Amy LaBarre helps RK Manufacturing Corp. maintain high quality
Leading a team of 21
Amy LaBarre of Southington always thought she’d be a doctor. She graduated from Western Connecticut State University with a degree in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry.
“I thought I would discover a medication and get a Nobel Prize,” LaBarre said.
Title: Director of quality
Company: RK Manufacturing Corp., Danbury
Full house: She has two turtles named Laverne and Shirley, two rescue cats, a dog and a human son
But she said at the same time, she was always interested in manufacturing and how things were made. Her father worked in manufacturing at East Hartford aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney for over 30 years, LaBarre said. As a college student, she remembers taking things apart such as vacuum cleaners.
“I’d try and repair it so I didn’t have to throw it out,” she said.
What she does now still involves the medical field and is still rewarding; she’s just not contributing in quite the way she thought she originally might.
Right after graduation, she started working for a medical-device manufacturer who came to recruit at her college. While working, she did night school for a dual degree: a master’s in business management and an MBA, at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, all while raising her son, who was a toddler at the time.
LaBarre elevated to management and earned promotions, as supervisor of quality, then manager of manufacturing.
“I was responsible for two shift operations with over 400 reporting to me. It was a lot of delegating,” she said.
“I didn’t have a lot of role models or mentors to help me navigate the waters,” said LaBarre. “I was shy and quiet but had to outgrow that.”
Manufacturing led to a Pennsylvania relocation for a time, where she took a senior process engineering position for a company that made baby diapers and feminine products.
“When you go from a company that makes surgical instruments to a company that makes baby diapers, it shows how wide and diversified the manufacturing industry is,” she said.
After two years it was back to Connecticut with the same company for a director of quality position, which she stayed in for more than 20 years, before the company was bought out. Then she came to RK Manufacturing, which has 130 employees in all, 21 on her staff. About 65 women work in the company’s cleanroom; RK Manufacturing has other women like her in leadership roles, as well.
LaBarre’s day-to-day responsibilities vary. Overall, she ensures the company is following federal regulations, leads her team, makes morning rounds to answer questions or see if there is anything she can help with, and leads meetings. Variety is robust in her daily duties, she said. Ultimately, she is responsible for making sure products meet requirements before they get shipped to customers.
The variation in her daily duties and the changing culture of manufacturing overall has LaBarre upbeat.
“The opportunities for women are pretty much endless, thanks to new training to change that [traditional] mindset,” she said. “Women are valuable and have a lot to offer. It gave me travel opportunities I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. I also get to get my geek on and work with statistics and data analytics,” she said.
LaBarre sees more programs and efforts to diversify the field with more women and expects to see even more, with industry benefit overall. ◾