It’s unlikely that Teresa Sternhagen could ever imagine that the supply chain management arena that has served as the backbone of her 25 years in the world of manufacturing would someday garner national headlines. But the vice president, general manager of the toner products division for Toshiba’s Mitchell, South Dakota, manufacturing facility, has learned a thing or two about putting out fires and planning for the unexpected.
The images of container ships anchored off the California coast and empty retail shelves on the evening news pale in comparison to the frustrations being felt across a business landscape that’s suffering commerce logjams due to the inability to source goods. Still, Sternhagen has been able to navigate through these unchartered waters.
“I’ve never witnessed anything like this in my entire career,” said Sternhagen, a 2021 ENX Magazine Difference Maker. “We’ve learned so much about contingency planning, and the key is how well and how quickly you can react to your plan. Business always goes up and down, and it seems like there’s always one aspect of it you need to pay extra attention to. But, wow, this cuts across the board.”
A graduate of Dakota Wesleyan University, Sternhagen joined the firm in 2008 after leading supply chain efforts for companies such as MtronPTI and Gehl Company. She’s valued her time at Toshiba, which has enabled her to focus more on supply chain functions while enhancing her skills in operations management and strategic planning.
In addition to ensuring industry best practices for maximizing toner quality while maintaining compliance with local, state and national regulatory edits, Sternhagen guides Toshiba’s adherence to green manufacturing processes, including toner and product recycling and re-pollination efforts that help sustain her home state’s environment.
Manufacturing and the world of supply chain have long fascinated Sternhagen, who is enamored with the entire process and the relationships forged with customers, suppliers and her Toshiba teammates. Every link in the chain is vital to the success of the entire process, and she supplements her role in it by employing open communications and making herself accessible to team members.
“I love the diverse group of people I get to work with, from suppliers to our customers and the hourly folks who work on the shop floor,” Sternhagen said. “I really enjoy helping people succeed and encourage them to grow their own skill sets, be willing to take that risk and make the decision. That confidence they develop professionally can be applied to their personal lives.”
Sternhagen also draws wisdom from a pair of mentors she’s had the good fortune to work with at Toshiba, namely Fumitoshi Kakizoe and Scott Maccabe. Kakizoe, the toner products division general manager from 2010-2016, emphasized the importance of exceeding customer expectations. Maccabe, the now-retired chief executive, instilled in her the importance of fostering relationships with internal and external partners.
But while the pandemic and the supply chain situation have tasked Sternhagen and her team, she is immensely proud of the positive attitude they have maintained throughout. Her division celebrated its 35th anniversary in October, and Sternhagen looks forward to mentoring the next generation of her team that will lead the way during the next 35 years.
When the calendar flips over to 2022, Sternhagen can take solace in the knowledge that regardless of the challenges, her team brought its “A” game to work each day.
“The recovery continues,” she noted. “It will be nice to reach the other side of all this and look back knowing that we did an amazing job.”
Sternhagen and her husband, Dean, have been married for 27 years and have three children (Zac, Carly, Katelyn) and one grandson (Palmer). The couple enjoys stealing away to their cabin in South Dakota’s Black Hills for an unplugged weekend of relaxation. She enjoys working in her flower garden, and this past summer she canned vegetables for the first time. Sternhagen also loves giving back to her community, where she’s served on the local school board for 15 years.