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Erin Kittleman spent 22 years working at Esterline before changing course last spring.

By Hilary Reeves

Senior Director of Human Resources Erin Kittleman joined the tight-knit ranks of Saltchuk’s Seattle headquarters in May. Formerly Vice President of the Control & Communications Business Unit at the aerospace supply company Esterline, Kittleman’s 22-year tenure came to a close after the company’s sale in March. In April, she received a fortuitous e-mail.

“I wasn’t looking very hard at the time,” she said. “I was doing some work as a leadership development consultant for a former vendor when I received a note from Colleen Rosas,  Saltchuk’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources. I hadn’t signed into LinkedIn for weeks, but the day I did, she sent me a note. I remember being so impressed that a vice president was taking the time to reach out and not a recruiter.”

A young Erin smiles with some children in a corn field in Nepal.

Nepalese dreams

Professional services weren’t a childhood dream of Kittleman’s. She grew up in the Seattle suburbs, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, and dreamed of living and working overseas. California was the closest she got until she took matters into her own hands.

“After college, I went to work in Sales for Xerox,” she said. “I had a brand-new degree in International Relations, and I thought, ‘Xerox is an international company.’”

After a six-year stint with the company that included a management track and three years of living in the San Francisco Bay area, Kittleman called it quits in 1994.

“I just decided that it didn’t feed my soul,” she explained. “There was this realization that I wasn’t going overseas anytime soon. I took a break – I was going to go back to school, but instead, I moved to Nepal.”

Kittleman said she’d always wanted to live and work in a third-world country or developing area. She made a list: Sicily, Argentina, or Nepal.

“I’d been to Nepal before and loved it, loved the people. I got certified to teach English as a Foreign Language and ended up getting a job in Kathmandu through the United States Information Services (USIS). While I was there, I took another job as Assistant Director of the American Mission Association – essentially the U.S. Embassy in Nepal. I had a staff of 40 Nepalis who didn’t speak a word of English, and we had to get creative,” she laughed.

Corporate life

After two years in Nepal, Kittleman said she felt like she was at a crossroads: continue to work for nonprofits overseas or return to the United States and refocus on her corporate career. She chose the latter and returned in 1996.

“When I came back, I started working for Boeing,” she said. “Then Boeing referred me to Esterline. It was a fairly small company when I joined in 1997. But it grew to 60 operating companies globally, and I got that international corporate experience I was looking for.”

Kittleman began contracting for Esterline at first, focusing on training and development, then moved into Human Resources fulltime as a manager. While always based locally and working predominately with employees in California and the Midwest, she also oversaw in the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium.

“At one point, I was traveling way too much: three weeks of every month,” she said, “but it was a wonderful experience. I’d still be with Esterline if it wasn’t sold last year.”

Saltchuk development

Kittleman earned an Executive MBA from Seattle University in 2015. Esterline eliminated her position in March 2019. Some two months later, she began work at Saltchuk.

“The work I’m doing now is a great example of what Colleen hired me to do,” she said. “The Saltchuk Board of Directors is so passionate about developing leaders and succession planning.”

Calling leadership development her “passion,” Kittleman is focused on “hiring talent that is going to succeed,” and she’s creating the next iteration of Saltchuk’s Leadership Development Program.

“I have a huge to-do list,” she laughed. “Right now, I’m all about working to understand the culture and learn more about the people. I’m the HR lead for the Saltchuk Corporate Home team, I’m facilitating the launch of the 2020 Saltchuk Employee Survey in partnership with the HR leaders, and I just hired a Senior Benefits Manager, Alexa Juarez. I’m hoping we can work on better educating our employees on our excellent benefits. I believe there are a lot of opportunities for people to understand them better.”

Kittleman said she’s also assessing how best to add value to the company’s business units.

“I’ve always been big on development,” she said. “Raising leaders up. That’s my passion, and I’m happy to be doing it here.”

In her free time, Kittleman said she loves spending time outdoors, skiing in the winter, and biking, swimming, and running all year.

Erin triumphantly raises her fist in active wear.

“My most recent goal was to complete a Half Ironman race and loved it so much I completed two in 2019,” said Kittleman. “I’ve never felt like I was an athlete. I was one of those kids who was always a bit overweight and uncoordinated, so competing a Half Ironman gave e a huge boost of athletic confidence.”

Kittleman is most proud of raising her son as a single parent and the close relationships she has with her large extended family of eight siblings, and 16 nieces and nephews. She still makes time for travel, taking frequent trips to Kona where her parents spend part of their year. Learning to be happy in spite of curveballs that come your way is a skill that she hopes everyone can achieve.

“There is so much to be grateful for in life,” she concluded. “Saltchuk is one of those gifts. I count my blessings every day I walk into the office; I truly love my new job and the people I get to work with here. Esterline had a wonderful culture, which is why I stayed so long. But this is even better.

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.