Tammy Sherman

Occupation: Senior Operations Manager
Company: Fujitsu Frontech North America
Hometown: Plattsburgh
Family: Jake, husband of 28 years; adult children including a daughter, son, and a stepson

Tammy Sherman’s career story is a classic tale of hard work, dedication, and persistence paying off. She is also a shining example of someone who bucked the prevailing tides of “brain drain” and found a lifetime of career success right here in her hometown. She joined Fujitsu 17 years ago, first serving in a logistics role. Since then, she’s been promoted several times to positions of increasing responsibility and scope. In 2013, she assumed leadership of the entire operation in her current role as senior operations manager. As the senior manager for a large technical manufacturing/assembly plant, Sherman’s role as a successful female executive places her in the minority in a male-dominated industry.

Sherman is a humble leader who admittedly does not like being in the spotlight. Though her current role is more public facing, she prefers to serve in the background. It took a little gentle convincing to get her to sit down with Strictly Business to share some of the lessons she has learned along the way, and we’re glad she did.

SB: How do you approach management and leadership?
TS: I try to be as straightforward with my managers as I can. I set expectations and share knowledge with everybody. I treat them all as equals and always show them respect. Everybody in this building brings a specific quality to our organization, and I try to bring that out of each person. You actually have to learn their personalities in order to bring out their unique qualities. Rewarding them is important too. You can’t expect people to work hard without ever telling them how well they are doing. Everybody wants to hear that they are doing a good job.

SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
TS: A big thing for me was to learn to take ownership. Most people will fail or make mistakes at times. When that happens, it’s important that you own it—stand up and say you made a mistake, or admit that you need help. I’ve learned to never be afraid to ask for help when I need it. You should always have people who can help you out, and never be afraid to go to your manager and ask for help.

SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
TS: Be respectful and honest with your employer, and give 100 percent of yourself. Personally, I think that today it’s very easy for people to just not show up for work. Sometimes I think the structure of business today has gone away. For example, it’s important to show up before you’re scheduled to start your workday, and then stay until your shift is finished. Also, if your manager asks you to do something that you don’t think is in your job description, just do it. Honestly, the amount of experience you’re going to gain from doing something new is worth it. You never know when you might use what you learned down the road. Some people get stuck in the role of what their job title says they are, and they don’t think they should be venturing outside of that role. Keep looking for the opportunity that new work responsibilities can give you. Don’t let those opportunities go by.

SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
TS: I’m proud of where I am in this organization, especially considering that I did not get a college degree. I have an important role with a lot of responsibility and my immediate manager is located 3,000 miles across the country. There is no one else in management located here. I don’t even speak to my manager every day, and he trusts me that everything is getting done. It’s very important to me to know that I have been able to pick up this leadership role and run with it the way my predecessors did. And that makes me happy and proud.

SB: What were some of the challenges of moving from middle management into the senior leadership role at Fujitsu in Plattsburgh?
TS: It was difficult. Before this role I was the warehouse manager. There I focused on logistics in the production line, and I also did a little bit of purchasing and planning. Learning this new role and wondering if I could perform it successfully was very difficult. My predecessor was extremely knowledgeable, and I didn’t have the specialty area knowledge that he had. When I started, I found myself having to learn those roles and dealing with people who were the experts. I managed to get through it with lots of help and support from my immediate manager and from other offices in the organization. My biggest fear was that I would fall and fail, and let people down. My manager actually told me that he would not let me fail. That meant a lot and taught me that you should always be supportive of your team. Still today, a big thing I stress in this facility is that if one person fails, that means we have all failed.

SB: What qualities do you believe are necessary for success?
TS: Dedication is critical to being a success. Learn all you can learn, and don’t be afraid to take on that extra role or duty that somebody may throw at you. Just stepping up and doing it. It’s always scary to step up and take a new role, but you have to do it

SB: How do you work with others in difficult situations?
TS: Do your homework first, and be prepared to handle that tricky situation. Some difficult situations could result in a happy ending, and some will not have a happy ending. For example, in terminating an employee, even when it is warranted, it is a sensitive issue. If you do your homework, you are better able to be sensitive to their feelings and respectful of their knowledge. Hit difficult issues head on and listen to the whole story. Sometimes you make situations more difficult in your mind, and then when you hear the whole story it makes the difficult situation seem not so difficult any more. Let the other person have their say, hit issues head on, don’t hide things, and don’t sugar coat them.

SB: What inspires you?
TS: I do like a challenge. We recently put a new repair center together in the facility here, and we did it quickly. It was a little frightening at first—there were a lot of questions and we didn’t really know how it was all going to come together. Watching the staff come alive and seeing everybody putting their specialty touches on it was inspiration for all of us. We saw firsthand that we were capable of doing this, and that we did it together as a team. Even now when people come in to see the new center and compliment it, I always say, ‘I didn’t do it. The team did it.’

SB: When are you at your best at work?
TS: I’m at my best when I am organized, when I have a handle on the situation, and when I know what to do. If I am doubting myself, I might sit back and not move like I should, but when I am confident, I am not afraid to take off. The majority of my background is in warehousing, and that is something I really enjoy doing. Working out in the warehouse, there are so many details wrapped around that. From finding space to store inventory, to organizing it, figuring out where it makes sense to bring something out in the production line and being timely to keep production flowing—there are a lot of moving parts. Problemsolving and investigating are a comfort zone for me. Sometimes the situation is a mess. When I pile it all up and fix that mess to make it work again—seeing the end result working well is a true reward for me.

SB: What do you do in your free time?
TS: Family is very important to me. I love spending time with my kids. I love spending time with my husband, we ride motorcycles, and we ski. I also enjoy hitting the gym, and I do a little running and biking. I am not an overachiever, but I always feel a sense of accomplishment after I have hit the gym. I like down time—time to sit and do nothing too important.

SB: How would you like to be remembered?
TS: As an honest person who worked hard, and a fun-loving person. I want to be remembered as a good mother and a good wife who took care of her family.

SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
TS: We love to ride motorcycles. One day my husband and I took the bike and ended up at a softball game where Fujitsu employees were playing. I can remember pulling up in the parking lot and getting funny stares from the staff who were there. When I asked them why, they said they were shocked and never expected that I would ride a motorcycle. Right now, I ride with my husband. I would love to ride on my own and someday I want to do that. Riding is a carefree feeling and I really enjoy it. There is something freeing about the whole experience.