find the time,” he said. Harper drove over to West Georgia Technical College, where he met with an administrator and an advisor. While on campus, he decided to enroll in classes. “I thought while I was already there I should sign-up. That way I have more of a chance of sticking with it.”
Harper was curious as to how he would fit in with a classroom full of younger students. What he found was that although most of his classmates were right out of high school, everyone was there to learn. He started by taking a couple of courses, but once he adjusted to his new routine, began taking five classes a semester. “I used to think I didn’t have time to go to college,” he said. “Now I’m wondering what I did with all of my free time.”
‘I’m striving to get a 4.0 and influencing my family at the same time.’
As Harper continued his studies, higher education became a typical topic of conversation at home. His oldest daughter transferred to West Georgia Technical College. Soon after, his next-eldest daughter graduated high school and enrolled there as well. To round out the family affair, Harper encouraged his wife to go back to school and finish the degree that she had started years before.
Going to college with three other family members had an effect on everyone. The family began taking varying workloads with the end goal in mind of graduating together.
Harper recently completed his associate’s degree at West Georgia Technical College and is now enrolled in a program to obtain his bachelor’s degree. He has even higher aspirations to continue his studies and get his Master of Business Administration.
‘I stepped out of another comfort zone to continue to move up in my career.’
A decade after closing his business to change careers, two years after starting college as an adult, and 10 years since he began working at Bonnell, Harper once again stepped out of his comfort zone, taking a promotion at another manufacturing plant. This degree and his experience helped him become a production manager at JAC Products, an aluminum manufacturer of roof racks and auto body trim, in Franklin, Ga. He now manages 17 people at JAC Products and sees himself as a resource for his team. “I’m here to help my team, not change the way they do things,” Harper said. “I want to learn what works for them and be a tool that helps them improve.”
For Harper, manufacturing is a natural fit. It offers him a family-like, tight-knit environment — one that’s similar to his own large family. And he is able to be a part of building items from raw material to final product and seeing the end result of his team’s work. “It’s the same as when I owned my business,” Harper said. “It’s just as important to me that we produce a great quality product and leave the customer with the feeling that they received a good deal for their money.”
‘Manufacturing challenges your mind and gives you the opportunity to learn amazing things.’
Stepping out of his comfort zone has continuously allowed Harper to flourish. It allowed him to change careers, which led him to earn his degree, and pursue advanced studies. “Manufacturing also showed me new ways in which I could grow. Everything my team and bosses have been willing to teach me, I have been willing to learn, which tells me that my opportunities are limitless.”
Harper added, “Whether you’re coming right out of high school or looking for a career change, manufacturing is a great environment and can provide you with a great career – not just a way to live paycheck to paycheck.”
Harper continues, “Manufacturing has been the constant in my life – from my childhood to providing a stable lifestyle in which I could raise my kids to also sending our family to college. I don’t think I would have what I have today if it wasn’t for my decision to go into manufacturing.”
About JAC Products
JAC Products was founded in 1967 and is a leading designer and manufacturer of original equipment roof racks and other auto body trim, supplying vehicle manufacturers worldwide. Headquartered in Michigan, JAC Products has a production facility in Franklin, Georgia, two additional locations in North America, and another in Portugal.
The Franklin plant is the largest employer in the area. JAC Products offers product development, advanced design, and CAD 3D modeling. All of their plants have extensive manufacturing capabilities including, aluminum extrusion, roll form, injection molding, fabrication, finishing, and final assembly.
Every JAC facility is in accordance with ISO 14001 and TS 16949 standards, the international standards for environmental management systems and quality management systems for installation and servicing of automotive-related products, respectively.