A Few New Career Steps

5 Dec

After a year at the Long Beach Airport, there was a massive layoff, and I found myself joining nearly 27,000 co-workers, in line for a severance check. Unfortunately, nearly half of us were engineers, and there were only around 1,300 engineer positions open in the greater L.A. area at the time.

So, I ended up taking a job with a guy up in the San Fernando Valley, that bought up abandoned storage lockers, and sold the goods for a profit. Sometimes he peddled it at the swap meets, but more often, he would stage a yard sale, on a borrowed corner property. He would go to the auctions, and buy the lockers, then send me along with a truck, to load up the goods, and transfer them to storage lockers he had rented. That meant some long hours, and a lot of bending and carrying, sorting through personal effects, junk and trash, with the occasional find of something that would yield a tidy profit. Then, I’d take it to our storage lockers, and unload it from the truck, and load it into the locker.

Come Thursday, I’d unload stuff from the locker, and load it into one of the trucks, or a trailer, and that night, we’d unload it from the truck, and pile it up in the yard we were using that weekend. We’d cover it with a tarp, and camp out in the yard overnight, then get up with the sun, and spread it out in rows on the yard. Sell all day, and then pile and tarp the leftovers that night, camp out again, and repeat it Saturday and Sunday. Sunday evening, we’d load the remains into the trucks, and go by one of the local thrift stores, and donate what we didn’t want, and take the rest to storage, until the next weekend.

Hardly what you’d call a challenging career, but it did have its perks. Since Coco and I had come to L.A. with essentially nothing but the clothes on our backs, we were able to furnish our house, for pennies, often with new or near new things, much more quickly than we could have, otherwise. Nearly twenty years later, we still have some of the knickknacks we gathered those days, and the memories they bring with them.

After working at this for several months, my boss, Jim, offered me a partnership. He would front the money, I would do the work, and we’d split the profit. He’d also help me out, on sales. We did that for a few more months, until the city started to crack down on habitual yard sellers, and we had to shut down.

So……I went down to the Sears Outlet store, bought a roll-around toolbox, and outfitted it with tools, and took a job as a maintenance mechanic at a plastic bottle blow-molding plant. In a few months, I was made maintenance supervisor, and a few months after that, maintenance manager. Then I was given the job of starting up a dedicated purchasing department, on top of everything else.

As purchasing manager, I started tracking material usage, and started finding some huge discrepancies. Material purchased (in pounds), minus finished product (also in pounds) should equal material in inventory (less any scrap, also measured in pounds).

But we were shipping around 30-40,000 pounds per month, and purchasing 75-85,000 pounds per month. Our scrap was negligible, and our inventory stayed pretty much constant. So where was 45,000 pounds of material a month disappearing to?

Hesitant to cast any doubts on someone’s honesty without being sure, I decided to investigate. I even hired someone to watch our yard, from an adjoining property. As it turned out, our Plant Manager was taking delivery of raw material, and selling it elsewhere, while we paid for the purchase of it! I got photos of him, driving a bulk truck out of our yard, and of the same truck delivering material to a competitor an hour later. I confronted him with it, and he fired me on the spot. I called the owner of the company at home, and gave him the information, and he started his own investigation. But of course, by then, the PM knew he was being watched, and the monthly consumption fell off to a reasonable level. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that they caught him, because of a traffic accident, with 50,000 pounds of material, proven to be stolen from the company. He was finally fired, and went to jail.

During the period that I was buying and selling abandoned goods, in yard sales, Coco got pregnant for the second time. With the first having ended in a miscarriage, we were both concerned, and so, took great care with her “package”. It paid off very nicely, on August 26, when we were joined by Michelle, a beautiful little girl that would only become more beautiful every day.

Just about the time she was born, I made the change to the bottle manufacturing company, leaving behind the yard sale business forever.

And so, began the adventure of raising a baby, into a young lady, that will some day give me grandchildren to bounce on my knee.

That should go very well with the grey hairs that she also gave me. Such is the life of a father, right?

Meanwhile, I had taken a job as Maintenance Manager for a custom injection molding company in Gardena. I learned a lot at that family owned business, as they took a very aggressive stance on training their workforce. The company had been around since 1952, and was very prominent, with an impressive client list. Over half of the computer monitor and television housings made in North America came out of their facility. While there, I designed and managed the construction of a new wing of offices and a large new warehouse, taking advantage of my experience in construction management. After about three years, the president announced that the family was selling the business, and shortly thereafter, we met Mike, the new pres./CEO. Most of the family left, and the new owners began to make the inevitable changes.

Then, the CEO called me in, and tasked me with undertaking a feasibility study on building a “maquiladora” or manufacturing facility, in Mexico, to take advantage of the lower labor rates, and the closer proximity to our major clients. That took me about six weeks, during which time I worked closely with Steve A., the grandson of the founder of the original company. Later, I was assisted tremendously by Lee Stevens, a commercial real estate professional, with whom I eventually became a close friend. My findings were favorable, and when I made my presentation, I was almost immediately given authorization to proceed with acquisition of a site.

Once Lee and I chose our preferred site, things happened quickly. From signature of a contract, to beneficial occupancy was four and half months. I designed the plant, and managed the construction, and then started production. The day we loaded our first two trucks with finished goods, I handed the keys over to our VP of Manufacturing, and headed back to L.A. The fact that I had finished the job before schedule and under budget, was overshadowed by the fact that we had lost a significant portion of our business to a change of vendors by a large client.

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