If you’ve been in the fastener industry for any length of time, you’re likely aware of Jo Morris. She’s well-known for her work with the Fastener Training Institute (FTI), a non-profit organization dedicated to education and training in the fastener sector. She’s technically FTI’s director of marketing — although she wears many hats and has throughout her career.
Case-in-point: she also works as an outside sales representative at Desert Distribution, a supplier of engineered components and fasteners.
“I’m extremely lucky to work in an industry that I love,” she shares. “And that’s important because both FTI and Desert Distribution are full-time jobs. There’s a lot going on…so you’re always on your toes and have to be high functioning.”
High functioning certainly describes Morris. In addition to a couple of full-time gigs, she’s also mom to 12-year-old triplets.
“It’s certainly a balancing act on some days,” she admits. “But somehow I manage. Fasteners is a great industry because there’s always something new to learn and it’s a close-knit community. It’s also been my only career as an adult, really.”
Morris graduated from Arizona State University with a business degree and plans to go into international business. Understandably, a fastener-related job was the furthest thing from her mind. She initially interviewed with a pharmaceutical company and considered hotel management. However, before deciding she figured that she could use more interview experience and, by chance, secured a spot with a fastener distributor.
“To be honest, the pharmaceutical company was in Texas but the fastener company was in Arizona…which is where my boyfriend and I were at the time. So, I went with fasteners,” she laughs. “And though I sometimes wonder where l would be today if I chose differently, I do love how my career has unfolded.”
Morris spent six years at the distributor, Copper State Bolt & Nut, which provided her excellent insight into the industry.
“I was hired to support their marketing efforts but left with experience in that, as well as business development, inside sales, administrative work, and even helped out at the front counter — which was the best exposure for learning about the products,” she says. “At the time, roles weren’t quite as defined and you wore a lot of different hats, so to speak.”
Copper State is where she met John Wachman — also an industry veteran. He’s the founder of Desert Distribution and managing director of FTI. Wachman was also recently inducted into the Fastener Hall of Fame, which recognizes professionals who’ve made significant and enduring contributions to the industrial fastener industry on a national or global scale.
“It didn’t take long for John to take me under his wing as an assistant at Copper State, which ended up being the best opportunity of my career,” says Morris. “He was a big proponent for knowing what you’re selling, so I was fortunate to learn from some of the best in the industry. John made sure I had the chance to visit and learn from manufacturers when the majority of components were still made in the U.S.”
One of their major accounts was selling engineered components to a large airbag equipment manufacturer in the Southwest. So, Morris spent time learning from engineers, even working on the manufacturing line.
“I got to fully understand the purpose and functionality of each part, which has been extremely valuable throughout my career,” she says. “Though I also spent plenty of time on the customer side, learning about supply chains and vendor-managed inventory, for example, which was fairly new at the time.”
What made this more significant for Morris was how few women were in the industry at the time.
“It’s changing now…fortunately. I mean now, there are women engineers, CEOs, managers, owners, and mentors. But when I first started in fastening, there were very, very few women, so my experience was quite unique,” she shares. “I like to say, the cream always rises though and it’s wonderful to see how women have risen to the top of this industry, for sure.”
Eventually, Morris decided to move back to her home state of Colorado, where she married, had triplets, and joined another fastener distributor. There, she worked her way up to GM until that company sold and Copper State expanded into Colorado and asked her to return. She said yes, for a while.
“My kids were young at this time though and the full-time workload became a little much. I wanted something part-time and that’s when John offered me a new opportunity,” she says. As Morris was settling down in Colorado, Wachman had decided to venture out on his own and launched Desert Distribution.
“Of course, that was ideal for me and I was happy to work with John again. I was able to begin part-time, representing fastener suppliers in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah,” says Morris. Her career in the fastener industry continued. “Then, at some point, John asked me to help him with the launch of an online presence for the Fastener Training Institute, where he served as president at the time. Slowly, this work has compounded and exponentially grown — the rep side and the training side. So, now I have more than one full-time job!”
Morris is not complaining. One of the main reasons she’s stayed in the industry, aside from the life-long friends and colleagues she’s made, is that it continually offers her a chance to grow and learn.
“It’s never boring. Truly,” she says. “It’s like this never-ending place to evolve. I’ve sat in on countless webinars and training sessions and, somehow, there’s always something new to learn. And yet, for whatever reason, they still don’t teach fasteners in college.”
She recounts the story of a family friend who recently asked her advice about the correct screw to hold an important safety application at a fire department. “He said something along the lines of: ‘I’m a structural engineer and I’m unsure… they never taught us that,’” she explains. “It’s unfortunate on some level, but that’s where FTI fills a gap.”
Even throughout the pandemic, the Fastener Training Institute was able to reconfigure its courses to offer ongoing, online training. It’s also been providing monthly webinars.
“It’s not ideal for every course because you cannot replace the significance of hands-on training when it comes to fasteners but it’s been important for us to continue to be available for the industry,” she says. FTI is returning to the classroom, in-person, May 3-6 in Cleveland, Ohio for its Fastener Training Week. This is a renowned, week-long training program for fastener distributors and manufacturers on manufacturing processes, consensus standards, quality control, and more.
“Once you’re in it, it’s tough to leave,” she shares. “The fastener industry offers enormous opportunities in so many different directions. And the people become like family very quickly. It’s a great career.”