Jose learns management at Lyons IndustriesPublished 10:39am Monday, January 4, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
When we talked to him New Year’s Eve, Jose Miguel Plaza de los Reyes had the day before completed his management internship at Lyons Industries and received a certificate from President Lance Lyons at a going-away party.
Only a lake-effect snow forecast which dumped more than a foot and a nine-hour flight Sunday from Atlanta stood between Jose, 24, and stepping into summer in sweltering Santiago, Chile.
Hundred-degree temperatures awaited him in his city of 6 million in South America, Jose said in an interview at the Daily News with his host family, Don and Clarawayne Wolford of Nubour Street and their grandson, Nick Bogen.
Jose, fourth of five children, with three older sisters and a younger brother, is the son of a well-traveled surgeon, Miguel, which is why this story was 41 years in the making.
In 1968, Miguel was an exchange student in Sawyer in Berrien County when Don lived in Galien.
“(Miguel) came here as a senior and I was a junior,” said Wolford, an electrical contractor who is building in the industrial park.
“We’ve maintained a relationship for 41 years,” said Wolford.
He and Clara will be visiting Jose’s family in the coming year – probably this fall.
Miguel “has been back to the states five times,” Wolford said.
“We got to see him three times. This summer he was in Sawyer and asked if I could do him a favor and possibly get his son an internship for part of his college education. Lyons accepted him right off the bat. It’s been a lot of fun. Having him here was such a blessing.”
Jose’s mother used to be a nurse, but now works for the Chilean government.
Snow “is very unusual” at home, Jose said. “I spoke to my mom on the phone the other day and she said, ‘You’re going to melt.’ ”
Actually, he’s going to “chill” until March when his summer vacation ends, then work towards his master’s degree.
“After that, I don’t know if I’m going to work right away or maybe do some traveling,” he grinned. “It depends on if I have the money.”
Before arriving in Dowagiac Oct. 17, he completed another internship two years ago with Air France, the French airline.
Jose, wearing an orange-and-black Chieftain shirt, was intent on undertaking an internship in North America because he felt “it added more value to my work experience,” not to mention his life experience.
“The last time I was in Michigan was in ’93 or ’94″ when his parents visited Sawyer and he met the Wolfords for the first time.
Lyons Industries involved Jose in sales, customer service, human resources, manufacturing quality and shipping.
He usually worked from 8 to 4, but sometimes had to go in earlier.
He worked Christmas Eve to get production back on track.
Jose’s direct supervisor was Plant Manager Maria Martinez, who praised him in a written evaluation for exemplary performance, asking many questions and making many suggestions for improvement.
“One of my main projects was reorganizing the shipping department for more efficiency,” Jose said.
Lyons doesn’t have any customers in Chile, but “a lot in Canada.”
Jose traveled to Holland – Michigan, not the Netherlands.
“They offered him a job if he’d like to stay,” Wolford said. “They were very happy with him.”
Another thing Jose learned is that when he gets home he must check out a restaurant.
Bill Westrate’s son Joseph operates a popular restaurant in Santiago named for his mother, Zully.
“I had a list of 17 items for Jose to do and I think we hit pretty much all of them,” Don said. “We went to a Notre Dame football game” and saw the Fighting Irish lose to Navy.
“We jinxed them,” said Jose, who played soccer in South Bend throughout his stay.
They went to Chicago, where he visited the former Sears Tower and Navy Pier.
He rode his first snowmobile.
Later Thursday he was going to be photographed out on lake ice.
He toured Lyons’ Heddon museum.
Jose visited Chicago four times, including two concerts (Weezer and the Pixies) and a Bulls-Lakers NBA game.
“He did that all on his own,” Clara said. “He bought his tickets online.”
“For the Weezer concert,” said Jose, who has an international driver’s license, “it was the middle of rush hour traffic. It was crazy. It felt like home.”
“He hit his first mailbox with a car on slippery, icy roads,” Wolford said.
Of his three older sisters, one is an attorney, one works in pharmaceuticals and one is an environmental engineer.
Jose is interested in combining his studies in economics with renewable energy “in order to not just generate money, but to create opportunities for others.
“I would love to live in a place like this, but in Chile it’s impossible because all of the job opportunities are in the cities. People who live on the outside part of the city have to wake up at 6 because of the morning traffic.”
Though his familiarity with America includes relatives in Ohio and in Florida, “My biggest doubt was what work would be like in an American company. The first day was nervous and excited at the same time, but apparently it turned out really well.
“I got along with everybody and adapted really fast. In Chile, there’s no one to speak English with. When it was my turn to speak, I had a little bit of trouble at first, but I got better very fast and could communicate with everyone without any trouble,” said Jose, who speaks French as well as English and Spanish.
Jose, a diver, wakeboarder and water skier, has visited California, from Los Angeles to Carmel, best known as the town Clint Eastwood served as mayor.
He saw orange groves on the West Coast. He’s also been to Detroit, Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Canada.
His hosts could tell Jose about the tough times Dowagiac industries have faced. Clara worked at Contech 26 years, her husband 18.
Wolford is building a shop in the industrial park and approached Don Lyons about the internship during one of the frequent visits by the mayor and City Manager Kevin Anderson.