Passing the torch at Somers Thin Strip

October 13, 2014

For Simone Volta and Michell Cheney, everything is proceeding according to schedule

It is almost as hard to sum up the 41-year career of Simone Volta as it is to imagine life on the plant floor without him. But on the eve of his retirement from Somers Thin Strip, we’re going to give it a try.

The man Commercial Director Sean Hosey calls “the brains of the operation” joined Somers in May of 1973. A recent arrival from his native Italy, where he had earned a college degree and worked as an elementary school teacher, Volta got the job through his father, a slitter who also worked for Somers until his retirement.

The younger Volta got his start in the threading department, where he worked for a couple of months until a job opened up in the metal lab. He applied for it, got the job, and wound up working in the lab for 10 years.

“It was a great place to learn,” he said. “I was taking books home, and customer specifications – learning as much as I could about the industry.” At the same time, he was also struggling with the even bigger challenge of learning English, which he didn’t speak at all until his arrival in the U.S. But he persevered, knowing it would all be worth it in the long run – and so it was.

“I became lab supervisor after 10 years, and then when an opening came up in production control, I was able to move into the job,” Volta said. That, in turn, opened the door to the scheduling department, where his tireless work ethic and eagerness to learn proved the perfect combination to ascend to what many regard as the most critical job in the plant.

“I wear many hats,” he said with characteristic modesty. “Production planning, scheduling, creating processes – just a little bit of everything, really. To be honest, I never paid much attention to job titles or descriptions. I just do what needs to be done. As long as you do your job and do it right, that’s all that matters.”

If you think that sounds a little too simple, you'd be right, says Materials Coordinator Michell Cheney. A seasoned MRP professional with over a decade of experience in metals and manufacturing, Cheney was hired earlier this year for the express purpose of replacing Volta when he retires on October 15. To that end, she has been his shadowing him constantly, trying to gather as much knowledge as she can. It is a daunting challenge, but one Cheney has embraced whole-heartedly.

 “Working with Simone, you feel like you’re at the epicenter of the earthquake,” she said. “Which is only natural since everybody is always coming to him with questions or requests for information. But he always seems to have the answer.”

What she finds even more impressive, though, is his demeanor – something that makes him an ideal mentor in her eyes. “He’s very calm in the face of everything,” she said, “and very patient about explaining exactly what he’s doing. He’s got a knack for knowing whether or not I’ve really grasped what he’s trying to teach, and always takes the time to be sure I get his point. That makes everything easier.” 

As Volta’s retirement date approaches, Cheney is confident she is ready to step in and take charge, though she winces when people call her Volta’s “replacement.”

“You can never really replace a Simone Volta,” she said. “After all, he’s got 41 years here at Somers. I’ve got 40 years on this Earth. So it’s going to take awhile. But I’m confident everything will be fine.”

Volta agrees. “I really like Michell. She’s a real ‘go-getter,’” he said. “Is she going to make mistakes? Sure. Everybody does. But with her talent and experience, she has everything it takes to do the job and do it right. I feel very comfortable leaving it in her hands.”