By Benjamin Gleisser
Thousands of people work for him. And Michael N. Sanchez ’81 wishes that he could meet each one.
Sanchez is director of North American operations for DuPont, which produces dozens of products for home, automotive, farming, electronic, and packaging industries at 23 factories. Many of these facilities employ several thousand workers; others have a payroll of a few hundred.
“My average day consists of visiting plants to initiate improvement projects, while at the same time inspecting manufacturing lines for quality control and worker safety,” he says from his home in Houston, Texas. “I also try to spend as much time as I can interacting with the people who turn the knobs, so they maintain DuPont’s high ethical standards in terms of manufacturing.”
Sanchez points to research indicating that the person factory workers trust most is their immediate supervisor. So he helps train shop-floor leaders in ways that will enable them to inspire employees to do their best.
An electrical engineering graduate, Sanchez joined DuPont in 1981 as an electrical engineer. His first task excited him: a $25 million expansion project to upgrade a plant’s automation system. When he arrived at the site, he discovered 25 three-foot-tall stacks of blueprints. And he was the only electrical engineer on the project team.
“I was told, ‘Here’s all the drawings; start going through them and see if we need to do anything different,’ ” Sanchez recalls. “I was thrust into a sink-or-swim situation, but my confidence was pretty high, thanks to what I learned at Lafayette.”
He was able to master the project, he says, because his engineering professors taught him the most current information available about power distribution and energy systems. And because Lafayette taught him more than just the nuts and bolts of engineering.
“There weren’t too many African American students at Lafayette in the early 1980s, and that’s the main reason I chose Lafayette—I wanted to go to a school that looked like the professional world I wanted to enter,” he says. “I grew up in the Bronx, and my high school was predominantly black. Lafayette prepared me well for the life challenges I encountered. Plus, it had a strong academic program. The classes I took in finance, economics, and marketing were very helpful later on.”
His technical ability and passion for learning new skills impressed management at DuPont. After roles in the construction, marketing, and human relations departments, and after winning several awards for his work, Sanchez was named manager of Sabine River Works, Orange, Texas, in 2007. Three years later, he was promoted to global program director, process safety management.
Sanchez is active in his church’s teaching ministry, where he helps men rediscover their worth.
“My long-term goal is to start a facility in every major city to help men who may have lost themselves find their way in life,” he says. “Now, I work on that one person at a time.”