"Quality is the essence
of our business success."
August "Gus" Kollom
Founder and CEO
Northwest Fourslide, Inc.
November 7, 1924 - December 18, 2006
Old World Values in a High Tech Era
Each moming, Gus Kollom walks through his gleaming, modern shop in Sherwood, Oregon. Typically, he will talk and exchange ideas with any number of his 42 employees, who are busy manufacturing precision metal stamped parts or wire forms.
He fondly thinks back to when he first opened for business 20 long years ago, in a spare garage bay, by himself, with just one fourslide machine for company.
Actually, his story starts much earlier than this. He was bom August Kollom in central Estonia, a small Baltic country with a population of just over one million. At a very
early age, Gus was introduced to tooling and mechanics by his father, who was the village blacksmith. His father also instilled in him respect for authority, to approach work with passion, have attention to detail and always help those less fortunate. Times were poor. However, Estonia enjoyed its freedom, and the fair-haired boy was happy.
This all drastically changed just prior to the
second World War. Both Russia and Germany vied for Estonia's port on the Baltic sea, and foreign armies traipsed and battled for position. Gus and his brother were reluctantly drafted into opposing armies and went separate ways. At the first opportunity, Gus risked all to escape in a fishing boat to the neutral country of Sweden. This was just before the iron curtain fell on Estonia, erasing it as an independent country for the next 50 years.
Gus had to start over at the age of 19. Without the support of family and money, lacking even clothes or knowledge of the Swedish language, Gus worked hard by
day and studied at night. Over time, he eventually eamed his degree from the Stockholm Technical lnstitute and found
employment with Ericsson Electronics. He even worked on one of the first computers in 1953 and started his own toolmaking business.
ln the late '50s, Gus moved to Canada to reunite with his sister in Canada. Again, with liftle financial resources or command of the English language, Gus's perseverance
and hard work led to employment with a top electronics company.
In the early '60s, Gus met his present wife of 37 years, Malle, who was involved with computer programming at General Motors Corporation in Detroit, MI. When the
opportunity arose, Gus and Malle moved to the Bay area of California to participate in the setup of the new GM plant. Together with their daughter, they made Freemont, CA their home. Gus started as the tooling foreman for GM and advanced to become the tooling process engineer.
At age 54, when most executives start to think about retirement, Gus once more jumped at the chance to move, this time to Oregon to start a business with a paftner.
When the partnership did not materialize, Gus was left staring at an unfamiliar beast - the fourslide machine in that aforemen-tioned garage of 20 years ago. He dug in and began to work with and understand the machinery. Soon, he was building his first tools, producing parts and shipping orders.
At first, some financial institutions and suppliers were reluctant to deal with such a small shop headed by an owner with an European accent. However, Gus had been true for all those years to the companies that gave him a chance (he has even had the same barber). Due to this loyalty, he was able to form strong partnerships for his business.
In the same way, engineers for local manufacturing companies began to spread the word about the quality and on-time
delivery of this small shop. In 1982, Northwest Fourslide and its three employees moved into their own 2,000-square foot facility. As the customer base grew, Northwest Fourslide kept building, out-growing and moving into new facilities. New construction projects occurred in 1987, 1991 and 1994. ln 1997, it was finally time to build the current location of 50,000 square feet in Sherwood, Oregon.
Today, Northwest Fourslide provides services to a wide variety of industries, such as computer, electronics, telecommunica-tions, security, dental, medical and hardware.
Despite its size of more than 40 employees, the family feeling of the early days is still present. Gus knows that people, not machines, prcduce parts. Everyone is equally important to the quality and success of the company. All employees are salaried and share equal bonuses despite position. The birthday celebrations and company outings help bond employees and, as a result, turnover is low and performance is high.
Fresh fruit and cookies are available daily in the clean, well-equipped lunch room. Each night, staffclean up the shop to keep the environment safe and tidy. Recently, Jim Wood, SMI regulations compliance manager, visited Northwest Fourslide and pronounced Gus's shop among the cleanest and safest he has audited in North America.
Gus comes from a background where a handshake is as good as a binding contract, a pat on the back is a reward for good work, a promise is made only if it can be met and
tardiness is not tolerated. He saw what worked and didn't work in a large corporation and used what he learned to mold his own company. From its beginnings, Northwest Fourslide's quality work has been its best advertisement.
Clearly, Gus Kollom's company is an example of how old world values can lead to success in an era of high technology.