September 2, 2021

Plant Manager Maria Jackson Stepped Outside Her Comfort Zone – and it Paid Off

Maria Jackson

Maria Jackson has been the plant manager of Trane Technologies' White Bear Lake, Minnesota, facility since 2013. She started her career with our business in 1997 as an accounts payable temp, and hired on a few months later in a full-time accounts payable role. She held several different accounting positions over the years before moving into a project management role, and eventually to operations.

Maria’s is not a typical career path. So, how did she do it? Maria says two important things made a big impact on the trajectory of her career: Going back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree and trusting the guidance of her mentor, Kevin Bollom, vice president of Quality Customer Experience.

“Earning my degree in 2006 opened up many doors for me,” Maria said.

With her degree in-hand – and with Kevin’s encouragement – Maria applied for her first position outside of accounting. She landed the project management role, a position she wasn’t sure she’d be good at. But Kevin knew; in fact, this career move was his idea.

“Kevin helped me do things in my career that I never thought I would do and didn’t believe I had the talent for,” Maria said. “He saw something in me and pushed me in new directions. I wouldn’t be in this  plant manager role without Kevin – I will be forever grateful.”

Taking the risk

It should come as no surprise, then, that Kevin asked Maria to step into the role of interim plant manager at White Bear Lake. Maria agreed, despite some reservations, and then accepted the role permanently a year later.

Maria says stepping outside her comfort zone has really paid off and is a key theme of her career. The support and guidance from her mentor was also crucial.

“It helped me go for these roles when someone I truly respected saw something in me that I wasn’t seeing in myself,” Maria said. “That boosted my confidence. I went for it and asked myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’

“If you don’t take that risk, you’re never going to know what’s on the other side.”

Women in leadership roles

When Kevin hired Maria as plant manager – and Maria took that risk – she stepped into a visible leadership role, inspiring more women to follow.

“I believe women and men think differently in certain situations, and having that different thought process leads to new perspectives,” Maria said. “Historically, the HVAC industry has been male-dominated, but I’m seeing it change, especially right here in our White Bear Lake facility.”

Maria’s leadership team is 60% female, and during her time as plant manager, the White Bear Lake employee population has nearly achieved gender parity, with women making up 44% of production employees.

Maria was recently named a 2021 STEP Ahead Award Honoree for Excellence in Manufacturing. The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead Awards recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies. The initiative is reducing the gender gap in manufacturing and aligned with Trane Technologies’ 2030 Commitments and our membership in the Paradigm for Parity coalition.

Passion for women in STEM

Maria is passionate about promoting manufacturing careers for women and girls. Our White Bear Lake facility held a Project Scientist expedition in 2019 to expose young girls to manufacturing careers and STEM topics.

“I want women and girls to understand that they’re fully capable of any career they set their sights on – and to show them how manufacturing can be like putting together a puzzle,” she said. “Elements of manufacturing can be very fun and teach you to think outside the box and use your skillset in ways you didn’t know you could.”

The critical thinking aspect of manufacturing is the part of her job that Maria likes most.

“I love the problem-solving,” she said. “Manufacturing is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where we take the culmination of what the rest of the business is doing and build a quality product and create value for customers.”

Seek out a mentor

Maria’s best advice for someone aspiring to advance in their career, whether it’s in manufacturing or elsewhere? Seek out a mentor.

“Find someone that you respect and whose behavior you want to model,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if their career path is the same or if they work for a different company. Find that person and ask them to be your mentor. I truly believe you need to seek out a mentor, and it will make all the difference in your career. It did for mine.”

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