Back in July 1978 when Vicki Corbett first applied for a receptionist job at Osborne Industries, she had no idea she was embarking on a career that would find her as vice president, customer service manager more than 40 years later. She also serves on the company's board of directors.
"I was young, and I hadn't really decided on my direction," she recalls. "I had a couple of office jobs doing accounting and I had been working as a social worker in a girls' youth center in Beloit, but I was ready for a change."
She liked the idea of working for a small company and felt she had the office skills necessary for a receptionist job. Osborne Industries was young, too. The company was founded in 1973 by a group of Osborne businessmen who wanted to start a company that would provide good-paying jobs for area residents.
They started with just one product, the Stanfield Heating Pad for livestock, a product that is still sold today but is now part of a whole line of proprietary products for the swine industry.
"Back then, the receptionist job involved taking phone calls, processing orders, typing letters for the president, vice president, sales managers, preparing invoices and processing mail," she says. "It was a little bit of everything. And it was easy to learn all about the business because everybody worked in one small office and you heard everything that everybody else was saying. I just kind of picked up information by osmosis."
Her coworkers soon became her friends and social network. As the company grew and added new products, Corbett's knowledge and skills grew as well. Just a year after she joined the company, Osborne Industries gained its first export customer in Japan.
"It was fun," she says. "I found that I really loved talking to the customers, learning about their needs and helping them find the products that they needed. As the company grew, my job kind of evolved as we added more people and developed new products."
The job is still fun, Corbett says, and she still enjoys personal contact with the company's many customers.
George Eakin, president and CEO of Osborne, says, "To many of our customers, Vicki is Osborne. Over her 40-year history with the company, she has cultivated and maintained excellent relationships with our many customers all over the world."
In the early '80s. the company began making custom-molded plastic parts for a variety of industries and expanded its line of proprietary swine handling and feeding products. Corbett says the custom molding business now comprises nearly 60% of the company's total business and has provided a good back-up during cyclical downturns in the livestock business. Osborne Industries also specializes in liquid molding of thermoset plastics via Resin Transfer Molding and Reaction Injection Molding.
Corbett says she has never been tempted to look for another job. She had been at Osborne for three years when she met her husband, Brad and they soon were raising a family. They now have four grown children and seven grandchildren.
"I grew up on a farm and I had lived in the city prior to working her, but I think nothing compares to the quality of life in a small, rural community. We are committed to that quality of life, to the schools that are the heartbeat of the community. Osborne Industries has always been a major part of that."
In 2000, the company owners were nearing retirement age but were still committed to making sure that Osborne Industries would stay a local business providing local jobs. They began transitioning to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan and seven years later, became 100% employee owned.
Growth has been steady, with Osborne Industries now employing almost 100 people. The export business has grown to include overseas customers in more than 40 countries and now constitutes nearly 30% of total company sales. The company won the prestigious Kansas Exporter of the Year award in 2010.
Corbett says that employee ownership has served the purpose that the company's founders intended, that of providing good paying jobs with good benefits for local people. Osborne Industries employees come not only from Osborne but from surrounding communities.
"It still is a challenge to find workers," she says. "We promote the quality of life in a rural town, and the opportunity to have that lifestyle while still having the advantages that come from working for a global company. We still see a lot of the younger people moving to the cities, but some are moving back when they are ready to raise a family and appreciate the caring nature of our small community."
Osborne Industries also has to compete with other agricultural manufacturing companies in the region for the available production engineering and sales jobs, she says.
Corbett doesn't see herself retiring in the near term, she says, but she is excited to see the next generation coming into the work force. She says she takes pride in being a part of a company that has been deeply involved in bringing good things to the community.
"Whether it has been the baseball field, the library, a larger, paved runway for the airport, Osborne Industries has been very involved," Corbett says.
She says she also enjoys being in a position to pass on the knowledge she's acquired through 40 years on the job.
"We are always looking for ways to pass on what we know and to implement a succession plan for key personnel to make sure that we can continue on to the next step and keep our company here and viable for the next generation," she says.
"I am immensely grateful to the people who have taught me and mentored me, and I hope that I am a good mentor to others," she says.