Steel Toes, Stilettos and LEAN | Shannon Karels and Kathy Miller

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Steel Toes and Stilettos

Ep. 240 - Shannon Karels and Kathy Miller are manufacturing leaders and experts in lean transformation. They have collaborated in establishing a business OPSisters and have recently published a book on the subject, called Steel Toes and Stilettos. In this episode, Shannon and Kathy explain the main elements of lean manufacturing/enterprise and their journey to creating a successful business as partners. Listen in to learn about lean manufacturing in creating an inclusive work environment that engages people during culture change. You will also learn the importance of knowing your worth and understanding your uniqueness to market your business.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to use all of your talents and have a fulfilling career in lean manufacturing as a woman
  • How to create a plan and learn all the processes required to quit your job and start a business
  • Have the right network, resources, and a lot of help when starting a business
  • The importance of staying true to yourself as a business partner and individually
  • How to build relationships when undertaking the journey of starting a business

"Regardless of your skillset or educational level, there’s room for you in manufacturing.”- Kathy Miller

“Be brave, be persistent, and you’ll be successful.”- Kathy Miller

In this episode you’ll discover:

Kathy on how she and Shannon met, developed a friendship, and become partners in business [0:54]

The main elements of lean manufacturing/enterprise and the commitment it requires [3:40]

How they teach businesses lean enterprise with an emphasis on respect for people [5:02]

The opportunities available in lean manufacturing for female business owners and as a career [6:33]

The professional qualification and skill set that most people in lean manufacturing have [7:49]

How they were able to quit their jobs and start a successful business [8:52]

Why they work with companies creating inclusive cultures and empowering their employees [10:02]

How they communicated the financial repercussions of starting a business [11:44]

The benefits of having a business partner to help support each other [12:41]

Top things to ensure you have enough help to get your business off the ground [13:59]

Why they decided not to hire any talent as part of their business strategy at first [15:24]

Shannon on their book journey – a lean manufacturing business and other relatable things [17:00]

Kathy on the ups and downs of publishing a book for the first time [18:20]

They share the three most important lessons they’ve learned through their different journeys [21:40]

Know your worth and understand your uniqueness to market your business [23:34]


Kathy Miller is a female manufacturing executive responsible for a business’s profitability and all the lives that the company supports, and Shannon Karels, is a high-potential female member of the leadership team. They professionally joined forces when Kathy hired Shannon to be a part of her divisional leadership team—responsible for a $75m operation with hundreds of team members at four locations in two countries.


Shannon Karels is a Senior Operations Manager who has led multiple lean transformations and run operations for two large publicly traded corporations across various industries and business models. She started her career in supply chain management and progressed through lean and operations leadership roles. Through this journey, Shannon has improved cultures in numerous manufacturing facilities by leading employee empowerment and engagement, and building highly successful teams, with a focus on business results. Shannon holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Supply Chain Management from Western Michigan University.


Kathy Miller is a Senior Operations Executive who has held numerous global vice president and director roles both in manufacturing and lean enterprise leadership. Kathy is a Shingo Prize Recipient for Large Businesses as a Plant Manager. She started her career in Operations as a 17-year-old co-op student at a vehicle assembly plant, and progressed through engineering, marketing, lean, and operations leadership roles, working for four large publicly traded corporations in executive roles. Kathy is a transformational leader who consistently delivers impressive business results through team development, process discipline, and continuous improvement. Kathy holds a Bachelor’s in Industrial Systems Engineering from Kettering University, MBA from Ball State University and a Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.  Kathy was inducted into the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame in 2021.

Their new book, STEEL TOES AND STILETTOS: A True Story of Women Manufacturing Leaders and Lean Transformation Success, details how they developed a high-performing team and transformed multiple plants into a lean enterprise, with all the accompanying business performance improvements. It is also a story of friendship—how it grew from mere business acquaintances to a sisterhood.


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