Isonia Serrano has accomplished a lot in her 35 years at the Smarties candy factory: She has worked her way from machine operator to leading her own team, become an expert in candy-making and mentored dozens of workers. She even fell in love there. The rolls of pastel-colored Smarties are a nostalgic fixture of Halloween pails, arcades, movie theaters and valentines — and 4.5 million of them are made each day in Union, N.J., thanks in part to Ms. Serrano.

Accompanied by her husband, Edwin Duarte, a mechanic at the company, Ms. Serrano shows up at the factory each day around 6 a.m. For the next nine hours, it’s her job to ensure that every part of the process runs smoothly: that the rolls are tightly wrapped, that the candy flavors stay consistent, that no chipped pieces are packaged. Ms. Serrano is equal parts disciplined and hilarious, strict and caring. When she and her husband are on the production floor, they’re all business.

When Ms. Serrano joined the company, she was in the midst of a divorce, struggling to raise and feed her two daughters by herself. Now she’s the matriarch of two large, united families — the one at home, and the one she has cultivated at work.

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