September 1979, during my first week at Airesearch in Torrance, CA my new boss Brent asked me about the ACES II F-16 ejection seat contracts I was administering. I looked back at him with blank eyes. “What product are you selling? How does it work? Have you seen it or touched it? What’s a class C explosive,” Mr. Green wanted to know standing at the entrance to my tiny gray cubicle? I looked at him in total disbelief. I was a Contract Manager. I knew about the law, finance, protecting the company’s interests. My degree was in law, I wasn’t an Engineer. I was a conscientious employee, experienced, committed, came with references. Why did I need to know how an ejection seat worked? I knew what a contract was. I had been in school forever and spent a fortune learning those principles and he was doubting my smarts. Discrimination based on sex that’s what this was. What difference could it possibly make that the seat was man-rated?
“No,” I responded, “I don’t.”
“Come with me,” Brent said.
Off we went for a three-hour tour of the company. I met Gary, the Buyer, who purchased parts that went into the seat; I met John the Manufacturing Manager, Sheldon the Test Engineer, Clifton the Engineering Program Manager, his boss Sumner, and Evelyn, the woman on the manufacturing line who installed the wires on the printed circuit boards. I viewed the clean room where the sensors (that flew the seats) were made, looked through a microscope while a man installed gold wires so small they needed tweezers to hold them while soldering, and learned that our company (the only one in the world) owned all the patents for this process.
Ours was the only company that was authorized to produce these sensors for the US Air Force. I could feel myself becoming proud of landing this unbelievable job. I found myself becoming more intelligent following, listening, and of course smiling (a lot). I found respect on a manufacturing line, and dignity in a shipping department. Astonishing myself most, that none of it came from the law degree still the box in the garage because I had managed to flunk the California Bar Exam not once but twice (on purpose). I guess I really didn’t want to be an attorney after all.
Surely this was some kind of cosmic joke; maybe, though before the day ended, I even knew the names of guys in the shipping department who made sure our seats were packed in such a way that they didn’t eject during transport.
Later that day I asked my boss if this was a necessary part of my employment? “Absolutely,” said Mr. Green. “In your career you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello. You will be asked to sell or negotiate products you know nothing about. How can you possibly handle yourself in an intelligent, confident manner if you have no knowledge of these products?”
I never forgot the lesson of significance. During my seven years there, I also met the President and Vice-President of Airesearch. They came to visit me often, stopping to say “hi” to the Contract Manager who smiled a lot and regularily went to visit the people on the manufacturing line; as well as bringing boxes of jelly donuts to the guys out in shipping Christmas week. One October they came to ask me how much of a discount I had given one of our customers warranting the incredible 3 ft tall sunflower/mum floral arrangement* that was sitting on my desk?
*from Ron (Footprints on my Heart)
All rights reserved. ©2009 by Sara Fryd