BTU #304 - Army to Production Supervisor (Chris Lee)

I operated at Kraft Foods which was a high-speed automation factory. The metrics there were all about keeping up the operational efficiency of the machines. Compare that to Serta Simmons where the production line was all about manual labor. In that role, I was more of a coach and cheerleader.
— Chris Lee

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Why Listen

This is the first interview I’ve done with a Production Supervisor, and it is a fantastic way to start with this career field. Chris does perhaps the best job of any guest I’ve had on the show of breaking down what this role looks like - what it looks like across industries and different sized companies, including pay scales, as well as the specific traits from the military that will help you - and hinder you - in this career path. We also talk about differences in communication when you leave the military, and how to approach this in a way that will be easier for you; the unpredictability inherent in the civilian job market; how leadership differs from one industry to the next and more.

About Chris

Chris Lee is a Production Supervisor at PCC Structurals, and has spent over 5 years in the functional role of Production Supervisor in a variety of industries. He started out at West Point, and served as an Infantry Officer in the Army for 8 years, with two deployments to Afghanistan.

Our Sponsor: 

  • StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.

  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at

Recommended Books:

  • 4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work--Anywhere! - Chris has loved this book; so much is about communication in leadership, and this book provides a great framework

Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Portland is Chris Lee. Can you describe your transition out of the military?

I had accomplished everything I wanted to during my time in the Army. I had deployed as a Platoon Leader which was something I really wanted to do. I also wanted to stabilize my family life. I think if I had stayed in for more time, I would have been committing myself to staying in until retirement.

As I was getting ready to get out, I was also applying to work for the FBI. When I got back from my second deployment, I had already submitted my separation documents. About 30 days before my separation, I found out that the FBI was no longer accepting new job applicants. 

I was then introduced to the Lucas Group and attend a hiring conference. During that time, I did about 8 different interviews. My first interview was with Kraft Foods. I felt that I had prepared myself pretty well for the interview. I was offered a production supervisor role and I accepted that offer. 


What did that role look like on a day-to-day basis?

As a production supervisor, you’re involved in the hiring and supervision of the people on your team. I had a team lead, a couple managers, and then the team members. It was similar to the makeup of teams during my time being deployed. 

I did work a lot of hours. I was there when production started until when it ended. I worked 15 hour days and also worked shorter days. In my role now as a production supervisor, I’ll show up about 15 minutes before our shirt starts but I’ll leave by 4:30 or 5. It’s about a 10-11 hour day. If I need to come in on nights or weekends to make sure we’re meeting our goals, I do that. 

It’s a very rewarding job. The decisions I make have a direct impact on the success of our production. 


What was new to you in your first job after the military?

If you’re a veteran going into a production role, your work ethic will be higher than many of your peers. You also have a strong ability to absorb information and apply that information when appropriate. 

As a supervisor, my job is to give guidance to the team. I try to maximize our people’s potential. 

The one thing that you need to shift when you enter the civilian workforce is your communication style. In the military, communication is very direct. You need to soften that communication style in the civilian sector. I’ve been in this industry for over five years and it’s taken me time to adjust to the different way of communication. 


Does the role of production manager change depending on what is being produced?

I’ve worked in many different industries - food, home products, and heavy metals. What makes you successful in one industry will carry over into different industries. But you will need to learn the specifics of that industry. 

At Kraft Foods, it was a high-speed automation factory. The metrics there were all about keeping up the operational efficiency of the machines. Compare that to Serta Simmons where the production line was all about manual labor. In that role, I was more of a coach and cheerleader. So each one is similar but also has its own characteristics. 

There are also many other jobs in operations that you can move into. Normally, production gets your foot in the door. But you can then pivot to other areas that you may be interested in such as quality control or transportation. 


After your first job through Lucas Group, how did you find each subsequent opportunity? 

Within four weeks of my Kraft interview through Lucas Group, I was in the job so it happened really quickly. When I left Kraft, I went with another head hunting group. That group was not specific to veterans but it was more focused on production supervisors. They got me connected with Serta Simmons. 

Having a good relationship with your supervisor can influence your career. At Kraft, I didn’t feel like I had supportive supervisor but at Serta Simmons, it was the complete opposite. After that I put my resume on Monster and I ended up getting contacted by another head hunter that was looking to interview me for his corporation. 

Each organization has a slightly different culture and you may have to take a step back initially but will then quickly work your way back up once you get started. 


How would you explain your current role at PCC Structurals?

I’m a paid problem solver. I problem solve all day long. There’s so much on my to-do list that I’m constantly busy. 

The environment that I work in demands success. Production Supervisors are expected to keep a big picture image of the goals of the organization while also managing downward. 


What are common roles in production?

As a Captain in the Army, I was making pretty good money. When I got out, I thought I was going to be making the same thing or higher. In terms of production though, you need to be willing to take a large pay cut at first. Your veteran experience is valued but there’s still an expectation that you need time to learn the industry. 

The supervisor is at the O-1/O-2 level ($65,000). Above that is the area manager and the production manager ($70,000-90,000). Finally, those managers report to the operations manager (+$100,000). Obviously those roles will vary in compensation and scope depending on the industry and size of the company. 


You have an MBA. How vital is that in this line of work?

The MBA gives you a base level foundation in understanding business. I also have my Six Sigma Green Belt certification. That certificate can be helpful for those that don’t have previous experience in this field. Some companies will have their own education system that will allow you to achieve various certifications during your time with that company. 

The best thing you can do is be flexible and go after certifications that are recommended by your employer. 


What resources do you recommend?

I recommend the book The Four Essential Keys of Communication. As a supervisor, I’ve realized how important communication can be. 


Is there anything else you want to share with listeners?

If you go into production, the first two years will be challenging for you because everything will be new and different. Try not to get too frustrated. Absorb and reflect during this time in order to grow.