One of IMEC’s newest board members Marcia Ayala sat down with us (virtually) to tell us a little bit more about herself. Ayala is the President of Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., a textile processing operation right here in Illinois that has been around since the 1880s.
About Aurora Specialty Textiles Group
To be around and still kicking since the 1880s, the company has gone through some drastic changes. Since Ayala joined the Aurora team, their biggest change was saying good-bye to the same facility the company had been operating in since the 1880s in Aurora, IL and moving to the not-too-distant Yorkville, IL. “We’re only about 15 miles away,” Ayala explained.
Though the distance is small, the move was a massive change. “You can imagine our old facility was an old textile plant.” Ayala painted the picture of a building that has surpassed its use. Many additions had been added over the years, and the plant was split between many floors. Their new facility is now all one level (no more elevators breaking down!) and, as Ayala put it, was a huge upgrade.
Along with the change in workspace, Aurora Specialty Textiles Group was also equipped with new machinery. On top of this, the firm managed to make this large move without shutting down or disrupting their output.
The Start of Ayala’s Manufacturing Career
Despite her 15 years and counting career with Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Ayala’s background was not in textiles. “Some of these things happen in life and you wonder Well, how did that happen? How did I end up here?” As a student, Ayala had studied chemical engineering. When you think about college majors, one usually pictures students selecting their courses of study based on what end job they want to achieve. Ayala, though, just loved chemistry and math.
“For students now, there are more opportunities for them to really understand what an engineer does and what those kinds of jobs are. Today, there are many STEM programs, which is great. But at the time when I grew up and where I went to high school, there wasn’t any of that. There wasn’t a good understanding of what an engineer would do. I just loved chemistry and math.”
As a chemical engineer, there are many opportunities in manufacturing. Ayala always loved designing new things and she enjoyed technical work. Both of these passions are crucial in manufacturing. That plus her knowledge of chemical engineering led to Ayala’s first job which used thermodynamics, heat and mass transfer and many of the basic chemical engineering principles to model accidents and design containments for nuclear reactors.
This job, though it utilized her degree, was not exactly what Ayala had hoped for. “I felt like I wanted to get out there more and get my hands dirty instead of just modeling things that could happen.” Ayala was stuck in what ifs instead of what is.
At this stage in her career, Ayala could be found in an office or pilot plant setting. Or in a school setting, because immediately after receiving her Bachelor’s, Ayala continued by earning her Master’s and then an MBA. “I knew in the end, I wanted to get more into management.” Her MBA provided the business skills to balance out the technical skills she already had, but while earning her degrees, Ayala was also earning real-world work experience. After three years working in modeling, Ayala moved into a new phase of her career, which was product development.
Ayala’s work in product development didn’t just take her out of the office, but it took her on the road. “You would develop a product, and then go to the plant to make it,” she explained.
“It’s a really nice way to learn about manufacturing,” Ayala continued. “In product development, you interact with so many different functions in a company, from accounting to purchasing.” The list of departments an employee in product development would get the opportunity to work with went on and on, including operations, quality control, and the end customers.
Her role in product development led her to an R&D position with Aurora Specialty Textiles Group. She didn’t have textile experience, but she did have product development experience, and that is exactly what Aurora needed at that time. She gave up managing the R&D group when she became President, but still loves product development.
Ayala’s Role in the IL Manufacturing Community
Did her love of continuous learning or her dedication to manufacturing lead Ayala to serve on IMEC’s board? The answer is that it was a little of both. Aurora Specialty Textiles Group and IMEC have worked together on many programs, which is how Ayala heard about us. “Even prior to IMEC, anything I can do to support manufacturing, I want to do. I’ve served on other boards and Aurora supports students in high school and college; we do a lot of internships to get people more involved in manufacturing.”
“IMEC is just great because it offers so many programs and, also, the caliber of people that are on the board is a benefit for me professionally and personally... I’m looking forward to networking with them, learning from them, and discussing common problems that we have in manufacturing.” These discussions can help Aurora Specialty Textiles Group’s business, but it can also help introduce new programs IMEC can offer the manufacturing community.
“Manufacturing has been declining in our country over the years. I think it’s an asset that we need to make sure we keep in this country.” Ayala continued to explain the importance of manufacturing in America by adding, “[Manufacturing] provides people with really good jobs that are secure, pay well, and are challenging for them too.”
Not only is Ayala dedicated to the manufacturing industry, but she is also dedicated to Illinois. Most of the textile business and textile schools are in the Southeast, so the company could have easily been moved out of Illinois when they were closing their Aurora plant. “One of the big things was the quality of the workforce in Illinois,” Ayala stated as a reason for why Aurora Specialty Textiles Group remains in our state. She also stated that the number of resources available to them in Illinois was a factor, but the number one reason why they stayed was because of the quality of the workforce.
Ayala’s Advice to Other Manufacturers
“Listen to the opinions of a lot of other people. Listen really well.” This advice that Ayala gave was specifically for people in manufacturing who are progressing towards a management position. “People have different opinions, and people in your organization have information that you may not be aware of.” Surround yourself with people who can offer you different perspectives and information, particularly when trying to make a decision.
Listening goes hand-in-hand with communication. When discussing leadership success, Ayala also offered this advice: “Make sure to communicate to the organization and communicate to those around you.” Communicate the decisions made and why they were made. If you’re asking people for input they want to know you listened and considered what they said. It’s important to give them feedback on the ultimate decision.
Learn more about IMEC's Board of Directors.