Over the past 30 years, Les de Asis and his family have built a thriving knife business out of a small garage in Southern California, into their state of the art facility in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Building a strong reputation for quality and innovation, the de Asis family epitomizes the entrepreneurial American dream, as their business continues to grow far beyond the walls of their plant in Oregon City. Having spent half of his life building a company from the ground, up, Les recently stepped down as company President, passing the proverbial torch to his son, Jon. At the age of 36, Jon has been involved in the family business as long as he can remember. He has watched as the knife industry has grown from a small underground community of knife makers, into a burgeoning industry defined by creativity and manufacturing technology. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Jon, and talk about the future of Benchmade regarding the company’s new manifesto for 2019; The Edge of Perfection.
T: Where did it all begin for you? What are your earliest memories of the business?
J: My recollection of the early years in California are spotty, I was pretty young at the time so my earliest memories really began when we moved the business up to Clackamas, Oregon. Naturally things were much different back then, and our facility was a lot smaller than it is now. I remember there being a shotgun leaning up in the corner of the office, just in case (Laughs). It was a fun time for everyone, and the business truly felt like an extension of our family. You could feel the entrepreneurial spirit among everyone in that building, growing stronger every year. A great group of people were building the business literally by themselves; I remember the excitement when we installed our first self-built manual serration machine in 1990, and when leaders finished their first CAD tutoring session. The team really embraced technology and learning, with the intention of embedding these factors in our culture.
I remember the personalities and pride between custom knife makers in the mid 90’s. Always friendly and up front, these guys knew so much about the “walk and talk” of knives and I was always so impressed with how these designers and craftsmen could create something so unique and masterful, but still remained hungry for better execution, materials, aesthetics, fit and finish, etc. Being associated with these “celebrities” truly inspired a fresh definition of what quality and pride of ownership mean in the knife industry.
The industry was small at the time. Tactical Knives and Blade Magazine seemed to be the only press outlets that gave the industry any coverage, and they were small publications that were hard to get your hands on. My father had been fascinated by the knife making industry for years, and was determined to combine the skills of artisan knife makers with the capabilities of production manufacturing to create a product that was unique and functional. Most, if not all, of my early memories are associated with the ups and downs in pursuit of this vision.
T: What motivated you to follow in your father’s footsteps?
J: Simply put, my father’s passion for this community. His passion is contagious and it was instilled in me at a young age. His dedication goes far beyond the success of the business, with a commitment to the consumer. I value this relationship immensely, and have enjoyed watching the community evolve over the years.
Over time, we enjoyed the nightly dinner table discussions that helped my sister and I understand the family essence of the company, allowing us to conceptualize the foundation that we stand upon today as a business. I saw the vision that my dad had, and was motivated to be a part of it. Throughout my entire education, I worked internships in the machine shop, assembly, product services, and engineering departments that helped me build a comprehensive understanding of the business from the inside-out. By the time I took my first full-time position as Purchasing Intern, the company had outgrown its facility in Clackamas, and moved a few miles up the hill to it’s current location in Oregon City.
Now more than ever, I welcome the challenge to continue our momentum with great excitement. We’re at a critical point in our business as the industry continues to grow, forcing us to really focus our efforts on the recipe that got us to where we are today. There are inevitable challenges associated with growth, but I am confident in our ability to learn from every mistake and continually drive ourselves to be better.
T: With that being said, let’s jump into your thoughts regarding the company’s new manifesto for 2019…
There is one thing we all have in common. It’s the thing that drives us. Consumes our minds. Challenges us to be better. It’s the mastery of our craft. It requires relentless work ethic and tireless innovation. It’s a no nonsense, no exception, make it right drive for constant betterment. This is life on the edge of perfection. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What does this statement mean to you?
J: Perfection is a lifelong pursuit that requires us to constantly challenge ourselves to improve. It’s easy to get comfortable and complacent once you’ve reached a special destination or space, but complacency has never been an option for us. We are driven to find new ways to improve our products and services while continuing to strengthen the connections with our customer and business partners. To me, this manifesto is a commitment to our customers just as much as it is a promise to ourselves. We are dedicated to constant evolution, in an effort to manufacture product that we are proud to stand behind, and people are proud to carry. There’s an innate sense of pride in our craft, and that pride wouldn’t be nearly as valuable if we didn’t have the support of our users.
Internally speaking, this statement will drive 2019 to be the year of “Team Benchmade”. We must remain determined in our approach, and focus our efforts on delivering a quality experience for employees and consumers alike. There is always room for improvement, and I’m determined to carry on a tradition of innovation and quality that will closely resemble our spirit and will to succeed from the early days of the company. I recently became a father myself, which naturally has changed the way I look at the future. I’m excited to build upon what my father has worked hard for, and create a lasting legacy for generations to come.