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Executive Q&A: Magnets manufacturing plant president worked her way up

Charlene Norvell started as a temporary shipping clerk 24 years ago.
by Paula Burkes Published: November 11, 2012

One of the first decisions Charlene Norvell made seven months ago after being named president of the TDK Ferrites Corp. in Shawnee, was to hold face-to-face meetings with the 250 people who work at the 35,000-square-foot plant making ferrites, or metals that are magnetized to control motors on washing machines and the windshield wipers, motorized seats and other parts on cars.

Among other things, she stressed that opportunities are limitless for employees, half of whom are contracted through Express Employment Professionals. Norvell wasn't just putting a rosy spin on things. Twenty-four years ago, she was hired as temporary shipping clerk and later worked in grinding on the production line.

“I wanted everybody to understand that I was there; I did what they're doing,” she said. “And there will be opportunities to advance, which I took sometimes kicking and screaming.”

With her appointment, Norvell becomes the first woman to head a plant of the Japan-based global manufacturer. The Shawnee plant every month manufactures some 10.5 million ferrite magnets and does some $2 million in sales. Its 12 major customers include motor assemblers DENSO, ASMO and Mitsuba corporations.

Norvell, 56, sat down with The Oklahoman on Tuesday to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Can you tell us about your roots?

A: My father was a Shawnee native and my mom was raised in Sparks. Though I was born in Tulsa, I grew up mostly in Florida near the Kennedy Space Center and, from age 12 on, in Cypress, Calif. My father worked as technical writer for the Air Force, including on missile projects. My mother was a homemaker. There were eight of us kids, six girls and two boys. I'm the second oldest, with a sister 10½ months older; my youngest sibling is nine years younger. I was a good student, and participated in gymnastics in middle school and on the drill team in high school. Upon my high school graduation, in 1974, my father, who was having heart problems, retired from the military (as a master sergeant) and moved with the rest of my family back to Shawnee, for a calmer lifestyle.

Q: Why did you stay behind in California?

A: I was a California girl. I liked the beach. I liked the lifestyle. I even liked the crowds. My dad told me I could stay behind if I had a job, and could support myself. And I'd been working, since halfway through my senior year, as a waitress at Knott's Berry Farm amusement park. I enjoyed getting to meet people, and went on to waitress at various establishments in northern and Southern California, and in Arizona.

Q: What prompted you to join your family in Oklahoma?

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Position: President, TDK Ferrites Corp. in Shawnee

Birth date: Aug. 2, 1956.

Family: Steve Norvell, married 30 years this month (he's a Sallisaw native who she met when they worked together at the old Worthington Pump plant in Shawnee); daughters Melissa Haas, 33, of Oklahoma City and Amanda Laughlin, 28, of Tulsa; stepson Toby Norvell, 37, of Sallisaw; and 10 grandchildren, ages 2 months to 19.

Favorite pastime: Relaxing and slalom water skiing on Lake Eufaula, where she and Steve have a trailer, boat and jet ski.


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