As a young professional, Gaston Garcia first had to see he had the necessary talent to believe he would be successful. Now his clear perspective makes believers out of his team.
Garcia, 45, is the senior director of operations at Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a biotechnology product development firm. He oversees the Rochester branch—one of the top three largest locations of the company’s approximately 120 sites worldwide. The operations in Rochester focus on plastic consumables for applications in life sciences, vaccines and biologic, and diagnostics.
The firm has two operations in Rochester, with one in Penfield and the other in Fairport. There are a total of 1,000 employees in Rochester and Garcia manages 850 of them. On the most recent RBJ 75, which chronicles the region’s top employers, Thermo Fisher Scientific ranked No. 32. The publicly traded company has some 50,000 employees companywide.
The combined Rochester operations bring in some $400 million in revenues annually; Thermo Fisher Scientific logs roughly $18 billion in annual revenues.
“I am always trying to do the best that I can do and I know that eventually a promotion will come,” Garcia says. “I focus myself on doing the best that I can do in that particular role and then once I know that I have accomplished the expectations—in many cases exceeded expectations—then I begin to look at what’s next.”
Garcia earned a bachelor of electronic engineering from the Instituto Tecnologico de Mexicali in 1993 and a master’s in industrial administration from Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior Universidad in 1997, both in Mexico. He also earned an MBA from San Diego State University in 2009.
A native of Tijuana, Mexico, he grew up with an interest in computers. By age 13 his mother bought him a Commodore 64—the first model of a personal computer—a rare gift, as many schools did not have the then high-tech devices yet.
When he started to use it, he set his own rules.
“I was really interested in computers and I don’t know why,” Garcia says. “I didn’t know what a computer was for. In Mexico we never had any classes of computing, so what I used the computer for was for games. When I got my computer nobody was teaching me what to do with it.
“So for me I could discover something every day, every hour when I was using it,” he adds.
Finding a challenge
He recognized how his analytical skills had improved over time and realized he wanted to find a way to work in technology.
Upon entering college, he switched from pursuing a degree in information technology to electrical engineering to challenge himself.
“I didn’t like it. I said, ‘This is too easy for me,’” Garcia says. “I said, ‘No, I want something more intellectually challenging.’ So I moved into the electronics engineering. That was the toughest of all engineering in Mexico.”
After earning his first master’s degree, he began working in the steel industry for a Mexican company, Sideck, as an electrical engineering department supervisor in 1993. After four years in that role, he was ready to move on.
To his surprise, he landed his dream job as equipment engineering manager for Mitsubishi Corp.’s electronic group in the display devices division in Mexicali, Mexico, in 1998. He made displays for computer monitors there.
“It was like a dream, like Apple; everybody wanted to go there,” Garcia says. “So I was 26 years old (and) I said, ‘I really wish I could work there.’ They announced a huge investment and it happened to be in my own city, so it’s amazing—I was employee No. 2 in one of the most complicated technical positions.”
“It was stressful, it was fun but it was a big surprise for me. It was something I used to dream about so I felt like, ‘Wow, I must be qualified to have this position.’ I was the youngest of all the managers,” he adds.
In 2002 he became manufacturing engineering manager with Newell Rubbermaid Inc.—a global marketer of consumer and commercial products—in the firm’s Mexicali, Mexico, facility.
The move into management was an important decision for Garcia. Working with people was going to be key to help any company advance, he says.
“I decided I wanted to grow in the industry become manager, director, eventually become general manager,” Garcia says. “I really like to do the things by myself but eventually I know that the better I can do is when I do things through people.”
For five years he worked for Danaher Corp.—an American manufacturing firm based in Washington, D.C.—as operations director based in Tijuana, Mexico.
Coming to the U.S.
While working for the U.S.-based firm, Garcia decided to expand his idea of business and see how Americans interpreted it. He knew he wanted to continue working for U.S. firms and eventually be in the United States, so he figured the best way to compete was to get an MBA.
He enrolled at San Diego State University in 2007 to earn an MBA. After graduating two years later, he learned of Thermo Fisher Scientific from a friend.
Thermo Fisher Scientific hired Garcia in 2010 as operations director for process systems for Texas and the U.K. facilities; he moved to Houston for the new post. He only spent a year and half in that position before the company moved him to Germany to be a continuous improvement director, supporting two of the company’s sites there and helping them with their adaption of lean manufacturing processes.
Constantly changing cultures helped Garcia to recognize the differences of many places, he says.
“I never thought I was going to be living in the U.S.,” Garcia says. “I was very happy living in Mexico, but I knew that if I wanted to grow I had to be open for any country, any culture. I do like American culture a lot.
“Something that is very unique in the U.S. is there are no hierarchies. I can go to the production floor and somebody can approach me and complain about something or give me a suggestion. In Mexico (it was), ‘He is the director? No, I can never even look at him.’”
Garcia enjoys the team-based mindset of American companies, he says.
“Here, people really want to make things better,” Garcia says. “People have very good intentions and in many cases good intentions for the team.”
He was Thermo Fisher Scientific’s operations director of the West Coast from 2012 to 2014. Garcia oversaw operations in San Diego, Petaluma and Tijuana. He took on his current role of directing operations for the Rochester branch in February.
Garcia enjoys pushing himself professionally, his wife says.
“He’s really passionate about what he does, so for him having a lot of stress,s managing a lot of activities simultaneously, traveling and having a heavy load of work (is good),” says Teresita Ibarra. “If you like and you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t matter how many hours or how hard you work because you enjoy it.
“He’s not scared of changes. He’s very results-oriented so he does what it takes to get those results for the company.”
Phil McLellan, Garcia’s supervisor at the Penfield operation, sees all the qualities of strong leadership in Garcia, he says.
“He couples a really strong intensity and sense of priorities with an open-mindedness to everybody’s opinions and directions,” says McLellan, Thermo Fisher’s vice president of laboratory consumables division of global operations. “He’s able to couple what the group is thinking (and) what his leadership team is asking him to do with the realities of the situation and come up with a good direction for where the site should go.”
Garcia accepted his new role with zeal. He does not fear a new challenge—he faces it, he says.
“My wife used to ask me, ‘Are you concerned or are you scared (about a new job)?’” Garcia says. “I’m never scared; I’m very confident. I know that I am able to assess the situation. I know that I am able to work with my team to come up with a strategy, and I know that I am able to improve that strategy in a controlled way.
“If I work to get a new position, I’m more anxious to get the results but I am pretty confident I will be able to get them.”
He already has put the Focus Factory Organization Structure—a somewhat common business practice—in place to increase efficiency. The main purpose is to have accountability and empowerment for each focus factory; ultimately, the goal is to have improvement in safety, quality, delivery and cost.
“One of the day-to-day activities for me is to make sure each of the value streams
are delivering what they have to deliver and making sure that I help them,” Garcia says. “The problem in the past was we were investing but some areas were not performing, so other areas were punished.”
He already has increased the Rochester operations’ delivery timing.
“My first and main objective coming here to this position is to make sure that we—in operations—support what the business needs,” Garcia says. “The main objective was to help the business to grow the top line, the revenues.
“In Rochester operations, the main detractor was delivery,” Garcia says.
Peers know and respect his intensity to get results.
“Gaston is a very driven with high level of integrity and intensity and those are the two of the four corporate values that he exhibits strongly and better than the average person,” says Samuel Grigorian, global director for division supply chain planning and processes for Thermo Fisher’s Rochester operations. “He’s extremely knowledgeable in the areas of operations supply chain management.
“I think he has a very strong appetite for learning and a strong desire to excel so he has been able to apply things that he’s learned in the past roles to new places and continue to evolve.”
Garcia’s value stream system has helped the company realize what its efficiency is each day. He divided the Rochester operation into four value streams, creating different owners for them. The key aspect he implemented was measuring everybody independently—so that no one was blamed for the poor execution of another value stream if they had no part in it. It’s a lean organization structure, Garcia says.
“Part of that strategy is to make sure if we understand on a daily basis if we win or if we didn’t win yesterday,” he says. “We are in a very competitive world where if we are not successful we’re going to shut down this operation and move it. So we have a responsibility to deliver expectations so we can continue growing the business and generate more opportunities for everybody.”
Garcia’s work ethic will serve him throughout his entire career, McLellan says.
“I’m confident that he’s going to be very successful in his current responsibility, and I think … that he’s willing and capable of taking on bigger responsibilities,” McLellan says. “And what he accomplishes here will certainly open doors to him in other parts of the company.”
Finding employees that fit the company has been difficult locally. The technological focus of the company has increased the need for technical employees, Garcia says.
“In Mexico, China, (and) Brazil they are growing their manufacturing industries so now they have a lot of technical resources,” he says. “The U.S., their manufacturing industries are going down and in Mexico (and) China it’s the other way. The biggest challenge is people getting the right people. Even though our products are relatively simple, our technology to produce them is not simple, so finding technical people is very hard.”
Off the job
In his free time Garcia enjoys working out, spending time with his family and taking advantage of Rochester’s fairways.
“I really like to play golf, I like to go to the gym to work out—I think those are the things I enjoy the most,” Garcia says.
Under his leadership, he wants his firm to become more involved in the Greater Rochester community. Within the next year he plans to make its presence felt, Garcia says.
“I think we have not done enough to get involved in the community. One of the reasons, I think, is we have so many products in sight that we cannot even have time to think how can we get involved,” Garcia says. “In one year, we’re going to be able to move chaos from our business and become a predictable business that will be able to support our business objectives. Then I think we need to look at the outside.”
“I think it serves us to be much more involved in the community,” he adds.
Garcia’s internal goals align with his company’s goals—to become better and to continue to achieve success.
“I really enjoy when we move the needle,” he says. “When I see that I am able to contribute to make the company better, I feel rewarded. I feel self-motivated when I see that something that we believe that we put energy efforts and resources is accomplished.”
Position: Senior director of operations at Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.
Education: Bachelor of electronic engineering, Instituto Tecnologico de Mexicali, Mexicali, Mexico 1993; master’s in industrial administration, Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior Universidad, 1997, Mexicali, Mexico; MBA, San Diego State University, 2009
Family: Wife Teresita Ibarra; daughters, Melissa, 24, Isabella, 4; sons, Daniel, 18, and Max, 2
Activities: Spending time with his children, watching movies, and working out
Quote: “I am always trying to do the best that I can do and I know that eventually a promotion will come. I focus myself on doing the best that I can do in that particular role and then once I know that I have accomplished the expectations—in many cases exceeded expectations—then I begin to look at what’s next.”
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