Saline Executive’s Rise from Apprentice to Managing Director by Embracing Skilled Trades
In the heart of Saline’s commercial district, Jochen Faber, the Managing Director for Liebherr Aerospace, narrates a tale that is as much about personal perseverance as it is about the evolution of the skilled trades in the modern era. Recently recognized as the longest-tenured employee in Liebherr’s U.S. operations, with over 40 years, Faber’s journey from an industrial technician apprentice to a key executive embodies a unique blend of dedication, skill, and vision.
Jochen sat down with the Sun Times News to tell his story, his passion for skilled trades, and the opportunity they provide for many people.
Faber’s story began with a childhood passion for understanding how things work. "I always had a knack for the understanding of technical things," he recalls, reminiscing about his early days disassembling toys, much to his young sisters’ dismay. His initial dream was to become a motorcycle mechanic, a path diverted not by choice but circumstance. When his life took him to Allgäu near Lindenberg, Germany, the local motorcycle shop had no vacancies, leading him to a fortuitous encounter with Liebherr in Lindenberg, which was hiring technician apprentices. Even at that early stage, Faber harbored ambitions of international experience, of one day visiting the America of such greats as John Wayne. “In my very first interview, I posed the question if an employee could transfer to another country,” he notes, a question that was met with skepticism but ultimately foreshadowed his global career trajectory.
The Liebherr Group is a global giant, comprising over 140 companies in more than 50 countries on every continent. In the U.S., Liebherr operates four separate companies, marketing and manufacturing a wide variety of products and technologies, providing sales and service for 12 product segments. Product segments include cranes, aerospace and transportation, large equipment for mining, earthmoving, and other industrial services.
Faber’s career at Liebherr progressed from an apprentice to various roles, including technician, final assembler, quality inspector, and field service representative. His move to the U.S. in 1989 marked the beginning of Liebherr Aerospace’s American customer support activities, with Faber as its first representative in Saline. “In Saline, I am often referred to as employee number one,” he says. Over the years, Faber played pivotal roles in different capacities, eventually leading to his current position as Managing Director.
Liebherr Aerospace develops, manufactures, and services aircraft flight control and actuation systems, landing gear, air management systems, on-board electronics as well as gears and gearboxes for the aerospace industry. Saline’s location employs some 300 people. A walk through the 15,000-square-foot facility shows various aviation work in process, from jet landing gear overhauls to small electrical component repairs.
Faber’s story exemplifies the often unappreciated potential within skilled trades. “I started as a skilled tradesman and worked my way up,” he states, underscoring the importance of this sector. He points out the shifting trends from an era where blue-collar jobs were undervalued to their current resurgence. Faber emphasizes the challenges and opportunities within the skilled trades, particularly in an era where academic paths are often overvalued.
“It is interesting when we go to these job fairs,” says Faber. “The students are really interested to come and learn about us, but then the parents say, ‘No, no, no, it's not good for you. You need to be a lawyer or a doctor.’ It's really apparent at these trade shows the kids are interested, but they're not allowed the opportunity.”
“Some university degrees are just paper degrees,” says Faber. “Sometimes engineers can’t pound a nail in a wall as their excellence is in academics, but they are missing the practical experience to put their credentials into action.”
The narrative shifts to the current landscape of skilled labor in the United States. Faber discusses the challenges of finding skilled mechanics and welders and the changing perceptions of blue-collar jobs. He highlights Liebherr’s proactive approach to collaborating with educational institutions and providing on-the-job training. His story intertwines with employees from diverse backgrounds, including refugees who have found opportunities and growth at Liebherr.
“For example, we have a mother and son from Ukraine who settled in Saline,” says Jochen. “Both are technicians. They got out of the war, lived in a refugee camp, and really appreciate the opportunity for them to rebuild their life. They had never done this type of work before coming here.”
Faber elaborates on Liebherr’s commitment to training and developing its workforce. “We train on the job,” he says, discussing the importance of practical skills and the company’s collaboration with technical colleges to find potential employees.
As the conversation nears its conclusion, Faber reflects on leadership and the importance of a positive mindset. He stresses the value of respecting others, acknowledging mistakes, and fostering a collaborative environment, emphasizing the significance of seizing opportunities and focusing on what can be influenced.
“This might be a silly saying, but I heard once your life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you deal with it,” says Faber. “People get so hung up on petty things that they cannot change, but this is what their life is about instead of just focusing on the things that they can actually influence.”
“It doesn't matter how many times you knock your head against the wall,” he adds. “You’re not going to move the wall. So, you’ve got to do something different.”
Jochen Faber’s journey from an apprentice to Managing Director at Liebherr Aerospace illustrates the vast opportunities within the skilled trades. It highlights the changing labor landscape and the enduring value of practical skills, adaptability, and a forward-thinking mindset.
“I still remember our founder Dr. Hans Liebherr driving up in his Mercedes in Lindenberg in the early 1980s,” says Faber, reflecting on his 40-year career. “Since then, I continue to enjoy working with a three generation Liebherr family company. There is a sense of pride that I'm personally entrusted with being part of that family business that goes into my lifetime commitment.”
“Liebherr always represented more than just a job or an occupation,” he adds. “I have experienced it more as an adventure, and adventures are not measured in 40-hour-per-week increments. I know that I have contributed to the greater cause over the years. It has truly been an honor in the privilege.”
Faber finishes the conversation with his blue-collar motto: “Success in life, as well as at work, is often an issue of mindset. In this spirit, we are not surrounded by problems. Instead, we are surrounded by opportunities.”