Wed, Apr 14, 2021 03:10 PM
Meet Preji G. Thomas, P.E.
Preji is a Tooling and Fixture Design Engineer at Greenbrier. He joined the Greenbrier Manufacturing Organization (GMO) business unit in July 2019. In 2020, he joined the Company’s Diversity & Inclusion Strategy Committee (DISC), a group of employees who are dedicated to advancing Greenbrier’s IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, Leadership) commitment. In a Q&A session with Preji, he shared his story of moving to the United States and what he looks for in a diverse and inclusive workplace.
What does IDEAL mean to you?
To me, IDEAL goes beyond racial and gender equality. It is about treating everyone the way they want to be treated. We all come from different socioeconomic, educational, and religious backgrounds, even if we have the same racial and gender identity.
Some of us have advanced degrees, while others have shop-floor experience. Some of us need more time at home to care for loved ones. Some of us have physical disabilities or criminal convictions which may keep us from landing our dream job. An “IDEAL” organization employs a diverse workforce and gives everybody a fair chance to succeed. It does not let unconscious bias get in the way of progress. It has an inclusive culture which accepts each employee and makes them feel valued.
Tell us your story. Why is DEI important in the workplace?
I was born and raised in Mumbai, India in a middle-class family. I earned my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Mumbai University before coming to the US in 2002 on a student visa (F1). After earning my MS (Mechanical Engineering) from UT-Arlington, in 2004, I went to work for Trinity Industries on H1B visa. I spent almost 12 years at Trinity Industries, learning about railcars and their manufacturing processes. I also earned my MS (Civil Engineering) and Professional Engineer (P.E.) license. Thereafter, I spent a few years working for a couple of small job shops in the DFW metroplex.
When I was offered a position at The Greenbrier Companies, in 2019, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. However, there were unforeseen delays in obtaining my work visa (H1B) which delayed my start date by about 4 months. Despite that delay, my manager (Brad Howard) and the corporate human resources manager (Jeanne Wakayama) unconditionally supported my employment offer and did not retract it. They did everything in their power to reassure me and gave me a fair chance to succeed at Greenbrier. I knew right away that Greenbrier has a diverse and inclusive culture. Even now they are actively working with immigration attorneys to expedite my Green card. My family and I have benefitted immensely from Greenbrier’s inclusive culture. I want other employees to feel the same way and contribute towards Greenbrier’s success. The IDEAL culture will help Greenbrier attract and retain the best talent and strengthen its dominant position in the rail and barge industries.
How does Greenbrier and your business unit foster IDEAL values?
IDEAL values have always been a general culture at GMO in Colleyville:
- Instead of setting individual goals, my manager sets team goals. For example, as a team we needed to create budgets for our manufacturing plants in fiscal year 2021. That way, the focus is on helping the entire team succeed rather than pursuing personal goals.
- We are encouraged to volunteer for the North Texas Food Bank during work hours. GMO also sends generous donations to the North Texas Food Bank.
- If there is a problem at one of the GMO plants, everybody focuses on fixing the problem and learning from the mistake. The focus is never on pointing fingers or on proving somebody wrong.
Despite having a challenging fiscal year 2020, Greenbrier prioritized employee safety and health. Employees with families and underlying health conditions are encouraged to work from home during the pandemic. Management has always put employees first.
“Besides Preji’s expertise and knowledge which speak for themselves, it’s also his intangible strengths that he brings to the team that are incredibly valuable. His positive attitude is one of these intangibles strengths and is noticed by everyone as they interact with him throughout the day. Another is Preji’s natural ability to successfully collaborate within multi-cultural cross-functional teams. He is self-assured and confident in his abilities, yet stays humble.”
“If I were to pick just one quality of Preji’s that I appreciate the most it would be his overall dependability, whether that pertains to finishing projects on time or to actively participate on a new team or helping his counterparts at other locations.”
– Brad Howard, Preji’s manager
Pictured: Preji with his wife and son