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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

A: My first husband and I relocated here from Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1979, six weeks after my oldest daughter was born, to have an affordable lifestyle and the support of family. My father since has died and my older sister lives in Austin. But everyone else still lives close, and we all gather for holidays.

Q: Can you tell us about your early career in Oklahoma — before TDK?

A: After I moved here, I immediately went to work, first at a pass-through job, taking orders at a warehouse and then my dad got me an introduction to the human resources department at Worthington Pump, where I worked seven years, moving up from inventory clerk to production planning. When the Shawnee plant closed, and the work was moved to West Virginia, I was offered a job there. But I couldn't see leaving my family.

Q: Have you had to work some funky hours?

A: Yes, when I was a first-line supervisor here in production, I worked seven at night until seven in the morning. My daughters were 6 and 11. I'd remarried, so my husband was there at night. When I got home in the morning, I'd get my girls ready for school, nap until they got home at 3:30 p.m., and then get up and be mom until it was time for me to go to work. When my girls went to college, I couldn‘t afford to help. But I'm happy to be able to help them pay off their student loans now. I have a CPA and a PA — a certified public accountant and physician assistant; theirs is the first generation in my family to graduate college.

Q: Did you ever dream you'd be president of TDK?

A: No. As production manager for five years, I was the No. 2 “man” here, but I never aspired to be president and never thought I would be, with TDK being a Japanese company and my being a woman with no college education. But when the opportunity came around, my name was thrown in the hat and my predecessor — Ron Stravlo, who retired after 15 years here — recommended me. I feel honored that the job was offered to me.

Q: Is California still your favorite place? Do you travel there frequently?

A: No, since I moved here, I've only been back twice — for high school reunions. Daytona Beach, Fla., is a favorite travel spot for my husband and me. I've traveled to TDK's sister ferrites plant in Shizuoka, Japan, several times for work, and plan to go again in September. I've loved seeing Japan's beautiful shrines and temples, come to like sushi, mainly tuna, and learned to drink sake, though I cut mine with water.

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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