Q&A with Randy Jackson, Macon native and vice president at Kia’s Georgia plant

Randy Jackson seemed to be a good choice as keynote speaker for a manufacturers appreciation luncheon Thursday. Not only has he had a long career in manufacturing, but also he is a Macon native.

“It’s great to be back home,” said Jackson, senior vice president of human resources and administration for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc. in West Point.

Jackson has more than 35 years experience in the automotive industry and worked for Toyota Motors in Kentucky and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Alabama before joining Kia.

“I was lucky to be the first American hired” at Kia about eight years ago, he said.

The event, hosted by the Macon Economic Development Commission and the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce at the Methodist Home for Children and Youth, was an opportunity for manufacturers to network and be recognized.

The Georgia Kia facility is the first manufacturing plant in North America for the Seoul, Korea-based company. The company began mass production of the Kia Sorento in late 2009, and it has the ability to build 360,000 vehicles annually. Kia has about 3,000 workers and contributes to nearly 15,000 jobs when associated suppliers are included. The plant has produced 1.5 million vehicles, and it is the third largest customer through the Port of Savannah.

“We are making a car every 57 seconds,” Jackson said.

He told the gathering of about 175 business and government leaders that if things are not working out the way they should to pay more attention to the people in their business.

“If you are falling down and getting up and falling down and getting up, you are probably spending more time on the technical side of the business instead of the human side,” he said.

Jackson said we live in a global market, “but we have to keep jobs in our country and keep jobs in our state.”

Earlier this week Jackson talked to The Telegraph about his career and the manufacturing industry.

Q: Where were you born and raised?

A: I was born in Macon Hospital. I was in Bibb County until I was about 9 or 10 years old. Then my mother and father moved to Jones County. Most all my family are still in (Middle Georgia) but me. I left Macon when I finished high school. I went to Jonesco Academy, graduating in 1975. I played football, baseball and basketball.

Q: Where did you go to college, and what did you plan to do?

A: I went to the University of Georgia and graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in industrial psychology.

When I started, I planned to be dentist. One of my friends’ father was a dentist, and I got interested in it. But when I was in the 10th grade, I went to work with Phil Walden and Capricorn Studios. I learned a lot from those folks about how to negotiate contacts.

When I went to Georgia, my adviser thought I was pretty good at coming across with people, and she thought the human resource field was going to be growing a lot, and it would be a good field for the future. Georgia was starting their first industrial psychology program. I ended up graduating in the first class in that field.

Q: Briefly describe your career after college?

A: I spent most of my time in the automotive business. I worked for a large aluminum company based in Canada for awhile, Alcan Aluminum in Louisville, Kentucky. I was the director of human resources for North America.

Then I went to work for Toyota Motors, in Erlanger, Kentucky. I was the general manager of human resources in administration. I joined Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as general manger of human resources. Then I left there and came to Kia in July 2007.

(While working, Jackson got a master’s degree in business at Century University and a law degree at UCLA.)

Q: What led you to go to work at Kia in West Point?

A: A couple of things were attractive to me. I really enjoyed my time at Toyota around the Asian climate and Asian colleagues. And it runs a little more parallel to my personal beliefs. I just felt like if I got back into an Asian environment I would be happier and more comfortable.

Also, it was another start-up opportunity for me to come in as the first person. It also gave me a chance go out and draft or pick a team, which I was successful at doing. Of course, obviously it brought me back to my home state, which was attractive.

Q: What are your thoughts about the manufacturing industry in Georgia?

A: Well, we’ve been working with Gov. (Sonny) Perdue and his administration when we first started and now with Gov. (Nathan) Deal and his administration. I think both groups have done well bringing new business to Georgia. We’ve brought a lot of our suppliers to Georgia.

Manufacturing in Georgia is growing rapidly. I think it’s doing very well.It’s creating a lot of jobs for a lot of Georgians to fill.

Q: What are some of the challenges manufacturers in Georgia face?

A: We have to have a current workforce as well as a future workforce available that has the skills and education that’s needed in advanced manufacturing like ourselves. But when you get into high tech industries that’s heavily populated with computers and high-technology driven, the skills sets are somewhat different than in the past. We have to start looking at our future workforce because our workforce 10 years from now is sitting in the sixth grade.

Q: How difficult is it for manufacturers to find the employees they need?

A: Business needs to marry itself up with education and get more of the real world into the class setting. When we go out and look for mechanical, electrical, dye maintenance, or people with hydraulics, robotics, welding-type backgrounds, it’s hard to find. And it’s not only Georgia -- I would say it’s the whole Southeastern states. Many years ago the trade schools were putting them into the workforce, and we had a lot more manufacturing here. Then manufacturing left, and the school systems feeding those jobs left. Now manufacturing is coming back, and we are not really prepared for how much growth we’re having on the industrial and manufacturing side. That gap needs to be closed.

Q: If someone wants to work for an automotive manufacturer, what tips would you have for them?

A: I think it really depends what they want to do with their career, whether it’s automotive or not. The first thing I would tell somebody is, ‘Whatever you choose to do in life, do something you like because if you don’t like coming to work every day, you are going to be miserable. If you like what you are doing, you’re probably not going to feel like you’re working at all.’

Q: How much has automotive manufacturing changed over the years?

A: The plants today that are 10 years or younger have a lot more ergonomic processes, so it’s not as much physical demand on the human body. Prior to that, it was a little more difficult because you had a lot more manual processes.

Automation has definitely increased, and you have fewer people working there and have a lot more robots, a lot more conveyer systems and a lot more non-human elements.

Another thing that’s changed is the logistic flow. Today you want your suppliers as close to you as possible, and you want your infrastructure as close as possible. It helps support the just-in-time delivery system, and the way facilities are run is quite different today as it relates to inventory, inventory management and inventory costs.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.