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Q & A with John Escolas

Posted by Steve Rowe on

John Escolas Esco OpticsIt takes more than a building to make a company successful. Esco has had its' share of challenges over the last four years, and as the business settled into its new space with new machines, it became apparent that more was needed in order to thrive. Just as a car needs a driver, Esco’s operations needed a leader. Esco has found that leader in John Escolas.

John brings a well-rounded knowledge base of optics having spent many years in the industry with a wide range of notable optics’ vendors. Relocating from Rochester, New York to New Jersey, John is starting to get in the swing of things as Esco’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). We sit down to discuss all things Esco or Esco-las as the two are becoming symbiotic.

Q: Industry veterans like yourself are highly sought after, what drew you to the COO position at Esco?

A: I love how it’s been a family run business from the beginning, and it doesn’t have a large corporate feel. There’s the great variety of customers, the big names as well as much smaller manufacturers. Also, what intrigued me was that I’ve never dealt with catalog optics. Catalog orders make up a good portion of Esco’s sales, and it’s impressive that a $20 order is treated with the same respect as a $10,000 custom order for a larger client. All orders and customers, big and small, are treated the same. I am captivated with the quality of the customer service, and that was a big draw for me. Within Esco, you’ve got more of a family feel, and everyone here has a passion for what they do.

Q: Being in the industry you already had relationships within Esco. Did they influence your decision to join the Company?

A: I’ve been familiar with Lee and Esco for many years. I have been Esco’s vendor, customer, and even provided manufacturing and recovery support with my previous employer after the fire. My impression of Esco was really cemented after they faced the huge adversity of losing nearly everything and having to rebuild from square one. There aren’t many companies that have had to go through that. Esco got everything back together and grew to double their previous size. That gave me a lot of confidence that no matter what this company faces it can overcome any obstacles put in front of it.

Q: You brought a new perspective on manufacturing to Esco. What has been your assessment and new implementations?

A: There’s always a learning curve and a period of observation with a new team.  Once you’re comfortable enough to wade into the water, you want to inject some of your own thinking to make an impact. It usually takes time to really get to know the team and learn the ways people are doing things. What was interesting about Esco is that they had already faced so much adversity after the fire, that when I walked in, they knew where they were falling short. Everyone was ready to address their challenges and talk about them. Someone might say my biggest problem is “X” and I don’t know how to solve it. In most cases, I could rely on previous experiences and present them with a solution. We went through some tweaks, and very quickly we made a big impact on efficiency. I’ve never seen that before. In just a few months multiple processes now operate far better than in the past. We’re seeing higher yields, faster production times, and a more engaged workforce.

Q: What have been some of your biggest changes?

A: Change has really come from the team being very forthcoming. The biggest change is how the company handles the workload and production schedule. It’s about planning jobs efficiently and looking further ahead so that we are less reactionary. In a small company, you tend to find people that are specialized in an area, and you trust them with a job or a part. Every department is responsible for giving their best efforts so the next department has the greatest chance for success. The internal manufacturing success from one department to another, is just as important as the end product being provided to the customer. With this as our philosophy, our quality and output will grow exponentially better. Our workflow and quality have dramatically improved now that we’re operating holistically.

I’ve also made sure that all the operators have the right tools to do their job.  Whether that’s a physical tool or a piece of information about a material or job. I’m looking at each operation and removing roadblocks to give the team the best chance of success.

Escolas desk, bi convex lens, Esco Optics

Let’s talk about the Esco team. You have folks who have decades of fabrication experience under their belts, as well as a fresh crop of new technicians.  Industrywide it seems that there’s an impending void when veterans start to retire.  What’s your opinion?

A: Having multiple generations of experience and knowledge inside the same building you do have to treat certain changes in processes differently. There’s a lot of experience and fabrication intelligence within this group. It’s important to identify the people close to retirement age because you’d like them to impart their knowledge to the younger generation. If it’s addressed the right way, it can have less friction when those people do retire. We have workers with 20-30 years in the field as well as newcomers who have grown dramatically in the last 4 years, but there is still that experience gap. We’re all aware of it, and we’re addressing it, and we’ll overcome it. It all happens with good communication and repetition. We are always looking to improve our workforce, and even right now we’re seeking engineers, operators, and managers.

Q: People make a company. However, on the other side of that is the equipment and tools they use. What infrastructure improvements have you made?

A: Right away I saw a need to improve our beveling and cleaning. So I’ve doubled the beveling capacity, and we’ve added two new Crest ultrasonic cleaning machines. The cleaning machines are vital as it ensures that our parts are as clean as possible as they go through our internal process. I’ve also improved upon our metrology with an upgraded interferometer and a new digital comparator.

Even though the facility here is new, there are already expansion plans in the works. Plans were drawn up before I arrived for a phase 2 for the building. I’ve been able to add my insight into what key pieces should be the next investment. Soon we’ll be adding a large format wire saw to expand our cutting capacity as well as adding two more spherical generators and polishers. After that, I can see adding another Hurco CNC machining center to partner with the existing one.

Q: We’ve covered, people, process, and production. What do you see as the real value of Esco for our customers?

A: Previously, I’ve spent most of my time in a niche or a specific optic process.  Whether fiber optics or plano-optics, but here - it’s any configuration you can imagine for a piece of glass, and under one roof. Any given job could be a wedge, plano, bi-convex, bi-concave, a cylinder, acylinder or asphere. That is a tremendous benefit for our customers because we can fabricate nearly anything they can imagine, and we work with all optical glasses, fused silica, and IR materials. I’ve never had that capability before.

Q: What is your view of Esco’s future?

A: It all comes down to trust and experience. We’ve made efficiency gains very quickly that will translate to quicker turnarounds and lower costs, but production isn’t successful without proper metrology. We’re not just trying to master repeatability and extremely accurate optics, we’re also improving our measuring systems and inspection methods to ensure our parts meet or exceed our customer’s expectations. In the short time that I have been at Esco, we have seen drastic reductions in rejects and customer returns. That’s what makes the catalog stand out as a crucial piece for me…our optics move off the shelf every day, and the customer knows they can trust them to perform the duties they need them for. I’m truly excited about the future of this company, and I love the culture and the team here. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s all really exciting stuff!

John Escolas brings balance to the company. He is transforming all the business operations, not just production. His goal is to get the company to be more proactive and effective rather than being impulsive and reactive. The result is that Esco is able to supply a consistent precision product while providing accurate delivery forecasts and reliable feedback to the customer. John aligns himself perfectly with the Esco mantra, where we measure our success by the success of our customers. John has shown us that customer success isn’t just the end user, it’s truly every employee down-stream in production. By giving one another our very best, we deliver a superior product in a realistic timeframe, efficiently and repeatedly. It is where passion meets precision.

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