For Jim Belawski, working at Ward Mfg. is as comfortable and familiar as wearing a favorite shirt. A third-generation employee, he is the company’s quality manager for the Ward Fittings (Blossburg, Pa.), WARDFLEX (Lawrence, Pa.) and Ward Nipples (Milwaukee) manufacturing facilities, as well as being responsible for scheduling for Ward Fittings.
Many of his family members also worked at Ward, including his maternal grandfather, father, stepmother, brother, three uncles, and three aunts. His father was a second-shift supervisor for 33 of the 35 years that he worked at the company. His stepmother worked at Ward for 29 years and retired in 2011.
“Ward is home. It's what I grew up with,” he says. “It was the source of income for most of my family and my parents' families. Ward is probably as steady an employer as there is in the area and they pay well. You can tell that by the average age of our workforce, which is about 50. It's like Hotel California; you can check in but you never leave. You can get away for a while but you keep coming back.”
That was certainly true for Belawski, who started working at the Blossburg facility in the summer of 1972. After three more summers, he began working full-time in the shop, the core room, the molding area and then as a maintenance mechanic. In 1982, after six years and with a college degree in hand, he struck out looking for new adventures — a defense company that made Army tanks, a manufacturer of welding wire and welding rod, and then a firm making cable television transmission equipment.
He came back to Ward in 2005 after focusing on quality at factories all over the country and the world. “Ward has given me the opportunity to spread my wings and learn many new things and work in different areas,” Belawski notes. “I'm not focused on one thing, and that's what I like. I'm not in a box. It's been a good opportunity for me. It's been a great learning experience and I enjoy the challenge it presents.”
He recalls one instance where the company was having problems with certain parts made in China. Through his extensive contacts in the manufacturing world, he was able to get the needed materials to make the parts in-house and save the company money.
“It was a win for Ward and it was a win for the United States,” Belawski states. “I'm really proud of that. In most companies, I wouldn't have had the freedom to do it. I just did it. I didn't get beat up for it; it was all positive.”
Belawski also takes pride in the changes that have occurred in the 12 years since he’s been back, especially in the machine shop. Investment in new equipment has made Ward more productive and the pipe fittings made are of better quality. “It's amazing for a little town of 1,500 people, you find the sophistication that you do at Ward,” he says.
The ability of Ward employees to work with autonomy and provide quick solutions to problems helps the company maintain its quality standards. Plumbing contractors can be assured they are installing quality products for their customers when they choose Ward.