1958 – 1964 The Garrett AiResearch Years
In 1958 I was honorably discharged from the Air Force and within a few weeks I got a job with Garrett AiResearch in the Los Angeles area. In fact AiResearch was located at the entrance to the Los Angeles Airport, (LAX), as it was in 1958. Today the southwest corner of Sepulveda and Century Blvd is a huge parking lot with an overhead on ramp reaching from Sepulveda north bound to the entrance to the Airport.
I got my first job, out of the Air Force, without equal opportunity employers and affirmative action. The government created that. I had never known any discrimination against me or any all my life. Maybe because I thought of myself as an American of Mexican descent and not the other way around.
I was accepted because I wasn’t a Mexican that walked around saying “Orale man, Que pasa?” I was an American first and a Mexican by descent second.
Garrett AiResearch was an amazing company for its day. It was privately owned, non-union with approximately 3000 employees at the LA plant. Under one roof, AiResearch manufactured a number of products for air and space programs that today would take five or six companies to produce.
There were assembly lines for aircraft electronics systems, (F-4), cabin pressure systems, motors, ram air turbines, actuators, turbine APU’s, Mercury and Gemini space capsule environmental control systems, sheet metal products plus others I know I have forgotten. One I remember was some kind of black box for some program no one knew anything about. Years later it was revealed to be an electronics assembly for the SR71 Blackbird.
All the proprietary parts for all these different products were made in the largest machine shop west of the Mississippi. The material planning/inventory control system was amazing and accurate. In 1958!
AiResearch manufactured over 150,000 different active part numbers for all these different products and did so with the ease and heart aches of a company trying to produce one product today.
I started at the bottom of the barrel in terms of the Production Control Department. I was a new Shop Loader. I was one of the guys that carried or moved the bar stock to the machines and the parts from one machining center to another. I had my own push cart and I wore Levi’s, any kind of shirt and got oil all over me during any given day. But I was learning the inner workings of a manufacturing plant.
Luckily for me, the manufacturing plant was AiResearch and I learned how to do it things the right way as a baseline. As I learned more I added my own slant to improve things.
Within a couple of weeks our department had its Christmas Party of 1958. Even though I was a low man on the totem pole I knew it was important for me to go to the party. My problem was I didn’t have the money to take my wife. After telling her how important it was for my future career I went to the party, which was held at a restaurant in Gardena.
With a five dollar bill in my pocket I was off to the party. In today’s money that would be about $40.00.
When I arrived at the restaurant a man by the name of Gene Kroneke met me as I entered. Gene was one of the Production Control Supervisor’s at AiResearch. He immediately greeted me, shook my hand and wished me a Merry Christmas. I hardly knew this man and he was as friendly as could be.
My immediate response was, “Merry Christmas” and as we chatted I asked him if I could buy him a drink. He agreed and we walked over to the bar where he ordered a drink and I ordered a Screwdriver. I immediately whipped out my five dollar bill and placed it on the bar and Gene immediately said, “No Chuck, I’ll buy.” I of course said no, that I had invited him for the drink and insisted on paying. I think drinks were about sixty cents a pop at that time.
At this point Gene said, “Chuck you have been with the company for a couple of months and I know how much you make. I have been with the company sixteen years and you have no idea how much I make.” And then he said something to me I have never forgotten. He continued, “Let me give you something to think about.”
”When those who have, want to,
and hope like hell that when you have,
you’ll want to.
Over the years I have never forgotten those words especially “and hope like hell that when you have, you’ll want to.” I even have those words on a sign I printed of it and it’s hanging behind my bar in our Arizona room.
My AZ room bar (above above) and close up of the sign (above)
I wasn’t making a lot of money so I entered El Camino Junior College using my G.I. Bill. If I went 3/4 time I could collect almost as much as I getting paid. $1.75 an hour doesn’t go very far, even back then. For the first couple years I was working 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM five days a week and going to school 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM four nights a week. Married with three kids, age 21. Enough said about that.
As soon as I was able to do without the schooling money I stopped going. I probably have a year and a half worth of credits.
Early on I had been noticed by my superiors because, while I was only twenty one, I had the experience of having been a non commissioned officer and crew chief in the Air Force. I had management skills and organizational abilities. My willingness to learn and succeed was obvious to most who knew me. After a couple of months I had been given my first pay raise and given the responsibilities of a more senior Loader.
It was Cliff Garrett’s policy to promote from within and a person could work his way up the ladder via on the job training, (OJT), BUT,
It was around this time when Mr. Ralph Fleener, (my boss’s, boss’s, boss’s, boss) the Manager of Materiel, made a surprise announcement. He gathered all the day and swing shift Production Control personnel, Material Planning, Purchasing staff, and all involved Lead men, Supervisors and Managers who reported to him. The meeting was held in the aisles of the machine shop.
With him were three young men who were the subject of his announcement and were recent college graduates, (CG). He announced that he was instituting a new training program for the three CG’s that would take two years for each of them to complete. The training would be extensive and very thorough. So much so that they would start out at the lowest classification, Machine Shop Loader, and train in each position for about six months and move up the ladder until they eventually became full-fledged supervisors within the Materiel Department.
I remember that day as if it were yesterday because at the time I was thinking to myself that there stood three guys my age, who had the money to go to a university while I was in the Air Force. I thought it was unfair and I really got mad. I immediately decided that one way or another I would keep pace with them as they moved up the ladder. It took a lot of work and I learned more during that time than any other time in my life. I learned the basics of what would become my knowledge base later in my life. I did almost stay with those three, but it took me about a year longer.
I made a chart, like the one below, to keep track of my progress. I had decided I had to be making $1000.00 per month by the time I was thirty years old. Starting out at $300.00 a month at 21 made that a very daunting task.
The vertical scale is Dollars per month and the horizontal scale is my age. The big jump at age 29 was when I started at Hughes Tool Company.
In 1958 the average raise for an hourly employee was five cents an hour. If a guy did real well he would get a ten cent raise on his six month review. My first raise was fifteen cents an hour and that was the least amount I received in my six years at AiResearch.
In the next three years I was promoted six positions, to Shop Scheduler, Expediter, Coordinator, Lead Coordinator, Production Control Assistant Supervisor and finally Production Control Supervisor. In the same three years I was given about ten pay raises.
I loved being an Expediter. What a fun job that was. I would work overtime without being paid. I would work Saturdays without being paid. All I wanted to do was make sure my assembly lines got what they needed to ship on time. I had the best on time shipping percentage of any other expediter and coordinator.
Ironically, when I was promoted to Production Control Supervisor, the man I replaced was Gene Kroneke. From then on I greeted people at our Christmas parties.
I had nothing to do with his demise, he had lost control of his duties and department so they fired him. The decision to select his replacement took a while and initially I had an idea I was on a short list. The fact I didn’t have a degree wasn’t a consideration in those days because job knowledge and performance was the primary criteria.
Another thing that may have helped me was that two years earlier I started going to a bar and restaurant called The Bar of Melody that was north of AiResearch on Sepulveda. The Melody was a piano bar restaurant and very popular in those days. On Fridays, after work, a lot of the AiResearchers would go there to have a couple and talk shop. Back then men could go to a bar and have a few drinks without being harassed by the police on the way home the way they do today.
It was also a time when a department head or buyer could accept small gifts at Christmas time without being accused of accepting a bribe. One Christmas I scored about six bottles of booze, a ham and I can’t remember what. Once I received tickets to attend a Hollywood Bowl event with Sammy Davis Jr., Barbara Streisand and Dave Brubeck. It was not kept a secret and no one blinked.
There was an old saying that goes, “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink,” and while that may be stretching it a bit the key word is “TRUST.” In those days we trusted each other and our word was our bond. That included not giving anyone any favor for a bottle of booze. Only an idiot would do that.
Back at the Bar of Melody it took a while for me to be accepted by the gang, but I eventually got to know all the people. Even so, when I received the promotion I was somewhat surprised, but I knew I deserved it.
My department was responsible for insuring all shipments were made on time to the tune of around twelve million dollars a month. My coordinators were the company’s eyes and ears of the customer schedule. They coordinate with sales to satisfy the customer requirement. They must get the engineering drawings out of engineering in time to make the schedule. They must get manufacturing engineering to design the tooling required in time to meet the schedule. They must coordinate with purchasing, production control, the stockroom, Q.C., they must do everything necessary to get the job done.
That meant my coordinators and expediters were responsible for every product line from a material availability point of view. I was the department head so I alone was responsible, for every product we shipped to be shipped on time.
When a coordinator would enter my office with a reason why something didn’t get done I would respond with something like, “If I needed a messenger, I would have hired a pigeon.” We always got the job done and with that attitude I created the one axiom I have used in my entire career:
“Good Excuses Are No Longer Accepted For Not Getting The Job Done!”
That one axiom has done more for my life than any other thing, any degree, any you name it. After they made me a Production Control Supervisor they noticed I was the youngest full-fledged supervisor in the history of Garrett AirResearch at age 24 and wrote about it in the company newsletter. I used to have a copy of that newsletter, but over the years it vanished.
I was now at an equal level as the three college grads, one had been made a Material Planning Supervisor, another, a Purchasing Supervisor and the third, a Production Control Supervisor.
As a side note I should add that everything I accomplished at AiResearch could have not happened if it was a union shop. Unions don’t recognize accomplishment, unions teach you that if you play ball, stay in line and pay your dues you will eventually get enough time in grade to work up one slot. Unions in America today are even worse. They are political arms for communism and socialism in America. I won’t cite that statement, it’s my opinion.
Over the next three years I had also purchased a house. It was 1961 and I was 24. I mention this because of how I almost didn’t get the home. I mention my age because back then it was an age a man was supposed to be man. How’re things going today?
The house was a brand new home in Garden Grove CA that was still being built and sold for $18,950. In those days to qualify for that house a buyer had to have:
- Good Credit
- 20% Down
- Prove I was employed
- The buyer’s payment could not exceed 25% of the buyer’s base take home pay. Base take home pay, of course, is the amount after all taxes and did not include overtime.
When I first applied, they turned me down because I was about $6.00 a week short. Imagine that! Six bucks a week meant I couldn’t qualify for our dream home.
I went into panic mode and did what I had to do, I went to my boss and told him I needed a raise large enough to clear the extra six bucks I needed. I didn’t have a lot of time to argue because another couple wanted our house.
It didn’t take my boss long and my raise was approved with more to spare.
I mention all this because of all the BS that takes place today about how banks are screwing people to the wall by asking for a buyer to qualify for a home loan. This, after the Democrats forced banks to lower the qualification levels to borrow so more people enjoy the American dream. Sounds great but if a person can’t qualify, let him rent until he does.
So thank the liberal policies for the big housing meltdown.
The house was over an hour and a half from the plant and it was a time before the San Diego freeway reached that far. Most of the time I would leave, in the morning, when it was dark and come home when it was dark. That takes its toll in more than one way.
At work, things couldn’t be going better, we were meeting our multiple schedules and I was finally able to relax and reflect on what I had accomplished, BUT one day I was sitting in my office after having a disagreement with Mr. Fleener and I started wondering where I would be twenty years later. The more I thought of it the more I couldn’t make myself believe I would be at AiResearch. So I thought if I wasn’t going to be at AiResearch I might as well quit and start on the road to where I was going.
Once I decided to quit I also decided to try my luck in the bar business. Here I was, the youngest man to promoted to full supervisor with a good future and I decided another course. That’s next, The Plush Bunny and The Doll House.