As a teen, Richard “Buck” Buchanan, senior vice president of advanced projects at Spirit AeroSystems, unloaded semitrucks and worked in an orchard for a friend’s dad.
The work was physically demanding.
Periodically, he also helped his cousin who owned a carpet-cleaning business.
One day, his cousin contracted with the former Giant store, a local discount department store in southeast Wichita, to clean the store’s carpets, which were mainly aisle runners.
Buchanan’s job was to crawl around on his hands and knees with a bottle of chemicals and a pick tool removing gum and anything else globbed onto the carpet.
“There were things on there you couldn’t identify,” he said.
“You can imagine if you were in Walmart crawling around on the floor,” Buchanan said.
What made the job most unpleasant was that he had to do it while the store was open.
That way his cousin could start cleaning as soon as the store closed, leaving time for the carpets to dry overnight.
His hands got stepped on. Shoppers unintentionally backed into him with shopping carts.
He felt looked down upon.
One lady even accused him of being a pervert.
The job took five hours.
He made $20, enough to take his date to dinner on prom night.
“What I learned doing these manual tasks was that some human endeavors are not glamorous. Some (are) even distasteful and maybe even demeaning, but required,” he said.
And the difficulty of work involved, he said, doesn’t always correlate with the amount of compensation.
“Hard work, however, is in some ways its own reward,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan knew he wasn’t going to crawl around on his hands and knees cleaning carpet all of his life.
Physical work gives a view of the world, however, that everyone should see.
“Hard work, physical labor and a sense of accomplishment are all very satisfying and necessary to complete a person’s makeup and provide self-esteem,” he said.
“I did enough hard work to know that I should always respect it, and the people who do it.”
He’s not sure those lessons are learned today.
Many employees at Spirit work with their hands and are compensated pretty well for it, Buchanan said.
“They’re skilled jobs,” he said. “It’s important to respect what they do, not only because they’re skilled, but because it’s hard work.”
It takes all skills to make a company great.
“If I had my way, everybody who hired into Spirit would work six months on the shop floor,” Buchanan said.