Ricardo Ruiz has come a long way since enduring economic hardship and political unrest while growing up in his native El Salvador. Ruiz, 52, is now plant manager for Gordon Brush in Commerce, Calif.
"I was studying industrial engineering at the university and I was afraid that the political turmoil would make for an uncertain future, so I decided to seek better opportunities," Mr. Ruiz says.
He left El Salvador at the age of 21 with a friend who had family in Canada. They were caught at the California border and sent to a detention facility in Chula Vista.
Mr. Ruiz spent three days in detention before an aunt living in Montebello bailed him out. Upon his release, he was given a work permit.
His aunt's husband encouraged him to apply for a job at Gordon Brush Mfg. Co. Inc., where he worked. Mr. Ruiz got hired as a janitor because he spoke no English at the time and his education wasn't relevant to an open position at Gordon Brush.
He spent two years learning how to work and fix the machines on his own time.
"I wanted to better myself," he says. "I knew I had the capability of learning and improving my position, and if I worked hard, someone would recognize my abilities."
Second-shift supervisor to plant manager
After two years, the company offered Mr. Ruiz the chance to learn how to make brushes on the second shift. It was a welcome step up, but he wanted more responsibility and better, higher-paying jobs.
In recognition of his hard work, the company sponsored his U.S. citizenship, and a couple of years later he was made second-shift supervisor and was taught the art of brush making, and how to use and fix all of the machines.
Although Mr. Ruiz was studying architecture and accounting in community college, his immediate need was to support his wife and child.
"Should I continue my education and pursue a career as an architect or should I stay at Gordon Brush?" he asked his wife. The answer was clear when he was offered the position of plant manager.
Mr. Ruiz passed on the chance of a potentially more lucrative career as an architect to stay on at Gordon Brush because, he says, "I enjoy working with my hands, solving problems and providing customers a solution."
He now coordiantes the production of over 15,000 different brushes made by Gordon Brush.
"I have complete faith and trust in Ricardo to do whatever he needs to do to run the plant in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, to make and deliver our wide variety of American made brushes to our customers," says Ken Rakusin, company president and CEO.
Mr. Ruiz remembers to give back to the country and community from which he received. He is active in his church and community center, and counsels young people on what it means to work hard to achieve a goal.
"Besides my family and my job, this is my third greatest satisfaction," he says, "giving back to the community and hopefully make a difference in a youth's life."
He has no regrets about how his life and career have gone.
"Because of Gordon Brush, I was able to build a great life for my wife and me and our two daughters."
Gordon Brush is family, not just a job, he says, "and only in the United States of America could all this happen."
Gordon Brush manufactures specialty, custom and standard brushes for industrial and consumer purposes.
Pictured: Bill Loitz, executive vice president; Ricardo Ruiz, plant manager; and Ken Rakusin, president and CEO.
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