After a year and a half in supervision, a job posting appeared for an “executive assistant” position that reported directly to the division director. Although “special assignments” may sound intriguing, because of their greater distance from daily production (more clearly an indirect cost), such projects pose a risk to one’s career unless one secures an agreement in advance about one’s destiny after completing the assignment. When these “opportunities” present themselves they constitute major forks in the road, career-wise, that one cannot revisit later and they forever alter one’s career path going forward.

Following the advise of those I trusted, I applied for the position. During my interview with the director, the question about my future and how this assignment supported it came up. I mentioned that I intended to stay with the company for the long haul and planned to complete my undergraduate degree, thereby better preparing myself for expanded responsibilities. He told me that if I postponed my college courses and applied myself to this assignment, instead, I would gain the equivalent of a PhD in manufacturing which I could leverage for advancement later on.

To further underscore his point, he took me on a walk-through of the shop floor during which he displayed his knowledge about production from design engineering to customer delivery as we passed by each work station in one product line after another. In effect, he began teaching me before he offered me the position and I started learning before I had even considered accepting it. His lesson that day went far beyond how to produce aircraft to demonstrate how to command authority from worthy character rather than hierarchical position. I was hooked. Later that week, he offered; I accepted; and just like that I left the shop floor—my life would never be the same.