Some believe people are born - or wired - to lead. Others think a successful leader is someone whose innate qualities show through in the right environment.
When Keith was 18 years old, his father, Jack Stout, brought him to work at ACE, working in maintenance, painting beams and literally learning from (cleaning) the ground floor up! One of his first unpaid jobs at ACE was to stand next to his father, for hours on end, passing him blanks one after the other as his dad continuously stamped out auger flights on a press brake. Despite - or because - of that experience Keith was determined to work with sheetmetal - graduating with an ME in Engineering from Northern Illinois University and starting his career at ACE as a Sales Engineer in 1992.
Jack Stout, Keith’s father, joined ACE Metal Crafts Company in 1962, just two years after the business was formed by 16 sheetmetal workers. Jack eventually rose to the position of general manager, working for more than 40 years, creating the techniques at the heart of ACE’s core competency and reputation, still in use today.
Keith worked alongside his father and the ACE team, spending 8 years learning the customer-focused side of the business before moving onto the production floor, transitioning into the role of Production Manager and eventually as VP of Operations in 2001.
Along the way, as Keith’s career progressed and his responsibilities grew so, too, did the culture and environment around him. ACE has long been a company that places an emphasis on developing and fostering trust in the workplace at the core of all things ACE. Guided by trust, ACE team members actively work at becoming authentic, open people, resulting in loyalty, creativity and consistently high performance for their customers.
It was within this environment that Keith began to take a new leadership role, playing an instrumental part in ACE’s push to learn and employ the Toyota Production System (TPS) with the goal of meeting customers’ demands while taking a ‘job shop’ or contract manufacturing environment to the next, unheard of level in sales and production.
Expanding ACE’s capacity to produce a large amount of Low Volume/High Mix [LV/HM] work [such as 2 each of thousands of different part numbers in a single month] would give ACE a key competitive advantage and the ability to grow its revenues past a typical job shop’s peak of $3-4 million per year into LV/HM work at revenues of $20 million plus.
With his 26 years of experience at ACE, Keith developed a singular vision for how to accomplish a challenge no one else was doing: incorporating lean methods and a Visual Scheduling Workflow into a contract manufacturing environment.
To accomplish this goal, Keith put his TPS experience, vision and empathetic leadership skills to work within the unique ACE culture of TRUST. In an environment of trust everyone can take risks, feeling empowered to contribute to solving problems by not being afraid to fail.
Keith actively encouraged the ACE team to develop, refine and implement a Visual Scheduling Workflow using whiteboards, pads of paper and post-it-notes - so that everyone in the shop at all levels knows what is shipping today, what isn’t shipping today, what should have shipped and the why behind it all. This ‘paper’ system has been so successful it has grown into a sophisticated ERP system using monitors throughout the plant providing up-to-the-minute information on every project.
Keith is married to Heather with three daughters and a son. His daughters have all kept him very busy coaching softball, daughters Rylee and Madelynn are setting state records and going to Winona State and UIndy on athletic scholarships and his youngest daughter, Megan, is hoping to follow in their footsteps playing soccer. Keith was active in leading his son, Ryder, in Boy Scouts where Ryder competed in Robotics building contests. Ryder has recently joined ACE in a Production Support role, representing the third Stout generation.
Keith also combines his passion for his family and their pursuits into activities that give back to the community. Keith is in charge of ACE’s participation in the annual GADgET Girls program and the PWNAGE Robotic Challenge.
Asked about her continued vision for ACE Jean Pitzo, CEO, said their purpose remains the same, “to inspire and connect with people, to have them unleash their potential and be free to express themselves.”
Speaking of Keith in his new role Pitzo added, “…all of us on the ACE team are so excited and lucky to have Keith lead us to our future victories. He is an incredible visionary whose passion is felt throughout the company. He is trusted and respected by our team, our customers, and the industry.”