« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
With a lot of hoopla, RCA kicked off their new laboratory in December 1954 with a big reception at the Hotel Statler in Boston.
Up from RCA New York for the occasion was Elmer Engstrom, a fine person in charge of engineering throughout the corporation. The laboratory was introduced with much fanfare-with a presentation of the imaginative new program the company was embarking on and an introduction of the young man who was willing to step in and take charge of it. (I didn't think of myself as a young man at all.) They even brought in a robot to liven things up. It came rolling in through the door, went up to the podium, and handed a message to Engstrom.
The next six months were hectic. I oversaw the start-up of RCA's Airborne Systems Laboratory, while also phasing out the Flight Control Laboratory and teaching a full load at MIT. First we had to figure out where to locate the lab. It was decided to take over a big section of the old Waltham Watch Company building, which was in pretty rough shape when we took occupancy. The lavatories were the crummiest I had ever seen, with signs on the doors reading: "Your Management Takes Pride in the Facilities It Provides Its Employees." In time, RCA did a nice job rehabilitating the building.
Then we had to go out and recruit the people to fill the lab. RCA was doubtful that we could fill all the slots. We needed to find thirty people a month for three months to get started. I said I was sure we could do so. At MIT, I had worked extensively with Joseph Aronson, who had been the U.S. Air Force Air Materiel Command representative there and then had been an assistant director in the Instrumentation Laboratory. He was one of the first people I hired, and he oversaw much of the recruiting while I was still completing my assignments at MIT. About half of the employees of the Flight Control Laboratory ended up coming along with us. We recruited locally for most of the rest.
Once things were moving in the laboratory, the company threw another big reception. We had an open house and a dinner, at which I was introduced. State government officials were present. Dick Preston was on hand, as secretary of commerce and a representative of the governor. He had great wit and made a hit when he spoke. After dinner, big color-TV sets were brought in, and we all watched a color broadcast of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin. The RCA system for color TV had recently been accepted over that of CBS, and the company was actively promoting its system.
Airborne Systems Laboratory
In the early 1950s, the Hughes Aircraft Company had a monopoly on fighter-aircraft fire control-the whole system for aiming a fighter's guns and rockets. As the only game in town, Hughes could hold the Air Force up for ransom. Well before I arrived on the scene, RCA had received a contract to serve as a second production source for Hughes equipment. That contract allowed RCA, if the company wished, to use some of the overhead costs to improve on Hughes's system. By the time John Woodward and Ted Smith proposed that I set up a new lab, the Air Force had been putting pressure on RCA to come up with something more imaginative, a more advanced technology. That became the primary mission of our lab. Our contract number was 28007. That became our identity. Whenever someone at RCA asked what we were doing, the answer was: "We're working on twenty-eight double-oh seven."
Eventually we got some other contracts, and we began outgrowing the Waltham Watch building, which wasn't an ideal place anyway. RCA agreed to put up a new building for us. I started dealing with people from headquarters about buying land. The company still had a requirement that any land purchased have a railroad siding adjacent to it. The property that looked most attractive-on the Middlesex Turnpike (Route 3A) off Route 128-had no railroad spur. We finally got the company to agree that we didn't need one. RCA bought thirtyfive acres in Burlington, Massachusetts, and I helped get the land rezoned for industrial use.
Then we had to design the building. I had definite ideas on the kind of building I wanted-three or four stories tall and as compact as possible, so that people could get from one end to the other quickly. I wanted everyone to have a window to look out, to take advantage of the country landscape we were investing in. So I recommended a fourstory, H-shaped building.
The first design that crossed my desk was for one story. "Why one story?," I asked.
"We're still not sure you're going to succeed, and if you don't succeed we want to be able to convert the building to a warehouse."
I continued to press for an H-shaped building and came up with what seemed like a great design. To my horror, when I arrived at the
building meeting in Camden and looked at the design that had been worked up, its floor plan was square.
"But we talked about an H!" I said.
"It really is an H," the designer said. “We just sort of folded it together."
I asked Johnny Woodward if we could go and see Art Malcarney (who by then had replaced Ted Smith as head of defense products). When we did, Art said, "If Seamans feels an H is what's needed to attract the people that we want, make it an H-shaped building!" We got a one-story H.
Then, right in the middle of construction, contract 28007 was canceled. We had reached the point where to continue with what we were doing would have involved a major increase in funding for RCA, and the feeling at the Air Force was that we already had accomplished our mission, namely, to put pressure on Hughes. Now that the Air Force had Hughes where it wanted them, it was time for us to get off the stage. It was not that we had failed the test. We had come up with designs that could have been used.
We had other contracts by then, but the cancellation of 28007 meant we had to make a big reduction in staff. We were still in Waltham at the time and were roughly six months away from moving to Burlington. I called a noontime meeting of the entire lab staff at Nuttings on the Charles, a place just around the corner from the Waltham Watch building, where I had gone in my college years to see Benny Goodman and other big bands. I intended to announce that, because of the cancellation of 28007, we had to let a third of the people go and that those who were being furloughed would receive their pink slips that afternoon. Just as I was heading to the meeting, I got a call from somebody in Camden who worked for Johnny Woodward. He said, "We think you ought to cut down by 50 percent, because even the contracts that we have are beginning to look a little bit shaky."
I said, "If you want to cut 50 percent, you come up here and do it yourself, and I'll tender my resignation." Headquarters finally backed off, and we let a third go. Still it was pretty traumatic.
A week before our new building was set to open, Malcarney came up to look at it. I had complained about the raw cinderblock walls in the corridors. The place looked like a jail. I had been told that cin
derblock was the most efficient material and didn't have to be painted. Paint cost money. On his inspection tour, Malcarney started walking down a corridor, stopped in his tracks, and said, "What damned fool around RCA leaves a wall looking like this?"
"What color would you like to see?," I asked him.
The dedication ceremony for the new building was quite an affair. Gene and I invited a lot of guests, including my father. RCA had many musicians on its payroll, including Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops. A high school orchestra was assembled for the dedication, and Fiedler conducted it. Governor Foster Furcolo gave a speech and cut the ribbon. He was given a high-tech device with which to zap the ribbon electronically, only it didn't work. Finally a pair of scissors was commandeered so that Furcolo could perform his role. Afterwards we put on a big show to demonstrate the kind of work we were doing.
Now that we had a new building, we had to get more work. RCA did acquire new contracts and eventually built back up to and past the size we had been at before the loss of 28007. Buildings were added to accommodate manufacturing, and by the mid-1960s, the Burlington facility employed about 2,500 people. By then, though, I had moved to a much bigger, much more exciting mission.
My five years at RCA, from 1955 to 1960, were my only experience working full-time for industry. The big difference at RCA, compared with MIT, was that everybody in the laboratory knew he or she had one job—to work for RCA—and that I was RCA's manager in residence. There was nobody coming around saying, "I'm sorry, I can't help you today because I'm teaching a course, and tomorrow I'm attending a meeting in Washington." Everybody was pulling in one direction.
On the other hand, a corporation is a maze of people, and at RCA I had to deal with many layers in order to get things done. I had hundreds of people working for and with me. I reported to John Woodward in Camden, who was in charge of aircraft fire control. He in turn worked for Ted Smith (replaced by Art Malcarney), also in
Camden. In addition, there was the New York office, where the whole organization was headed by David Sarnoff, founder of the company. At each level of the organization there were staff people, making the maze that much more complex.
There were a lot of constraints on me as manager. Starting salaries. were just one example. When I tried to hire someone for slightly more than the level dictated by RCA's pay scale, I heard from administrative people who said they didn't see how RCA could pay that much.
"He's the perfect person for this job," I said, "and you're going to quibble over $30 a month?"
"I'm sorry. For somebody in that category, the bandwidth goes from $570 to $590." So I had to call someone higher up the chain of command and haggle with him. I generally won, but it was a neverending battle.
I suspect that I was not as well suited to the corporate life as I was to academic life (or later to government work). At RCA, I found it very hard to focus primarily on the bottom line. Obviously, a company can't be in the red year in and year out and stay alive, but at RCA so much seemed to hinge on dollars and cents month by month (and certainly quarter by quarter) that it seemed very difficult to get people to think long-term. If margins were pressured, for example, one of the first things that usually got cut was independent research and development. I thought it ought to be just the reverse. When times get lean, a company ought to spend money on what's going to help it four or five years down the road instead of trying simply to look good next quarter. The securities analysts aren't going to like it, and the stock price is going to go down, but in the long run it may be better for the company.
In Art Malcarney, I found an exceptional role model for management within an organization as big and complex as RCA. Malcarney provided my first experience of dealing with what I would call a hardboiled businessman. He had come up through manufacturing. He was tough. The people who worked with him stood in awe of him. If he said go, you went.
One story epitomizes him. RCA had the job of designing and building the ground electronics for the Atlas missile. One part of this system was called APCHE (Atlas Programmed Checkout Equipment). APCHE's purpose was to determine whether the Atlas missile was ready to go or not, and manufacture of APCHE became our responsi