HAMPTON — A’Keen White has a sharp vision of his purpose on the Virginia Peninsula Community College (VPCC) Educational Foundation board, according to the college.
“I see my role as bridging the gap or assisting with bridging the gap between the manufacturing world from an employer standpoint and bridging the gap to the college with their, I’ll say curriculum and or people,” he said.
According to VPCC, as the general manager of Greystone, a manufacturing giant in Toano, he’s able to help that come into view. He figures he can offer VPCC graduates a smooth transition to employment, and at the same time, make the college aware of the needs of the manufacturing world.
“Every business and everything has changed post-COVID, and it’s ever-changing within an ever-changing world anyway,” he said.
As one of the area’s leaders in manufacturing, VPCC said he can help the college build its curriculum to meet today’s business needs, and as a bonus, Greystone’s Toano facility isn’t far from VPCC’s Trades Center.
“We’re offering a smooth transition into work for individuals who graduate from your manufacturing and trade centers,” he said.
White said his responsibilities on the college’s Educational Foundation board go hand-in-hand with Greystone’s mission.
For Greystone to be successful, White said, the company needs to identify and hire the right people. He said those people could well come from VPCC.
“I was thinking about the talent pool that you guys have,” he said. “So, I want to utilize what I know from a business standpoint, what I’ve gained from all of my experience, and offer that to younger leaders coming up.”
Engaging those students early in their career is important, he said.
“We’ll find the appropriate seat for them on the bus further down the road,” he said, referencing the book “Good to Great” by author Jim Collins.
White grew up in Mappsville, small town in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore. He graduated from Arcadia High School in 2005 and went to Old Dominion University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2010. He was in ROTC while in college and was an Army National Guardsman.
“The day after I graduated, I commissioned as a second lieutenant and began my military career,” he said.
He was stationed at Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg, in North Carolina for three years. Greystone was his first job after leaving the military. He started as a shift supervisor in the machining division at the company’s Rhode Island location, then was promoted to production supervisor at the Toano facility, followed by operation manager at the same location.
“I was managing all of our automotive division, which at the time made up about 65 to 70% of our total sales,” he said.
He then left Greystone to join Perdue Farms on the Eastern Shore, where he stayed for about two years.
“I gained manufacturing knowledge, and I rejoined Greystone,” he said.
Shortly after rejoining Greystone in 2019, he became the general manager when his predecessor retired, and has held the position since.
That success has gotten him recognition from his college alma mater. He is on ODU’s most recent list of 40 successful alums under age 40. He’s 36.
“I was very surprised,” he said of the honor. “It’s only the third year that they’ve recognized 40 individuals under 40.”
Also in this year’s class is Newport News Vice Mayor Curtis Bethany III, who served on VPCC’s Local College Board. Others who have been recognized in the past include professional baseball player Justin Verlander, professional basketball player Kent Bazemore and professional football player Taylor Heinicke.
“We have individuals who work at ESPN or who work at large broadcasting agencies, CBS, NBC, so for me to be recognized managing little old Greystone, I was completely shocked,” he said. “But it’s good to have your efforts recognized. It was a good feeling.”
He and his wife, Ashley, have two children, 9-year-old daughter Ava and 18-month-old son Ace. They reside in Williamsburg. He has been on the Foundation Board for a little more than a year and has two more to go on his term. He hopes that is not the end of his time helping the college.
“I’d like to build a longstanding relationship with the local manufacturers as a whole in James City County and the college,” he said.
He sees value in the community college system, particularly in the trades.
“As I tell a lot of the high school and college students, in manufacturing, every trade that’s offered at the college is done in a business,” he said. “You have HVAC, welding, carpentry. You have the full gambit in every building.”
In fact, one of his employees is taking welding classes at the Trades Center.
“I do know that the reason that individual’s taking welding classes is due to some of the conversations that I’ve had with that individual,” he said. “If I could do that for four people over my tenure, I feel that I’ve done a good job there.”
He said he doesn’t take his role on the board lightly, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to serve his community.
“My time on the board, it’s been great,” he said. “Even if it were to end today, I think I have learned and have absorbed far more information in a very short period of time than I would have done taking classes on what to do about certain things.”
For more information on the VPCC Educational Foundation, visit vpcc.edu.