Dick Weston is talking about flying gliders, which means his eyes are widening, his heart is beating a little faster and he is talking a bit louder over the din of the plating shop in the background.
“You know, you just can’t pull these things over to the side of the road if you have a problem,” Weston says. “It’s a thrill, but it’s also serene. Being miles up in the air with just the sound of air rushing past you brings things into perspective. Exhilarating is the word that comes to mind.”
By the time you read this, Weston will have finished up a 40-year career running the plating operations at S&C Electric in Chicago. He retired at the end of March, having plated several hundred million parts for the global provider of equipment and services for electric power systems. S&C got its start back in 1911, when two partners opened a shop to service the budding electrical market.
S&C is just one of the companies we are profiling this month as we preview the NASF’s 2013 Sur/Fin conference, which heads back to Chicago this summer. We decided to take a look at some of the oldest plating operations in the Windy City, and we found many that were pushing the 80 to 100-year-old range. Precision Plating got its start in 1904. Oscar Smith opened Nobert Plating back in 1903, and now his granddaughter and great-grandchildren run the shop. Al Bar-Wilmette Platers traces its roots back to the 1880s.
When we went snooping around S&C Electric, we found Weston running the operations like he has the past four decades: cool, calm and in control. And it’s no wonder—Weston built the plating lines that he oversaw more than 30 years ago, so he knows every nook and cranny of the place.
“Back in 1976 they gave me the go-ahead to redesign the plating operation, and we really wanted to automate our operations,” he says. When the line finally went live in 1979, Weston had a state-of-the-art system (for that era, at least) and one of the most ecological lines around, which he is proud to say is still the case today.
A chemical engineer by training, Weston carried the title Director of Global Logistics and Transportation, Global Fabrication and Supply Chain for S&C Electric, which means he had added many more responsibilities to his job than just plating parts.
In fact, the company plans to replace him by effectively breaking up his job and divvying it up among several people—a replacement by committee, if you will.
“I don’t think I’m irreplaceable, but it’s kind of neat to think that they probably couldn’t find one person to do all that I did,” he chuckles. “At least I don’t think anyone would want to do all that I did.”
When Weston started at S&C, the company was doing $50 million a year in sales. This year, it will probably do $750 million globally. All the while, Weston has kept the plating line running 24 hours a day, five days a week.
But those days are history for Weston. Now he and wife Carol Ann will have time to do what they want, when they want to do it. “When I told her I wanted to retire, she took about five minutes and then retired from her job, too,” Weston says. He adds that he and his wife will probably move back to Wisconsin, where they were born and went to college. Weston will fly his glider whenever he wants at Beloit Airport, just over the Illinois border in Wisconsin. His record is five hours of continuous soaring in the wind, and he will spend his days from now on looking for rising air currents.
Guys like Dick Weston—honest, dependable and smart—don’t come around every day, but when they say goodbye to the industry, we always like to stand up and cheer.
“I got lucky,” Weston says of his 40-year career. “S&C was very good to me, and I was good back to them. I’m so happy to have been along for the ride.”