During college, Ralph Acs, vice president and general manager of Bombardier’s Learjet plant, worked summers at a factory in Montreal making machine components.
It was a big change from his previous job as a lifeguard.
“Now I find myself in a factory. I’m 18 years old. It’s hot. It’s summertime. I just had a painful year in engineering school. I’m standing in front of this big NC machine. I’m lifting these big, heavy things. I smell of coolant. My car smells of coolant. My pillow smells of coolant,” Acs said. “It was a horrible job.”
They were making metallic sleeves for weapons.
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It was in that job, however, that he learned a lot of lessons that have stayed with him.
Working in the factory gave Acs an understanding of how things are made and assembled.
Engineering designs must be producible.
“So when I would draw something in engineering, I knew what could be made and couldn’t be made,” Acs said.
It helped him understand the culture within a factory.
And “it helped me understand how things are put together and sometimes how inefficiently things can be put together,” he said.
As he worked, Acs challenged himself.
Part of his time was spent assembling timers with multiple parts.
As he sat, he decided to have some fun with the job.
“I’m going to see how fast I can do it, and how much I can improve,” Acs decided.
At the time, the factory had no processes in place for improvement.
He also realized that managers never came by to say hello or ask how he was doing.
“I always said, ‘If I ever go into management, I’m going to be nice with people,’ ” Acs said. “It stuck with me.”
At Learjet, he wants leaders to be visible on the floor and in the offices and be there to help.
At the time, “I could have … done a lot more if someone was there to help me who had the clout to help me,” Acs said.