James Calvagna, JC to just about everyone, started at Alpine in 1999. His first bearing-related position was in the shipping department of a competitor. He took the job in 1996 after returning from what started as a trip to Europe. It became more than a trip when JC decided to stay and work in Belgium for two years. When he came back to his family home in Anaheim, California, he took the shipping job and played bass in a band during off hours, never thinking he’d still be in the bearing business all these years later.
JC learns fast. Like most of the Alpine sales engineers, he learned on the job. After spending 23 years speaking to mechanical engineers about prototypes, machine shop owners about lathes, and additive manufacturers about 3D printing, you learn to anticipate their bearing needs. That’s one of the things JC likes about working at Alpine — they encourage thinking.
Jim Levin from Alpine was interested in hiring JC, so he flew him out to Boston to show him around. JC wasn’t sure about the move at first, but once he got used to the weather, he never looked back. One of the things JC has always liked about working at Alpine is Jim’s hiring philosophy. “Jim doesn’t require instant expertise. He hires intelligent people who want to learn.” According to JC, that policy has led to some excellent hires, including Lenny Brookes and Derek Anderson, both of whom JC likes working with.
Customer service is key
When asked about what’s important at Alpine, JC says, “Customer service is key. We don’t just sell a part; we consider the application. We know the bearings we sell. If an engineer asks for a particular type of bearing, we’ll ask how they plan to use it. That way, we can either provide the bearing they requested, or suggest an alternative. Often, we save the customer money while providing a better fit for the prototype or machine.” The job doesn’t end with the sale. “Our customers trust Alpine and the sales engineers. We follow up with them. We want them coming back.”
According to JC, both words in his title, sales engineer, are important. “It’s essential that we sell bearings. I mean, it’s a business. It’s also essential that we supply the best engineered bearings to each customer for each application. “At Alpine, we’re bearing experts. When you contact one of us, you’re talking to many years of experience and expertise. At any given time, there’s well over 100 years of bearing knowledge in the office.”
JC has been a sales engineer at Alpine for 23 years and he’s watched the business change from a small family business to a force in the bearing industry, particularly in precision miniature bearings. “We’ve gone from a hand-written inventory to a computerized one where we can trace each bearing to the maker and batch. It’s been a concerted effort. We’re a professional team and Jim has made smart business and personnel decisions along the way.”
All the high-tech has not made Alpine less, but more customer centric. Their sales engineers answer phones, read — and return — emails, and respond personally when customers use the chatbot on the Alpine Bearing website.
“I enjoy the people I work with,” he says. When JC’s not working, He likes spending time with his wife, Ania and son, Nicholas. Together they travel to Poland most summers to visit Ania’s family or to Sebago, Maine for shorter trips. The Calvagnas love to go kayaking, birdwatching, and just spending time outdoors.
One of the things JC likes best about working at Alpine is he gets to think independently. “Jim trusts us. We know what we’re doing, and he respects that. At Alpine, we have the freedom to succeed.”