When I found out I was going to talk to Penny Castillo, QA Supervisor for Quest Nutrition I already knew what my first question was going to be – how many Quest Bars do we make a day? I got that – it’s 120,000 give or take 10,000 here or there. What I also got was a very candid discussion with a person who is the embodiment of humility and pride in her work.
It’s people like Penny who make sure our amazing fans receive the best quality product possible. When I first started to speak with Penny she was very timid and almost shy, but the more she talked about what she did and her role in the company, the more comfortable she became. When you hear a co-worker say, “You have to care about the product. Every time I see the products I look at it like a consumer,” You start to realize that there are so many moving parts to do what Quest does. And you’re glad to have someone like Penny looking out for you. “If I open the bar I want it to look a certain way. If there’s an irregularity or the weight is off I wouldn’t want to eat that.” Says Penny almost apologetically, like she needs to justify the times where she’s had to toss out a bad batch of bars. But that’s the kind of expertise that comes with Penny’s 9 years of QA experience. Before working at Quest, Penny was the QA manager at a supplement company, but felt stifled by the lack of upward mobility in the position.
“I worked for them for 8 years and I was stuck in the same position. I didn’t see myself moving anywhere. It was just a routine.” I think everybody reading this has felt that way at a job one time or another. Thankfully for Penny, a former co-worker recently made the move to Quest and had big plans for her, “I think the opportunity to work for Quest came at the right time. One day I was frustrated and said ‘I have to find a new job.’ That night, her former co-worker called her and told her about a QA Supervisor opening at Quest. “My friend said he was going to talk to his boss and that same day he asked me, ‘can you come in tomorrow?’” Penny didn’t know how fast things move at Quest – she continues, “I went to interview and I was very surprised when they asked me ‘can you start next week?’ I was nervous and excited.” Obviously Penny said yes and she hasn’t looked back since.
Over a year into her job, Penny admits that working for Quest can have stressful days – her day starts late and goes later: “I work second shift so I usually go from 3pm until 1:30-2am.” When I ask her what excites her about her job she says, “I love quality, I love my job.” The answer isn’t fluff, it was delivered with the weight of a grand piano. I was fascinated to learn why so I ask her for a typical scenario that might be interesting to readers, “I’ve had to close down lines before and it’s never easy. One day we were making bars that weren’t within specifications and the chocolate was melting because the machines were too hot and the bars suffered.” I think of all the Quest Bars that don’t make it into the public’s hands like sea turtles hatched on a beach making the dangerous trek to the ocean for the first time. Penny’s position can create some tough situations, “Sometimes I upset supervisors when I stop their line, but I can’t be sorry because we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.” Again, that sense of reluctant pride comes through in her voice.
It’s not all the tough-mom routine, though. Penny likens her workers to family members – she runs a monthly potluck with a theme and laughs. Then we get to talking about the food and her favorite Quest product. I can’t actually say what it is here, because it’s not released yet, but it’s related to Quest Labs. New products are another big part of Penny’s job. “We have a line dedicated to running new foods and that can be tricky.” Occasionally, Penny tells me, they don’t get proper measurements for ingredients and they have to work on a trial-and-error basis. She assures me, though that after recent ingredient changes, there are new procedures in place to make sure anything in production to the fans is following ingredient guidelines.
When Penny talks about her job she makes it sound like it’s the most important job on the planet, that’s because of the intrinsic motivation she feels from working for Quest, “I honestly can tell you that this is the best job that I’ve ever had.” When I was speaking to her I literally asked her if she seriously felt that way or if it was just because she knew people would read her story and she responded with a no-nonsense, “Seriously.” It has to do with the upward mobility options and variety of opportunities, “it feels good knowing that other departments are looking at you, how you work and think while considering you to be a part of their team.” She continues, “I would definitely want to work for Quest for the next 5-10 years.”
As a mother of two, Penny still finds time to be present for her kids when she’s not making America’s Favorite Protein Bar, “I’m a soccer mom – my daughter plays soccer, so on weekends when she has a tournament I try to go and do that. My son is in high school and has band competitions so that’s pretty much my time off. It’s time very well spent.”
As I wrap up our chat I’m interested in getting to know more about Penny the person. “I come from a single mom family and she always said, ‘whatever you do, do your best.’ So my advice to anyone reading this would be no matter what you do, even if you’re selling flowers on the corner of the street, do your best. I came to the U.S. from Mexico when I was 17. I learned English from talking to people and I still have to improve my writing. But I learn by asking people questions. I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. I never imagined I’d ever be a QA supervisor or be where I am right now. And it’s all because I always try to do my best.”
Even if you don’t have a passion for QA like Penny does, you can’t deny the power of her ethos. I, for one, am glad we’ve got someone like her looking out for the quality of our products and can’t wait to see where her attitude takes her in the future.