Working: Kris Profenno keeps products moving and on time at Auburn Manufacturing Inc.
Mar. 19—AUBURN — Statistically, workers in this country stay an average of four years at a job.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2022, even as workers hit 55, their median tenure was about 10 years.
Kris Profenno is way outside the median, with 35 years and counting at Auburn Manufacturing Inc.
When he began there in 1987, he was the 13th employee and there was only one location. The other 12 employees have come and gone, the company has expanded to two locations and the workforce is at 50 and still growing.
Auburn Manufacturing produces extreme heat protection textiles and fabrics to protect people and equipment in the mining, oil and petrochemical, shipbuilding, glassmaking and other industries. Those products are shipped across North America and to many other countries.
Now 57, Profenno, the company's shipping and logistics coordinator, and co-worker Roger Millett are responsible for ensuring the company's products get to their destination intact and on time.
"Kris brings a lot to the table as an employee and co-worker," Kathie Leonard, the president and chief executive officer of Auburn Manufacturing, said. "For starters, he's got that legendary work ethic Mainers are known for — quality-minded, dependable and willing to help wherever needed. In a small manufacturing company, where we must wear a lot of hats, that is extremely valuable."
Getting a foot in the door can be a challenge at good companies, and Auburn Manufacturing has long had a reputation of being a desirable place to work. Thus, connections come into play. For Profenno, it was his mother, who was Auburn Manufacturing's banker in the 1980s.
"My mom told me, 'Hey, there's this nice place that's looking for workers, if you're interested in a career change,'" Profenno said.
Out of high school and 21, Profenno was interested.
"I was working at Superior Concrete (in Auburn), making concrete forms. It's a pretty thankless job," Profenno said, adding he then applied and began a new job at Auburn Manufacturing Inc.
"They technically hired me to be a creel tender, which means we used to have wooden racks behind looms and we'd have cones set on them. There would be like six rows, all with hundreds of cones on them, and my first job was to make sure none of those ran out."
But with fast-moving machinery, running out is inevitable.
"It's always the one on the bottom that runs out," Profenno said, "so you're down there on your back trying to feed yarn through. I was pretty anxious to move on from that position."
But he stuck with it. A couple of years on the third shift, another 18 months on the second shift and he was then given the opportunity to run an oven in Mechanic Falls. The job involved using heat to clean impurities from woven fabric, which is one of the company's major product lines.
One day, as Profenno was tending the oven, his supervisor asked if Profenno could strap up some products on a skid for shipment, which Profenno did.
"So everything was right over where I was working, so I could keep an eye on my first job," Profenno said. "I started strapping skids and it got to the point where I had to shut the oven down. Things were getting busier."
When his boss asked one day why the oven had been shut down, Profenno answered: "I have too much to strap. There's no way I can do both. You've given me this second task, so I thought it was more important, so I focused on that. So I'll get that done and go back and run the oven."
Soon after, it became Kris Profenno's full-time job.
Just before his 20th anniversary, Profenno left the company to help his wife, Karen, care for a family member in Porter. For nearly a year, he languished in a job he called boring. But as fate would have it, Profenno and his wife, a nurse, had the chance to get their old jobs back in the Auburn area.
For Kris Profenno, it would mean taking a job at Auburn Manufacturing Inc. that was much lower in the pecking order than his old position. He took it anyway, and within six months was offered a better position and able to negotiate back much of what he had accumulated over 20 years. Three weeks later, his old position in shipping came available.
Profenno's ascension at work was not done yet. He took a supervisory position, against his wife's wishes, and became the longest-tenured supervisor at the Auburn facility.
"But then I kind of butted heads with someone," he said, "and I decided it was time for me to move on. This was after being here like 31 years."
Profenno had a new job, had passed his physical examination and even had a start date. But Leonard at Auburn Manufacturing was not ready to give up on Profenno, and made him an offer he could not refuse — back in shipping.
As for his "new" job?
"I called them and said: 'Listen, something's come up. I'm not leaving. Please keep my application on file,'" Profenno said.
"Beyond his work ethic, Kris has a great sense of humor and is a friend to everyone he meets," Leonard said. "We could all learn a lot about work-life balance from Kris."
Shipping and logistics have taken on new importance in recent years at companies such as Auburn Manufacturing Inc. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans had never heard of the supply chain. In a blog post at the beginning of 2023, Leonard wrote, "We grew by double digits last year, thanks to strong global demand!"
Profenno said the company has upgraded its transportation management software several times and made other improvements to make the shipping process more seamless. He has high praise for his boss and for Millett, his co-worker.
"We're a team," Profenno said. "He does a lot of work here that doesn't really get noticed because he just goes about his business and gets things done."
Profenno credits Leonard for creating a family atmosphere, where employees are a person with a name — not just a number.
Leonard offered a story about Profenno that not everyone knows: "Kris, or 'Krispy,' as he was dubbed by co-workers, was a bit of a wild child in his early years at AMI. He bought a brand new muscle car and liked to peel out of the parking lot to show off. He has settled down over the decades, marrying the love of his life, Karen, and together they cruise the world on huge ships instead of around town in cars!"
While retirement is not yet in the cards, Profenno said he and his wife love to travel and that probably is in their future.
"Retirement's in everyone's future," he said. "I do like the word 'retirement,' I'm not going to lie to you: I'm just not ready yet. "