Be All That You Can Be

From football to the Army, one man sees quality in all he does

by Mark Brand

At first glance, my journey into the quality world may seem unusual. But when I look back, I see it wasn’t about where I worked or what type of job I had; it was more about how I did those jobs and what they did for me.

I grew up in a small Ohio town that was crazy about high school football. The town was only about 30,000 strong, but we averaged 12,000 spectators per football game. For the big game at the end of the year, capacity would reach 20,000. This was the culture I grew up in—small town America, with a passion to be the best at something.

I still remember the stadium maintenance guy standing on a ladder to inspect the screws that held the team photos of years past in the locker room. He would turn every screw that was slightly off to a perfect vertical position until the slot of the screw was pointing perfectly at the sky and the ground. There were more than 60 years of team photos with four screws in each frame. Most people would probably never notice a missing screw—let alone if one was off position by a few degrees—but the maintenance guy would know, and this team deserved perfection.

This is the passion for quality I saw at an early age, but I didn’t realize until much later the full impact it would have on my life.

Basic training

After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and learned I would receive training on maintaining an anti-tank missile system. I joined in December, using the delayed entry system, which meant I would not have to leave for basic training until the following August. Two weeks before my departure for basic training, however, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. The event opened my eyes, and I realized I had better make the most of the training because I might need to use it soon to save myself or my fellow soldiers.

I went through basic training trying to learn everything I could and to become the best I could at it. I learned to shoot an M-16 and throw a hand grenade at an expert level. I gained skills at hand-to-hand combat and improved my fitness. After basic training, I went off to my specialty training in anti-tank missile systems. Great importance was placed on this training from the instructors. I was told if I failed to keep this system in operation, somebody wearing the U.S. insignia might come home covered by the U.S. flag. What more inspiration did I need to do the very best I could?

I graduated with distinguished honors at the top of my class. Fortunately, the battle ended before I was released from training, but I learned a valuable life lesson about doing the best work you can because somebody’s life may depend on it.

After my years of service, I entered into a new challenge by working in the electrical construction business. I began as an apprentice and worked my way up to journeyman electrician. Again, I found myself in a position that if I made a mistake or crossed some wires, somebody might get hurt or a building might burn down. This great responsibility motivated me to become the finest electrician I could be.

I attended training courses, took college classes and learned from seasoned journeymen. Eventually, I tested for and obtained a state of Alaska electrical administrator license, which is closely related to many master electrician licenses in other states.

I moved up within the company and began to manage projects and small crews of journeyman and apprentice electricians. In this leadership position, I was able to inspire many others about the responsibility they had not just to the company, but to the customer and the safety of the community.

Entering a new world

After a while, I began looking for new ways to expand my knowledge and was introduced to the world of quality management.

My first opportunity was working as a contract electrical and instrumentation quality assurance field representative for a large oil company at the fabrication shops in town. There, I was responsible for overseeing the implementation of the electrical and instrumentation portion of the fabricator’s quality management systems, and for the company’s overall quality plan implementation.     

After a short period, I moved into the office to work as a quality assurance coordinator. I was responsible for coordinating quality assurance and supplier quality surveillance activities for entire projects, from the planning stage to closeout. Opportunity and hard work once again paid off when the oil company offered me a full-time position as its quality assurance and quality control representative, which is where I am today.

I am responsible for supervising the third-party agencies that we use to fill the roles of the quality assurance coordinators, quality assurance field representatives, auditors and supplier quality surveillance inspectors. Additionally, I am responsible for developing the audit schedules, assisting in improvement processes, maintaining record-retention protocols, providing technical and procedural support, and the development of our quality procedures.    

I continue to look for new ways to grow in this field. Recently, I successfully completed ASQ’s certified quality manager/organizational excellence exam.

No matter how bright the future is, however, it is always nice to look back and see how quality has been a part of my life, from seeing the maintenance guy straightening the screws, to feeling the inspiration of defending this country and its soldiers, to protecting the community where I live.

Now, I have the opportunity to impart the passion I have for quality to my coworkers and business and personal contacts. I am not sure what I will be doing down the road, but I do know quality will always be a part of it, as it always has been.

Mark Brand is a quality assurance and quality control specialist for ConocoPhillips Alaska in Anchorage. He is currently working toward his bachelor’s degree in quality assurance at California State University-Dominguez Hills. Brand is a certified quality manager and a senior member of ASQ.

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