Opportunities to Show Love at an Aluminum Sheet Mill

TGCvocations Interview Joel Baker

Joel Baker lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and works for Alcoa as a senior operating manager. He and his wife, Karmen, have been married for 27 years, and they have four children, ranging in age from 16 to 23. He enjoys spending time with his family and close friends, listening to jazz, reading theology, and watching movies and sports.

How do you describe what you do every day?

I lead strategy development and execution for a team of 7 professionals and 226 hourly and salaried employees across 4 departments at a large unionized aluminum sheet mill. My work includes managing a $15 million budget to improve and sustain the equipment asset base and a $60 million annual operating budget. I also oversee the management of systems to meet environmental, health, and safety regulations; the achievement of production and quality goals; and the ability to meet customer expectations.  

As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work?

My work images God’s work in several ways. First, it images his creative work because I get to think out of the box to solve processes and/or human resource issues. Second, it images his justice work because I have to hold people accountable for their behavior or performance issues. Third, it images his compassionate work because there’s more than ample opportunity to show mercy and patience with colleagues on a regular basis, especially in the context of my justice work. Finally, it images his redemptive work because, as a manager, I spend a lot of time counseling people. In manufacturing, there is a fair amount of darkness; the people can be hardened by life. Yet I sometimes get to share the gospel with them.

How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?

Most of my employees do not know the Lord. They often lie to me—and sometimes they even lie about me. This happens to me and to my seven direct reports. Five of them are pretty strong believers, so I get to disciple them and exhort them that how we respond to these behaviors and attitudes creates opportunities to share the love of Christ, which may lead to opportunities to share the gospel of Christ. We can make a lasting impact on people far beyond the business work that we do.  

Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others?

The discipleship I do with my staff is a way of loving and serving others. They understand that many of our colleagues simply don’t know the gospel, so they focus not on taking offence, but on praying. Also, we try to institutionalize reward and recognition with a philosophy that there are more things done right than wrong, so we strive for a 4:1 ratio on positive to constructive feedback. I also require my employees to cross train, which benefits not only the business, but also them personally because it gives them an opportunity to make more money through overtime, to assume higher-paying positions, and to receive increased job security in layoffs.

Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are condensed.

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