My First Job: Learning efficiency on the assembly line at Lego | Crain's Boston

My First Job: Learning efficiency on the assembly line at Lego

Steve Auerbach is chief executive officer of Waltham, Mass.-based Alegeus, a company that provides technology and services to administer healthcare benefit accounts.

My first job was during summer break from college at the University of Connecticut. The job was at Lego in Enfield, Conn. It was your typical kind of entry-level first job. So picture a giant warehouse with the foreman being up on the second floor overlooking the production line. And each conveyer belt would be manufacturing a different toy. So it could be Star Wars, or the sail boat, or the summer picnic kit.

There'd be this conveyor belt and there would be different bricks [to include in the kit]—the blue, the green, red, yellow, the wheels. The job was you would press a pedal, and the box would come. You'd put two blue, one red, one green, one yellow, you would step on the pedal again and the box would go down the conveyor belt to your next associate. It could be a pretty monotonous job. For eight hours a day you would just be putting together a Lego kit. So one week you're on the pirate ship, another week you're working on the sail boat, or whatever the case was.

It was kind of a fun setting, but it was very monotonous, very repetitive. On the conveyor belt there were TV monitors above everyone, and on the monitor was a red siren. The monitor would change color based upon the speed of the line, and [above] whoever was the slowest person, the red light would go off. It's a production environment, so you're constantly being motivated to go at the optimal speed. And the system would measure the box at the end so if it was off by even a fraction of an ounce it would be dubbed the reject and then they would figure out who screwed up, like “Who didn't put in two blue one, one red, one green, one yellow?”

That was really my first foray into operations, because if you look at how they designed that job ... it is all about how do they drive optimal efficiency. I actually viewed it as a great lesson on business. At Lego you were aware of the product—you were creating special moments for people. At our office today we have a map showing everywhere our product is being used so employees connect what they're doing in the office with the impact of our product.

Today, too, we try to make sure that every one of our associates understands the impact that we're having on our customer. Every morning when I walk in, the first thing I do is I get an operational dashboard of all our key metrics. Today I spend a lot of time on, “Do we have the right metrics? Are we measuring the right things?” We also used to do competitions ... You want employees to feel challenged and rewarded. So a lot of the things that I learned at Lego I actually apply today. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the description of Alegeus.

July 24, 2017 - 5:39pm