Johnny Le standing at podium speaking at the Made In America event

Break-dancing into Siemens: A combination of cultures moves me forward and upward 

By: Johnny Le, Manufacturing Engineering Industrial Calibration Tech in Quality Testing, Siemens Grand Prairie 

Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton joined President Joe Biden at the White House for a Made in America manufacturing event during which the President spoke, via video-link, with Siemens employees at our Grand Prairie, TX and Pomona, CA facilities. Two Grand Prairie employees, Maryland Hendrix and Johnny Le, spoke about their work with Siemens—Maryland in comments to President Biden, and Johnny in a speech at the White House event. Their stories make clear how important manufacturing workers are to our future, and how dynamic individuals add value to their jobs and careers.

 

At the White House event I attended back in March, President Biden mentioned during his public comments that I’m a break dancer. He learned this during our conversation backstage and took a sincere interest in it. Truth be told, hip-hop is how I found my way to a job at the Siemens factory at Grand Prairie, Texas.

 

I have been incredibly passionate about hip-hop since being introduced to the culture. I didn’t have many friends growing up, but I began socializing at break-dancing events. I was regularly attending a bi-annual (now annual) event in Austin called Bboy City, one of the biggest Hip-Hop events in the country, now worldwide. At a local break-dancing event, I met a Siemens employee named Anh Nguyen, and he suggested that I apply for a job.

 

I was 25 years old and unemployed at that time, having quit a job because of a terrible boss. Siemens presented the possibility of a stable income and the potential to bring myself into the middle class rather than being just a poverty-stricken college student. I also liked the potential that an international corporation presented, and the new experience of an industrial job, because I was getting tired of the kinds of retail and clerical jobs that I’d had.

 

In 2012 I started with Siemens at Grand Prairie as an Electrical Technician, and I was quickly promoted to the next classification level. I was always looking to be productive. I’d request additional cross-training or volunteer for other duties—moving inventory, locating covers for other operators in the Closing Department, assisting with assembly components for the Mechanical Assembly Technicians, or just general I.T. support throughout the plant on second shift. As early as 2013, the Quality testers asked me if I would volunteer to assist with Field Services.

 

Soon, Siemens was sending me all over the country and Canada to assist in maintaining customer relations by completing requested repairs or updates and modifications. There were times where I took the role of team lead and had to ensure that everyone was taken care of and that we accomplished the tasks we were responsible for. Such field experience taught me how to be lean and efficient. After that, the Working Foreman position opened in the Switchboard Department. I applied for it, got it, and was able to continue growing my leadership skills over the next couple of years.

While I was growing up, my parents—who both escaped communist Vietnam not long after the end of the war—trusted the dream that America is where anyone has the freedom to seek and find success. The ethics my parents instilled in me through their endeavors has guided my approach to applying myself to any job that I undertake with Siemens, but it also guides me through life.
Johnny Le, Manufacturing Engineering Industrial Calibration Tech in Quality Testing, Siemens Grand Prairie 

In 2019, I had the chance to move to first shift, which eventually led to the opportunity to move into Quality Management. In my current role as Manufacturing Engineering Industrial Calibration Technician, my primary focus is to maintain, repair, calibrate, and procure any tools of measurement that are used directly with the assembly products that we build in Grand Prairie, including torque wrenches, multimeters, gage blocks, protractors, and angle finders.

 

While I was growing up, my parents—who both escaped communist Vietnam not long after the end of the war—trusted the dream that America is where anyone has the freedom to seek and find success. The ethics my parents instilled in me through their endeavors has guided my approach to applying myself to any job that I undertake with Siemens, but it also guides me through life.

My parents met in Texas in 1981. My dad and his family escaped Vietnam in 1977 by sneaking through the Cambodian border by foot, under the looming threat of getting caught, which meant deportation and possibly execution. He and his family reached Thailand and bartered their way onto a ship bound for Los Angeles. There, they found out about a Vietnamese community in Fort Worth that would take them in, so they traveled by bus across the country. Eventually my dad secured an apartment and he and his family did whatever they could to bring in any income—recycling, picking up trash, or restaurant day-labor. My mom left Vietnam in 1980. Luckily, she had an aunt that years earlier immigrated to America, and that aunt was able to be her sponsor. Like my dad’s family, my mom, along with some cousins, traveled by boat, and she nearly starved to death on the way.

 

Proudly, I get to work with the Asian community here at Siemens daily. I’m a shop steward, and the Vietnamese and Laotian workers approach me for assistance of all kinds: training on how to do a variety of aspects of a job, questions about policies or benefits, advice with something outside of work, or simply just someone to talk to. All these interactions remind me of how my family was able to work through all the challenges they faced and seize opportunities to achieve the success that we enjoy.

 

As my parents told me, it’s correct to pursue success, but you must seek success with integrity. To my mind, integrity means doing the right thing even if it’s difficult and even if no one is watching, on the job or off. Back in 2018, I didn’t hesitate to help several people escape their vehicles in a midnight flash flood right at the Grand Prairie facility. At the time, I didn’t know that a coworker witnessed these events and later reported them to Rich DelSignore, the plant manager, and to the city, too, until I received a letter of recognition from the Mayor of Grand Prairie. I was really honored by that. But, really, I did what my parents would have done had they been there instead of me.

 

This path I’m forging in manufacturing is one that people of all ages could follow, and manufacturing can be a great starting point for people kicking off their careers. As I mentioned earlier, at the time I applied for the Siemens job, I was 25. Now I see people as young as 19 or 20 coming onboard at Grand Prairie. It's great to see the next generation taking their chance with a job in this industry. Right now, across the country, there are roughly 800,000 open manufacturing roles of many different kinds. Siemens’ involvement with the Build Back Better plan will surely yield more such roles. These are jobs that lead to the development of highly marketable skills and a career path not just forward but upward. Someone right now thinking about a manufacturing job might not realize they’re a future leader, but they are.

 

I’ve recently had the great pleasure of meeting a number of national and company leaders—President Biden; Lonnie Stephenson, President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Roland Busch, President and CEO Siemens AG; Barbara Humpton, Siemens USA CEO; Barry Powell, Head of EP; and Jon Dolan, Senior Director of Operations. These encounters have helped me think about how I view my career path, and how to find ways to elevate my team. I believe that the higher you go in a company, the more people you work for. As a leader, you have the duty and responsibility to ensure your team has all the resources, training, and opportunity to accomplish the set goals. It’s rare to find true leaders, and when you do, make sure you learn all you can from them and grow from that.

 

Since that day at the White House, a number of people—coworkers and family and friends—have told me how inspiring it was to see me, a young Asian-American, give a speech introducing President Biden. I tell each of them the same thing in reply: that I sincerely want them to be more successful than I have been, and to look at me as proof that they can position themselves for something great. As I said in my speech, when we all work together, everyone can prosper.

Published: May 25, 2022

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