Building Connections: IT at von Drehle
Steven Kellogg’s official title at von Drehle may be Director of Information Technology, but he and his team have many more designations: they hold down the digital fort, are saviors of tech support, provide help for our teams near and far and keep our company running so smoothly that most of us forget they are there.
Behind the scenes, Steven and his IT team keep von Drehle humming. Since he came on board on Valentine’s Day of this year, they have basically rebuilt our entire system, including moving from all physical servers to a cloud infrastructure and upgrading hardware throughout the company. This would be an enormous feat for anyone, but it is especially impressive considering the changes the IT team went through shortly after Steven took the reins.
Two members of the team had left, but Steven was confident in those who remained. Mark Williams had been at the helm of the service desk at the time, but Steven says he “pretty much kept the place running.” Steven knew he could bank on Mark’s three years of institutional knowledge pulling him through any challenge.
Austin Haliburton, the other remaining member of the IT team, had only come on board the month before Steven but along with some temp hires, played an instrumental role in the massive changes to come. Alex Church, a 17-year veteran of our production planning team, rounded out the team as our data manager.
During the new hire onboarding process, Steven was told something he’d never heard before: to spend the first 60 days getting to know everyone, the IT team, our vendors and understanding how they do things.
“I was like huh? You want me to relax?” Steven questioned, adding “I’ve always been told to hit the ground running. At my last job, the CFO told me I had 90 days to prove my worth or else I wouldn’t be there any longer. That was his pep talk.”
That’s when Steven realized he was working for a different type of company. “None of the protective mechanisms I had were usable here,” he explains, calling adjusting to our culture his biggest challenge early on. “The hardest change was realizing that when someone asks you how you’re doing today, they really want to know instead of “fishing for ammo”. It really is like a family.”
“In 28 years of IT, 10 years in the military and 10 years of running my own Internet company, I’ve never had an environment that was so aligned with their values,” Steven says, confirming what he suspected during his first interview. “I knew absolutely nothing about von Drehle when I first called, but I talked to the person leaving this position. She had nothing but glowing things to say. I liked that the person leaving was still so excited about the company and still loved the people. That meant it was a good place to work.”
In the corporate environments Steven was used to, he often heard CEOs talk about their company values but rarely saw them lived out. The opposite occurred at von Drehle: “In my interviews, I never heard anyone preaching about values. I only saw people living the values that I later found on their web page,” he says. “They are preaching them with their actions. It is really rare to know when you walk into a place to see them actually doing what they say they’re going to do.”
For Steven, working in IT was an answered prayer, literally.
After completing his service as an Army Ranger, Steven filled much of his newly-found freetime playing computer games with a friend. He quickly learned how to do what he calls “little things,” like installing modems or adding memory to computers. This was in 1996, when the Internet was still in its earliest stages.
Soon, Steven began thinking about the next chapter in his life. He had no idea what he was good at, interested in or had a future in, so he turned to prayer for answers. “Lord, it’s time I found a job,” Steven says, adding that his plea came with a few stipulations. “I said I do not want to be a garbage man, I have to have an aptitude and a future in whatever it is, and I don’t want to sell or make anything.”
Two days later, Steven’s prayer was answered when he opened an email from his Internet Service Provider. Inside was a job offer to become a systems administrator. When Steven later confessed he felt totally unqualified, the hiring manager looked him straight in the eye and said he expected him to learn.
Steven points out that’s the one thing he didn’t tell God he didn’t want to do. “And I’ve been learning ever since.”
In IT, the learning never stops. “There is so much changing in technology that it’s almost impossible to tell what the landscape is going to be in five years,” explains Steven, but that doesn’t stop him from talking about the future at von Drehle. He plans to build on the huge landscape of technology already here and using all the data in our legacy systems to help every aspect of the business become stronger, better and quicker with less downtime. The analytics from our paper machines, munchers, grinders and more can tell us where something needs to be fixed before it breaks, for example, allowing us to make smarter decisions and produce more efficiently.
He also talks about building automation into other aspects of our business and bringing our tech to a more focused center. Instead of individual programs helping us do our jobs, Steven envisions a more unified system that is easier for people to use and connect to one another.
This strategic, forward-thinking is what makes Steven and his team such an asset to von Drehle. Their steady presence is invaluable to our success and our future, making Steven an answered prayer for us too!