Mr. Son is laughing. He’s walking from bench to bench at our Fremont shop, talking to assemblers and making sure they have everything they need to get the job done right.
There are times where he stops and listens earnestly. He checks drawings, looks at the assembly, asks a couple of questions, and then makes a gentle suggestion.
Mr. Son — his full name is Son Doan — has worked in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. He’s been an assembler, quoter, technician, and now is a production supervisor and trainer. That breadth of experience helps him in his current role.
“From when I was working as a quoter, I know how long a job should take,” he says. “So, when we get a job on the floor and the schedule isn’t right, I can communicate with the office and tell them it needs to be adjusted. I don’t want to put production behind schedule if it’s possible.”
One of the tenants of Compass Made’s culture is building up our employees by providing the education, skills, and tools they need to succeed. Mr. Son anchors the company’s commitment to its employees, bringing in his professional capabilities and knowledge to the job every day.
“They want to use my experience to help people grow,” he says. “I love teaching people, and I love the job.”
Originally from Vietnam with a background in chemical engineering, Mr. Son came to the United States with a basic understanding of electronics and a desire to support his family. He picked up the ins-and-outs of the industry quickly, as each position he took on expanded his practical experience in the manufacturing process.
That blend, Mr. Son says, is what makes an effective trainer. “I think the best trainers have to have a lot of application experience on whatever he’s saying. Not just something that is read in a book. Most of the people can read,” he says with a laugh. “But, if you can apply what’s in a book to real life, that can help you improve.”
That’s the way that he works. “When I teach people I know there’s going to be doubt. ‘You can do it your way,’ I say, ‘then compare it with my way and let’s see.’ Then they agree with me after the test,” he says. “Some people want to challenge their boss. That’s fine. We let them try and then show them why our way is better. Sometimes we both learn!”
Beyond teaching is motivating. There are dozens of styles, from the screamer to the coach. Mr. Son smiles when asked what style he uses.
“I put myself on the line, and then the people follow,” he starts. “If I speak loudly to someone they look at my face and then they smile. Then I smile and laugh. So, I cannot do that anymore and I gave it up. Even my family, they listen to me and if I start to raise my voice they point to my face and say, ‘Look at that old man.’”
In addition to helping Compass Made employees, Mr. Son has been a force for improving the company’s training programs. In his early days, the company was reactionary when a problem arose. Now, there are regular meetings to look at what’s happening and what can be improved and regular training.
“It helped a lot. The people love it, the managers love it,” he says. “Before people just built cable and they didn’t know what was going on. Now, they go to test it and know why they’re making a mistake.”
One of the more recent examples of how things have changed and how people are learning at Compass Made is the integration of Plug One Test One (POTO) at the company’s manufacturing plants. Not only is POTO finding problems early, but it’s also helping the team to understand why they’re making a mistake.
Throughout his lengthy career, Mr. Son has witnessed the evolution of the industry and Compass Made.
These days, in contrast to 20 years ago, he observes that there is more precision in the manufacturing process because a computer database can deliver technical information in seconds rather than the assembler having to look through dozens of pages of data in a manual.
Testing and quality assurance have also taken a huge step forward, he reports. Twenty years ago, when the industry made 100 cables, up to five were rejected by the customer. Today, he only sees one cable rejected by the customer out of every 2,500 cables.
There might only be one reject, but it’s an important one. “We look for why and then learn,” Mr. Son explains. “That’s how we improve.”
Outside of the office, Mr. Son is a loving husband, father of four, and grandfather of two, who cherishes spending time with his family. One of his sons recently graduated college and works for a design company, while his youngest son started his first year at the University of California at Irvine. His eldest grandson will be attending a university this fall.
When he’s not chasing kids or keeping up with his family, Mr. Son enjoys flipping on the TV and watching sports. “I don’t understand the rules,” he admits with a laugh. “I just like watching.”
Mr. Son sits up and looks around. He’s been talking about himself for 20 minutes or so. It’s time to get back out on the floor and find someone to help.