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December 10, 2015

Craftspeople
Watches

DETROIT MOVING FORWARD: TALKING SHOP WITH WATCH ASSEMBLY SUPERVISOR WILLIE HOLLEY

Photograph by Christian Witkin
Craftspeople
Watches

December 10, 2015

Willie Holley has been at Shinola since 2012, when we first opened the factory in Detroit. He's proven himself to be an integral part of the company and has quickly moved up to become Shinola’s supervisor for the movement assembly team. Holley remembers when there were only nine employees on his team, and emphasized how much he’s witnessed the company grow first-hand, with 37 movement assembly team members by his side now.

Learn more about Willie and his career at Shinola below.

Inside the watch factory. 

How old are you and where did you grow up? 

I’m 28. I grew up on Hayes and Outer Drive on the East side of Detroit. I graduated from Cass Technical High School. After high school, I tried to get into different training programs, but despite my working income being low, it was too high for me to qualify. If I hadn’t come to Shinola, I think I would still be trying to do something else in a technical field.

How did you discover Shinola?

I was working as a security guard down on the first floor of the Taubman Building (Shinola’s headquarters), and I could see the increase in activity and excitement as Shinola started moving in. Shinola staff were coming and going. One day, I heard that Olivier (now the Director of Watch Operations) was in the building, overseeing the last stages before the startup. I was doing rounds, and I saw him in his office. I knocked, and he was startled—I was a security officer, after all, and my knocking meant something was maybe wrong. But I told him that I was interested in a job. 

He said that a position had already been filled for a maintenance tech, which is what interested me. But I came back to be interviewed as a line assembler and tested for dexterity—handling the tiny tools and “sticks” for manipulating the small watch parts. I really wanted to impress him, so that I could move up in the company—I had that drive, right away. He gave me a test to see if I could put a watch’s movement sample together—I passed, and he was impressed.

During the training, I didn’t realize that I was being observed and vetted for a team leader position. I was placed on various jobs—in every single operation, for every single caliber. 

This is the final check operation on the movement line in the watch factory.

What was the company like three years ago compared to today? 

There was only one production line. There were not even many tables and chairs, and there was no administration side. We hadn’t learned how to assemble the watches; we were just learning, and now our operations take up two entire floors (Shinola is taking on a second floor at CCS starting in 2016).

What has been a highpoint for you so far in the company? 

When I was sent to Thailand to be trained on movement assembly—that was awesome. The culture and people, even the night life is so different, and someone is always selling something. I was there for two weeks and knew I had chosen my profession. They had always wanted to send someone from the movement team to bring knowledge back from Thailand, what they do there, and how they assemble. I learned an awful lot about how movements are made and just how seriously they take creating movements. I also recently went to New York with a co-worker to accept a prestigious Ace Awards (Accessories Council), for Best Brand Launch, on behalf of Shinola.

What do you want to do in the future at Shinola?

I would like to be involved in building one of the company’s startups—opening more factory lines, training and vetting others like what was done for me.

Te'Nesha "T.T." Martin, Willie Holley, and Titus Hayes were all hired in 2012. (L to R)

What is your favorite thing about working at Shinola?

It’s changed over time, but I think now it’s being recognized as a leader.

How does it feel to be from Detroit and work for a company that manufactures products in Detroit?

It makes me feel like I’m a part of the city moving forward. Shinola is literally a Detroit company, it really took root and grew here. Detroiters work here, and it’s a place right here in Detroit to work for good wages and opportunity. We’ve all come here and started from the bottom, but you can move up in this company.

This interview is part of a new series called JOBS that highlights the people that make Shinola tick. Find their stories here on The Journal or on our Jobs pageThis interview was done by Marsha Music.

Nearly all of Shinola Products are Built in the US with US or Imported Parts

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