Recently named Vice President, Operations Culture and Employee Engagement, Kelvin's inspiring 44-year Operations career at GAF has spanned 16 positions and three states — and counting!
"Sometimes our qualifications don't check all the boxes, but if you keep trying and have faith in yourself, someone will be willing to take a chance on you."
—Kelvin Thomas, VP, Operations Culture and Employee Engagement at GAF
You could be forgiven for thinking that Kelvin Thomas had been the person who inspired Dr. Seuss to write his last book, Oh, the Places You'll Go! Kelvin, as you will see, never has stood still for very long. His storied career is an example of what can be achieved by someone who is open to continual exploration and growth, has the ability to discover new opportunities and learn from them, and who is always ready to befriend — and in many cases mentor — the people he meets along the way.
A Far-Reaching Career
During his 44-years with GAF, Kelvin has held 16 positions across five different facilities. This is an illustration of the breadth of opportunity across GAF Operations and a testimony to Kelvin's ability to build on experience and use it to keep moving on and up. Kelvin's "first real paying job" was in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, AL, on the third shift clean-up crew. He quickly moved to a position as a Dump Truck Driver within his first year — and he hasn't slowed down since.
Throughout his career, Kelvin has always focused on challenging himself to do and know more — which has resulted in a myriad of roles and opportunities across the function, as well as across the country: from Alabama to Texas, then to New Jersey and back to Texas again.
The move from Texas to New Jersey provided an exciting opportunity to work in the corporate office and to see GAF from a new angle. However, this 1,700-mile relocation would mean big changes for his family: "The guy from Alabama who moved to Texas was now being challenged with moving my family to New Jersey. My wife graciously agreed to the move because she knew I was in full pursuit of going as far as my abilities and talents would take me," says Kelvin.
Mentorship Is Key
Kelvin learned to lean on the many GAF-ers who were there to help during every step of his journey. Reminiscing on his time in Tuscaloosa, he says, "There were challenges and obstacles starting out, but there were those who encouraged me to push through them. The Tuscaloosa plant has a family-type environment."
When Bob Pine became Tuscaloosa's plant manager around 1988, Kelvin met with him and saw an opportunity to grow and expand his skills. He applied for literally every job he felt he was qualified for. After about six months of applications and interviews, he was promoted to the role of Operations Coordinator. "Sometimes our qualifications don't check all the boxes, but if you keep trying and have faith in yourself, someone will be willing to take a chance on you," explains Kelvin. Despite not fitting the bill "on paper," Bob took a chance on Kelvin and gave him the chance to grow into a new and exciting role.
Today, Kelvin prides himself on developing others — in the same way that mentors had taken a chance on him: "I was inspired through this coaching and mentoring process because it helped me to leap forward in my personal and professional leadership skills," explains Kelvin. "I set out to duplicate this process and put to use all that I had learned from both my failures and successes." On top of professionally mentoring others at work, both of the youth YMCA baseball and basketball teams he coached were championship winners.
There and Back Again
Each professional step forward has inspired Kelvin to reinvest in his own development, furthering his own potential. He completed his college degree at Stillman College while working full-time for GAF. In what he describes as an "unexpected gift," GAF covered his final two years of tuition through the employee tuition reimbursement program.
Stillman is a fixture for Tuscaloosa employees to this day, as many of them pass the campus on their daily walk to work. Many of them noticed it falling into disrepair. Kelvin states in a local news article, "As the team would pass, they saw the blue tarps and had some real concerns about the building. And then contact was made to make a generous offer to Stillman College." GAF pledged $100,000 to restore Stillman's Winsborough Hall, and Kelvin was able to help award the donation to his alma mater.
In his new position as Vice President, Operations Culture and Employee Engagement, his career has come full circle. "I started my career in the plant as a frontline worker, and now I have returned with years of experience to share and shape the future of our current frontline team. Thanks, Tuscaloosa, for the start, the foundation, and the life lessons that carried me throughout my journey."
Inspired? Learn About Opportunities with GAF.
Never naturally one for the limelight, Kelvin was willing to share his story to give an example of what's possible and help inspire others to think about all the fulfilling places they can go — and the things they can achieve — in their careers. To learn about opportunities with GAF, visit the GAF Careers page.