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A Day in the Life: R.J. Shiels

R.J. Shiels joined Grace’s Manufacturing Leadership Program in 2002; now he’s a senior director
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R.J. Shiels thrives on the leadership challenges that come with being the senior director at the largest Grace plant in North America. The Curtis Bay site, in Maryland, was built in 1909 and encompasses six separate plants for specialty chemical processes across the Grace portfolio. These include batch and continuous processes, catalyst and silica gel production, and advanced refining technologies.

Shiels started out with Grace as a young engineer on our Manufacturing Leadership Program (MLP). This gave him the opportunity to experience roles throughout the company, from supply chain manager and production supervisor to global operations manager. In the last, Shiels oversaw Grace’s materials technologies plants across the US, Germany, Malaysia, and Brazil.

Curtis Bay is a 24/7 operation, which means an early start for Shiels. By 6.30 a.m. Monday through Friday, he has begun reviewing shift notes from the previous night’s operations. After dealing with any issues, Shiels walks the floor to connect with his team. 

The Grace manufacturing management system enforces high standards, Shiels says. “We review our performance on a daily basis at the individual plant level and site level to make sure we are meeting our commitments.”

Once Shiels has ensured that everything is running smoothly, he gets on with the rest of his day. His job “is a nice mix,” he says. One day he could be making tactical decisions about everyday issues, the next he is involved in strategic planning for the year ahead.

Watching operations get better is one of the most rewarding aspects of Shiels’s role, “When you see things start to go in the right direction and start to see performance improve, that's a great feeling,” he says.

Leadership at an enormous, flexible site like Curtis Bay comes with unique challenges, and one of the biggest is communications. With nearly 500 employees and around-the-clock shifts, Shiels puts great emphasis on everyone understanding priorities. 

Grace has continued to support his professional development beyond MLP via technical and leadership programs like the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt certification and the Center for Creative Leadership’s Looking Glass Experience. “Grace has supported me by approving development steps that I had identified on my own” and has appreciated his proactive approach, Shiels says,

Ultimately, his personal priority is keeping his team motivated, healthy, and safe. “I like getting a team engaged and aligned on a common goal,” Shiels says. “I like getting to know people and making connections—that's what keeps me going.”

When you see things start to go in the right direction and start to see performance improve, that's a great feeling.

R.J. Shiels

Sr Director, Operations Curtis Bay

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