Fifty-seven years later, Noel Lee resides in Hillsborough and is head of Monster Cable Products, based in Brisbane, and earning more than a $100 million annually as recently as two years ago.
These days, though, the company Lee founded while tinkering with audio cables in his parents' garage has taken some tough belt-tightening measures because of cheap overseas competition. In October, the firm laid off 120 manufacturing workers, most of them Chinese, Latino and Vietnamese immigrants. Lee said in a press conference Thursday that the jobs ironically could end up in Mexico or in China, where Monster has contracted out assembly work for years.
"Our revenue figures are flat," he said at the company's headquarters in Crocker Industrial Park. "We need to focus on the 85 percent of the people who are still here. This is an economic decision we had to make."
Lee told the English- and Mandarin-speaking reporters that Monster is one of the few local manufacturing employers left. Hourly wages for assembly jobs in China are less than a dollar an hour, and wages in Mexico are less than $3, he said numbers that jibe with U.S. Federal Reserve estimates.
The figures are little comfort to the workers who were let go as part of the company's top-to-bottom cost-cutting, especially since Monster paid more than $6 million for the naming rights to Candlestick Park through next year.
"Many of these workers, they had an average of over eight years of seniority," said Shaw San Liu, a community organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association. "They still remember when it started off with 10, 15 workers."
Liu organized a protest this week on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall calling on the Board of Supervisors to demand that Monster, now with fewer than 600 employees, provide more than four weeks of severance pay, as well as job counseling, placement help and health benefits.
"We are the ones who helped build this company from the ground up," she said, translating the workers' sentiments. "What we get in return for all our years of services is a pink slip."
Officials for Monster were puzzled that the group would seek the support of an agency with no jurisdiction in San Mateo County. Lee singled out Supervisor Jake McGoldrick who represents the Richmond District where Lee grew up and where his 80-year-old mother still lives for making political hay out of the Brisbane company's affairs.
"For him to make this a grandstanding situation is out of line," Lee said. "He didn't bother to check the facts."
McGoldrick introduced a resolution this week condemning the "cold and callous layoffs" and asked that Monster add one week of severance pay for every year with the firm.
"The workers are predominantly San Francisco-based," he said. "It's bad business to come and use the resources in our community ... and then take and throw them out. He's not a monster, he's a grinch."
Lee said Monster relocated to the county from San Francisco because the city's tax laws are not conducive to business. He said 18 laid-off workers already have found new jobs through the company's efforts and asked the supervisors to find a state-wide solution for keeping jobs from migrating overseas.
"It's a shame that we cannot support industry," Lee said. "This is where immigrants come looking for work."
Rose Ortiz, the production manager at Monster's assembly plant, said she was a perfect example.
"I've been in the company 14 years," she said. "I started soldering cables."
She led reporters Thursday on a tour of the plant, where workers were busy packaging cables in plastic for retailing, manipulating gold-colored connectors and doing other tasks by hand labor more often done in the Third World.
"We certainly have seen a lot of industry in the North County leave," said Rayna Lehman, community services director for the San Mateo County Central Labor Council. "We're seeing new growth in some of the biotechnology manufacturing sectors."
Lehman said her group has partnered with the county to offer retraining for laid-off workers, and she condemned the trend of outsourcing jobs and forcing mid-career changes.
"We feel that that just lowers the floor for every worker everywhere," she said, noting that Monster's plant is not unionized.
Lee, who lived in Daly City before moving to Hillsborough about five years ago, left an engineering job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to try his hand at drumming in Hawaii before returning to the Bay Area and founding Monster.
He said the lab work gave him nerve damage, which he reportedly claimed was caused by radiation exposure from laser fusion experiments. He tools around his company on a Segway, he said.
The office walls are covered in guitars and other memorabilia signed by Ozzy Osbourne, Carlos Santana and others. Monster also runs a small music label, an apropos side project for the one-time musician who built an audio-video empire from the ground up.
"We would like to stay in the Bay Area," Lee said. "We want to be the good guy."
Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers the North County. Reach him at (650) 348-4473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.