Take Ten with Team HPNE: Meet David Sullivan
This month, we talked to Senior Quality Manager David Sullivan about his path to his current position, Six Sigma, RX360, and the quality industry.
What drew you to pursuing a career in quality?
In 1993, I graduated from a vocational school to pursue a career as an electrician. However, after watching the Journeyman I was apprenticed to accidentally detonate a transformer - launching a small utility shield into orbit - I did some soul searching and decided a career shift was in order.
My career in quality started by inspecting solder joints visually for defects. From there, I bounced around doing part time contract work and inspections from CNC shops to safety glass manufacturers, and continued to work those jobs while my mother was ill with inoperable, stage 3 cancer. After her passing and coming to terms with the loss, I found myself working full time in Quality at a company where I met a manager named Terry, who would alter my life forever.
What do you think makes the quality of HPNE products stand out against others?
What makes our quality the best is that the quality team at HPNE is dedicated to making sure the job is done right, and the material the customer receives is exactly what was ordered. Our team prides ourselves on the intangible skills of integrity, dedication, motivation, and high customer consciousness. From the inspectors in the cleanroom, the admins generating the paperwork, the technicians helping to move material, to the doc controller pushing everything through, the passion of our team is evidenced with our high-achieving results.
Unfortunately, I have seen quality teams in this industry who are just going through the paces in order to check the box and quickly pass the product to shipping regardless of quality. I can confidently say quality at HPNE will never be that way.
You take part in a lot of our audits. We have recently joined RX360 for auditing, how do you believe that will be beneficial to both ourselves and our customers?
RX-360 will allow us to augment our Audit program to allow our customers who might not be able to get onsite to audit us. The program also frees up quality management time as we will be hosting less frequent audits. Most importantly, this will save our customers money on traveling here to audit us, as we are allowing a 3rd party to come in and review our entire system and report their findings. Although the audit will be announced globally once complete, we will still allow customers onsite to audit us, because the personal connection between our customers and us cannot be understated.
You have your Six Sigma Master Black Belt. Could you explain to us a little about what that is, and how you went about obtaining it?
Developed at Motorola in the 1980’s, Six Sigma is a methodology for process improvement that brings together a wide array of tools used in quality to achieve improved business functionality and better quality control. It does so by identifying and then correcting mistakes or defects in the existing processes.
I was driven to learn Six Sigma by my desire to learn… and my desire to prove someone wrong. At one of my previous adventures in quality, we had a customer that would tell us that our product was showing a steady decline according to their Six Sigma Black Belt. I take great pride in my work and the output of the system I am working in, so I wanted to find the root cause of this report.
This inspired my manager and myself to pursue learning Six Sigma tools and methodologies, no longer leaving us in the dark with these reports. Using the tools we had gained, we were able to learn that the data had been arranged in a way as to align with their process output. This was an instance where I was once again reminded that integrity is everything in quality.
You have had years of experience in the quality industry. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience leading up to your current position?
As mentioned earlier, I started my career with inspection and product testing. I then became a Quality Technician and then Lead Technician, and began to research Six Sigma training at this point in my career.
For the next two and a half years, I studied Six Sigma and lean & design to eventually earn a Master Black Belt, Lean Six Sigma, and Design for Six Sigma Certification. From there I learned about the ISO 9001 Quality System and became a certified Internal Auditor with Exemplar Global.
At my next role, I got my first taste of corporate quality, and became an Audit Program Manager, and then became certified as a Senior Lead Auditor for ISO 9001 & IATF 16949 (automotive). I also learned to perform VDA audits (German Automotive), finally becoming a Quality Engineer.
January 2022, I interviewed at HPNE. I went on a tour with Jeremy, and I noted the signs of “we are working to help cure…” By this point I had lost my mother, my father, my aunt, and my uncle all to cancer. The only thing I could think of was this was my opportunity to in some ways help to end these illnesses that have decimated families like mine.
When I was hired, Mark had said to me “I want you to work with our team”. To me, words have meaning, and work with us was exactly what I wanted to hear. When the job offer came, I didn’t hesitate, and for the first time, I became a Quality Assurance Manager, which would later evolve to Senior Quality Manager. They say that you will never work a day in your life if you’re doing something you love to do, and in that case then the last day that I worked was January 28th, 2022.
Since the beginning of your career to now, how do you think the quality assurance landscape has changed?
Although standards, rules, company culture, and the things surrounding quality change, quality itself remains the same — protect the company from sending out nonconforming materials, and protect the customer from receiving them. The overall focus of quality now is the reduction of risk, and specific changes resulting from future ISO alterations remain to be seen.
Has there been a person throughout your career that has inspired you the most professionally?
Without a doubt! My first quality manager, Terry McManus, is still dropping new nuggets of knowledge on me whenever we speak to this day. His constant push to learn and willingness to teach is the same model of management I now use. I owe him more than I could ever repay, and without this man, I honestly don’t know what path my career would have taken.
As a leader at HPNE, what are some of the leadership strategies you use in everyday operations?
I have learned a lot from those I have worked with throughout my career from what to do to what not to do, and learned through experience what strategies to use to resolve different situations. Terry showed me that one of the key things a manager can do is to trust your team to do what they are supposed to do. Secondly, confidence is infectious, and if I show my team that I am confident with my decisions, they will be confident in theirs.
I believe in treating everyone as an equal. It is important to understand that mistakes will happen, and my only expectation is that we learn from them and don’t repeat them. I never want anyone to think I am better than they are, because as noted in my previous answers, I started out the same as everyone else. I hope that through my leadership, they can enjoy the same level of success I have enjoyed.
If you could give advice to someone pursuing a career in quality, what would it be?
Find a mentor. It is very rare to find a person working in quality that doesn’t want to teach others about quality. Some great organizations for networking are ASQ and BPSA. Additionally, never stop learning, since it can be helpful to routinely seek certifications. Finally, learn the ISO 9001 system, and the easiest way to do so is to learn to be an internal auditor.
What is something you are the most passionate about outside of work?
I enjoy various hobbies, from making fermented hot sauces, smoking meats and cheeses, painting 32mm figures, and making candy. However I am most passionate about making fudge around the holidays. Having done so for so long, I’ve knowingly and subconsciously applied my training to all of my hobbies, making improvements over the years and refining the process.
What is your favorite place you have ever traveled to, nationally or internationally?
The white mountains of New Hampshire. My grandfather and father loved going up there and as a kid that was where I spent a lot of summertime vacations. We would go every year, and the first stop was always the Old Man of the Mountain, and then my grandfather had to travel the Kancamagus highway. Since then, I’ve become enamored with the Omni Mount Washington Resort, and that has become my go-to location for a relaxing vacation.