His colleagues say there's no one like him. He's been described as that rare person who can teach anyone about technical subjects, listen carefully, win over skeptical staff, and even emcee a retirement party with just the right mix of humor.
Saso Krstovski has been known to recognize people who may not get recognition—such as janitorial staff—and feels most successful when he's helped others succeed. He believes in giving team leaders the chance to speak at the top of a meeting, something that they would go home and tell their families about, rather than rushing them to add a few words at the end of a meeting.
Today Saso works at Ford Motor Company – as he has for the past 27 years - and is an adjunct professor at Lawrence Technological University.
His colleagues at both places couldn't say enough about him.
"Ford Motor Company should be very proud of this guy. I think he's an exceptional person and he represents the company extremely well," says Professor Don Reimer of Lawrence Technological University.
A Ford colleague described him as the Pied Piper of manufacturing, someone who is always trying to help others. When faced with a complicated problem, another colleague said he asks himself, "What would Saso do?" Many told me that they were grateful to have met him, even if they no longer work together.
At the start of 2023 Saso migrated into a university programs manager role at Ford Motor Company; previously he had worked in the manufacturing environment for 27 years.
With a career dedicated to continuous improvement, teaching and learning, Saso Krstovski is our 2023 Quality Professional of the Year.
An Intimidating Place
How To Challenge Yourself, Mentor Successfully And Win Over Skeptics
Saso Krstovski, our 2023 Quality Professional of the Year, offers advice from his long career in manufacturing at Ford.
At times work felt like a second home – briefly his wife was also working at the same plant – but when he began his career, the manufacturing floor seemed like an intimidating place.
He got his start as a co-op student at Ford in 1993. And, lucky for Ford, he never left. Through the years he's worked at several plants, starting at Dearborn Tool and Die and then Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center, working as a test engineer, process engineer, and lean manufacturing coach and Six Sigma master black belt.
"When working in the manufacturing world, every decision revolves around quality," says Saso. "As a test engineer, my whole focus was validating the transmission. As I started looking, quality is everything I do. The biggest reward is training an individual on a particular strategy, and when you see them applying it, that's the reward."
Along the way, he's been great about helping his colleagues solve problems—Dr. Saso is known as the go-to guy for any quality conundrum—and still is interested in working on his own personal development, including formal mentoring programs at Ford.
Mentoring And Meetings
April Stevens, director of operational efficiency for North America Manufacturing, met Saso when he joined a Women in Manufacturing mentorship program that was open to anyone. Through the program, he suggested topics to discuss and worked on self-improvement, Stevens says. He has been an advocate for women in manufacturing, organizing events around the topic at Lunch and Learns. Stevens said Saso was always willing to help others, particularly those new to Ford.
Though he often suggests coffee as a way to get to know someone better (even writing articles such as "Lean Works Better with Coffee,") Stevens happens to hate coffee, so this became a joke between them. Humor is another of his trademarks.
"I'm so grateful that our paths crossed," Stevens said. "I'm grateful for formal mentoring."
Even as a kid, he was interested in engineering. He knew he wanted to be an engineer in sixth grade. He graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in electrical engineering and then received his master's in computer control systems. Twenty years later, in 2018, he received his doctorate in Manufacturing Systems.
Earning his doctorate was possible with the support of his family and his organization. Though it took many hours of work—sometimes running a simulation all weekend only to have to restart the project on Monday—he considers it a career highlight.
"Every phase in your career always has a highlight," he says. "My biggest one was obtaining my Ph.D. It was a lot of work, a lot of support from family and support from my organization; It was an achievement for personal achievement, not financial. It showed my resilience and put me in a situation to expand my skillset. With research, you might spend 80 to 100 hours on a simulation. At the end, it doesn't work and you have to scrap those 80-100 hours."
Dr. Ahad Ali, his thesis advisor, says that he's worked with many students in his career but Saso stood out. His work was excellent and his classes are popular as well.
Don Reimer, an engineering professor and colleague at Lawrence Technological University, describes Saso as "very engaging, a good listener and a deep thinker."
"He's always been the kind of person who would step up to the plate and provide a webinar or speak at a conference or volunteer to do something connected to an activity to address quality manufacturing issues. He was always there."
At an IEOM conference in Orlando, Reimer said Saso's session provided positive messages for women in engineering, discussed how he navigated challenges (problem solving) within Ford, and added significant value to the conference.
Lawrence Tech has been all about theory and practice from the very beginning. With his work at Ford, Saso is able to provide students a useful industry perspective. "He brings that right into the classroom," says Reimer, citing the school's emphasis on theory and practice. "Dr. Saso really represents that."
Curious And Unconventional
Hayley Garnham, quality manager at Ford Motor Company's Van Dyke Powertrain Center, says, "Saso's unconventional, curious nature has helped in his work. He's that rare one-of-a-kind person, who manages to combine a range of skills: he's an educator, an ally for women, as well as a go-to person for technical problems." For example, she came to him with the goal of getting her entire team actively engaged in Six Sigma problem solving, both hourly and salary employees, within a year. They worked together to make it happen. Saso helped make a training video for the hourly staff and had their IT person compose music for the video. "It was as if you were watching a professionally made YouTube instructional video," she says. "At the end of the year, everyone was certified and actively implementing Six Sigma. I didn't know if we would be able to do it in a year."
Not only does he have a good approach to problem-solving, he has a good approach towards people. Kathy Zeleney, the plant manager at the Ford Motor Company Van Dyke Powertrain Center, says he goes out of his way to create a positive environment. She says he has made a point of picking a different person every so often and trying to make that person smile and ensure they have a nice day. Zeleney says his approach is a good one. "It's all on relationships really if we're going to win or if we're not," she says. "And when I say if we're going to win or not, I mean the people and the company."
A Knack For Teaching And Problem-Solving
Mike Mikula, currently director of powertrain manufacturing engineering at Ford Motor Company, met Saso in 2008 when Mike was appointed production area manager and Saso was a test engineer in one of the production areas. Mikula's background was metallurgical engineering, far from the complexity of the automatic transmission. "I always had a lot of questions," Mikula says. "Saso was very gracious and taught me. It was obvious to me that Saso has a knack for teaching. I observed him working with management, his salaried peer group as well as the hourly team members, teaching them about the equipment, the various transmissions, helping ensure that even when Saso couldn't be around, they had the necessary competency and confidence to work through challenges. I've always admired him for that, for his patience and his willingness to explain things so that they could be learned regardless of the person's background."
"Saso's first set of questions is always about your personal wellbeing," Mikula says. "How are you? How is your family? Even in the most stressful of situations, Saso recognizes that we are humans first and as humans we need to care for each other."
Mikula says he's often observed Saso, in rare moments of production downtime, spending time with operators, drinking coffee and talking, forming a genuine relationship with the people he was professionally interacting with. Many of Saso's peers would take advantage of that quiet time to leave the floor and distance themselves from the production environment.
One of the more challenging areas they worked on together in the past was specific to transmission noise vibration and harshness. Understanding the source path and frequencies of certain noises can be difficult. At least three separate times Mikula recalls dealing with abnormal noises—noises that may have been undetectable to customers but could lead to issues with the transmissions over time—and Saso pulling product development teams together to solve the problem. People could have gotten defensive, he says, but Saso was able to inspire people to focus on solving the problem.
Fast forward to today, when faced with a complicated problem, Mikula says, "I stop and imagine the way that Saso would approach solving the problem. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with him as long as I did."
This feeling was echoed by Nicholas Stefani, Ford Motor Company Van Dyke Powertrain Center United Autoworkers (UAW) chairman, who has known Saso for about fifteen years. Stefani describes him as "hard-working, well-spoken and educated. He has a love to help people. He wants everybody to succeed on his level. It's uncanny. When you meet him, he decides, immediately, that he wants you to be better and better."
"He's the like the Pied Piper of manufacturing," Stefani says. "He's just that guy."
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