Foxconn Technology Group’s plans for a massive LCD manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant are nothing if not complex. The company has set ambitious timelines to build a manufacturing campus that is the first of its kind in the United States. The project also is continuing to evolve as Foxconn tries to find a profitable way to produce display products here for the first time in decades.
[caption id="attachment_348591" align="alignright" width="492"] Construction equipment at the site of Foxconn's planned $10 billion LCD manufacturing campus.[/caption]
Given the size, speed and complexity of the project, it may not be all that surprising Foxconn is turning to veterans of the United States military to get its operations up and running.
“I think there is no better management school than the military,” said Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, in an exclusive interview with BizTimes Milwaukee.
Foxconn’s first two Wisconsin employees are veterans – one a Navy pilot, the other a former Army planner. Six weeks ago, the company added a Marine who had just retired as commanding officer of a tactical fighter base and will now have responsibilities for the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park.
“You look at this bunch of veterans and we are extremely lucky to have them,” Woo said.
Hiring veterans was part of Foxconn’s original plan when it announced it would locate in Wisconsin. As part of an agreement with Rockwell Automation Inc., Foxconn committed to hiring graduates of the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing, a training program started by Milwaukee-based corporations Rockwell and ManpowerGroup that’s working to train 1,000 veterans per year by 2020.
Foxconn also just hired two more veterans who will be the core of a recruiting team. By the time the company is finished, it hopes to count 3,000 veterans as employees in the state.
“We’d like to have all 13,000 be veterans. Obviously we’re biased, but that’s not really realistic,” said Capt. Chris “Tank” Murdoch, a former Navy pilot and Foxconn’s first employee in the state. “If we can get to 3,000 I think that would be a remarkable accomplishment.”
Murdoch joined Foxconn nine months ago from a job with the Naval ROTC at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said the size and scale of Foxconn’s planned investment attracted him to the job.
“The military is being part of something larger than yourself, being part of a larger mission,” he said. “Actually trying to be part of something bigger than me, a larger mission, trying to build something here in Wisconsin … that was very attractive to me.”
Woo asked Murdoch if his nine months had felt more like nine years with all the work he has been doing.
“Actually, it seems like nine days,” Murdoch responded. “It goes so quickly.
“He was actually looking for a 24/7 full-time job,” Woo joked. “So I told him this is the right place.”
Murdoch, Foxconn senior director of project management, helped recruit Wisconsin employee No. 2, Lt. Col. Scott Rubitzky, a 27-year Army veteran. The two are longtime friends and were both involved in the VFW post in Middleton for the past several years. When Murdoch told Rubitzky about Foxconn’s plans, it did not take much to get him to sign on.
“Frankly, I had been retired for six years. I had sat at home, cutting the lawn,” Rubitzky said. “When Tank explained what was happening here, it excited me.”
Rubitzky, director of business development and plans for Foxconn’s Wisconsin subsidiary, brings a background that fits with the complexity of the Foxconn project. Before retiring, he was chief of plans for southwest Asia at U.S. Central Command. He also was a planner for the 3rd Infantry Division’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and worked on setting up the first elections in Bosnia after the country split from Yugoslavia.
A third member of the core Foxconn team of veterans joined six weeks ago. After relinquishing command of the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina, Col. Peter Buck moved his family back to Wisconsin, where he grew up and has extended family.
“I think our military background is we’re very action-oriented, and this is a very fast paced initiative that we have here,” said Buck, a Foxconn senior advisor who Woo jokingly refers to as the “mayor” of Wisconn Valley. “The team here, because of our common background, has immediately gelled, the chemistry is really good.”
Foxconn has about 100 employees in Wisconsin, split between its downtown Milwaukee headquarters and an experimental production facility in Mount Pleasant. Murdoch said he expects hiring overall to ramp up in the coming months.
“To start in the core team, it’s been a bit word-of-mouth,” he said.
The plan is to build up a core team and eventually work with the state to actively recruit veterans to the company. A portion of the $6.8 million lawmakers approved for talent attraction efforts is dedicated to recruiting veterans to come work in the state.
“Right now we’ve just kind of created the nucleus,” Murdoch said. “As we get that culture cemented and other veterans see, ‘Wow, look, other veterans are working for Foxconn. They actually enjoy it. They’re actually part of something bigger than themselves,' I think they’ll be extremely excited and they’ll come and join us.”