High Tech Drifter Six

Chapter 6

THE ERA OF THE
ASCENDING CONGLOMERATE

 High Tech Drifter Six

THE HIGH TECH DRIFTER, AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NARRATIVE BY LEN CAPELLI -  is a glimpse of the life, times and perspective of one seasoned executive as he replays his career. In this well-told tale, we learn how one results-oriented executive- VP of Sales and Marketing for hardware and software companies and for startups- navigates the waters of big business to become the Business Development Manager for the Commonwealth of Virginia, responsible for economic development and business development in Northern Virginia. He currently sits on the Board of a Renewable Energy company as a Director.



 High Tech Drifter Six

Final Days at Singer Corporation

After the successful regrouping at the Saline plant, we continued to work on selling systems to other Ford plants.  We had some successes and some failures.  The System Ten by Singer had some very unique capabilities. It was still an off brand. And there were rumors circulating through the papers and magazines that Singer, a leader in mass acquisition of a variety of Companies, was not holding these companies together in a profitable and cohesive manner.

 The Era of the Ascending Conglomerate

At that time, many companies were acquiring other smaller and larger companies in diversified fields at an almost alarming rate.  Beverage companies were buying manufacturing companies, restaurants and fast food franchises.  Manufacturing companies were buying other manufacturing companies. It was the era of the ascending conglomerate.

A writer asked the chairman of Coca Cola, why they hadn’t jumped on the buying band wagon.  He sat back and replied,”  I don’t see how you can make one well dog, out of six sick puppies, and until I do, we will focus on what we do well.”

I had always used the great fact about Singer, “This company has not missed paying a cash dividend since 1864” as a sales tool when asked about the company and it’s commitment to the computer industry. But when it started to become obvious that Singer had expanded too quickly and with not enough control and rumors began flying even faster, I started to look for another opportunity. As the company started to falter, a number of sales and systems people left the organization. No one wanted to go down with the ship.    I was gone when they wrote off the Business Systems Group, sold the furniture group, sold the Link Trainer group and closed others.  It was sad, because they had worked hard to build a good name in the industry. It wasn’t the last of these companies that I would watch go under.

High Tech Drifter Six

I was offered a National Sales Managers position with Panasonic Industrial.  

However, after I left Singer, I took a two week vacation and the job offer was rescinded.  I was devastated- started to feel the pressure quickly even though I was on top of my game and could get another position.   Then, I was introduced to one of the Panasonic resellers. They offered me a Junior Partnership.  I would start my own business in Detroit aligned with their company in Cleveland.   I had some bad luck and some horrible luck and made every Start-Up mistake one could make except over spending.

  I quickly realized that I had to keep expenses at a minimum and try and get some sales.  We had several product lines in addition to Panasonic plant floor data collection.  I sold printers and did the wiring of the plug harnesses at home at night.  I sold mini waterproof key boards to paper mills and meat processing plants.  I saw firsthand that the only thing not processed from a pig, was the squeal.


 High Tech Drifter Six

 One very interesting sale went along with GE’s time sharing division. They had an application that was in conjunction with the department of agriculture.  A farmer could call in and through using a touch tone phone; they could get very helpful information about planting, crops, aid etc.  Another application on the GE network was for estimating insulation requirements in new buildings.  You put in the location, altitude and construction design and it would tell you the optimum R rating and how much insulation you would need.  There was only one problem; you needed a touch tone phone.  In the early 70’s not many people had these.  So, I sold a little plastic cup that fit over the mouthpiece of the phone, had a ten key pad and would reproduce the appropriate sounds when the buttons were pushed.  I sold thousands of these, but they were a low margin item, - not what you would call a “money-maker” money but this did keep the lights on. 

 High Tech Drifter Six

At the same time, the Country was going through a plastic shortage.

In fact, prices for a lot of things including gas went through the roof.  I had done a pretty good job of estimating my expenses against sales and profits for my business plan, but had not taken into account gasoline going to over $1.00 a gallon. Or shortages.  Companies like Ford were taking 180 days to pay accounts and taking a prompt pay discount.  That killed little companies that were self-funded like mine.  So once again, I found myself looking for a new position.  I interviewed for a couple of jobs. They didn’t seem to have a future.

 I then was introduced to two similar but distinctly different companies.  EDS and Computer Sciences were the two companies.  EDS was more of a lifestyle commitment and Computer Sciences was more sales and marketing oriented.  A few words about the interview process with CSC. It was interesting.

First I met with the Branch Manager.  We had a very good initial meeting and follow up meeting.  Since I had actually worked with the GE Timesharing offerings, I already knew what time sharing was all about.  Today we call it the cloud.  You have a terminal and all of your data and all of the processing resides on rented space on a computer far far away.  Pretty amazing stuff for 1974 and most people just didn’t get it.  I liked the concept it made sense to me, and it still does.  Part of what we presently sell for the company that I perform business development for is the Amazon Cloud.  Talk about a Big Cloud, but More about that later.

 High Tech Drifter Six

Back to CSC, the third interview was with the Regional Manager and the Regional software manager.  The regional manager had recently moved to Chicago from a very successful position in Federal Government Marketing for CSC in the Washington DC office.  He was young to be a regional manager but was very professional.  He had a whole set of questions, that I am sure came from some MBA course on hiring.  I could see that he was comparing my answers to answers to similar questions that I had been asked by the branch manager.  Fortunately, I never felt that I was smart enough to lie, so in telling the truth it didn’t change depending on whom was asking the questions.  I had met an interesting woman while waiting for my interview with the Regional Manager; she was with GE and was looking to make a change for a variety of reasons.  I got to know her better later, very interesting and successful woman.


About a week after meeting with the Regional Manager I was called and asked to come into the office.   The branch manager was there. He took me to lunch.  We ate at a great place called the Golden Mushroom.  For those who remember the hey-day of Southfield, Michigan, this was a great restaurant. It would become one of my favorite places.  He told me I had the job.

I had been offered positions by both EDS and CSC, but liked the people I met at CSC better. As it turns out these many years later I have remained lifelong friends with my colleagues there, but I digress.

High Tech Drifter Six

Computer Sciences Corporation

I started the following Monday.  I would be in the office learning about the job and the company and then would go out to El Segundo, California, near the airport in Los Angeles for a three week training session.  I was very excited. The next three weeks were a blur:  meeting the local team, trying to familiarize myself with everything I could about the company, preparing for training in California, and learning as much as I could about the offerings, the network, and the two primary entrepreneurs who founded the company and stories about their on-the-street-in-DC-guy and his dealings with government agencies... 


 High Tech Drifter Six

About the tow founders: One was a Super Tech that helped or basically wrote FORTRAN and the other was a Salesman’s Salesman.  Roy Nutt was the Techie. He had been a major contributor in the creation of IBM’s FORTRAN, the first high-level scientific and engineering programming language.  Fletcher Jones was the Salesman Genius.  Jones, just 42,   had piloted the plane that crashed into the side of a mountain ending his life and that of several secretaries, as the legend went.  He had been quite the man-about-town and a very successful businessman.

I finally was ready to head to California for my training.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I was looking forward to it.  It had to be better in California than my many weeks in Buffalo New York, with Singer training.

The offices of Computer Sciences were on Sepulveda Ave. in El Segundo near the airport and near Manhattan Beach.  What a great place for classes. CSC had rented a group of apartments a couple of miles from the headquarters - very nice complex with fitness rooms, sauna and grills for grilling outside.

 High Tech Drifter Six

Back then the dress for sales people was still suit and tie at the office. 

Techies wore ties, but you didn’t see many jackets.  The first day was an orientation and then we were let off early to go to the apartments and get settled.  I don’t remember who I roomed with, but the group was small - about 10 people from around the country, capable women and (mostly) men.  We received a per diem amount for food and expenses.  Before the classes started, several guys complained that this wasn’t going to cover their expenses. The restaurant at Marina Del Rey they went to was more than their whole per diem. 


 High Tech Drifter Six

I started laughing, and asked who they complained to at home when they spent too much at a restaurant.  A per diem is to help, not allow you to make money unless you eat on the cheap and not try to eat right.  The small group I hung around with, grilled a few nights a week, had cereal for breakfast, stopped for doughnuts on the way to the office in the morning, ( the instructors, all liked doughnuts) and we found good but inexpensive restaurants to eat at when we decided to eat out.

 

 High Tech Drifter Six

I will remember forever the morning of the second day.

 A marketing executive named Chuck Giordenalla, who I immediately liked and grew to admire, was charged with talking to us about why we joined CSC and what we expected.  He told us that an informal discussion could help the team structure open time more effectively with the right instructors and people from the company to help us meet our individual and collective needs and goals. 

Chuck asked a simple question, “Why did you join CSC?”

The first gentleman, seized the moment and began a long and involved almost lecture on how he was recruited, how he felt that CSC could provide him the stepping stones to leverage his undergraduate and graduate degrees to fulfill his desires to advance in management and become a high level executive.  The next person jumped on the same bandwagon and so it went.  These people were all stating what CSC was going to do for them, help their career, train them in a new field, and leverage their skills and so on.  Each was outdoing the other with what CSC could do for them and why they chose CSC.

Finally, Chuck came to me.  He looked at me and said, “Well Len, why did you join CSC?”

I sat back smiled and responded, “My business was shitty and CSC had a better compensation plan than EDS.  I need to make some money and I can make more here selling the CSC products and services.”


 High Tech Drifter Six

All of the other guys looked at me like I was an alien. 

They almost physically backed away from me.  The room became totally quiet.  Chuck started to laugh and said, “Well guys, I know why Len is here, and I can certainly help him.  The rest of you, I am not sure how CSC is set up to leverage your MBA, transition your field of performance, or do anything except give you a competitive offering and help you sell a lot of it.”  “ Len, thank goodness we have at least one person here to sell stuff, maybe the rest of these gentlemen and ladies can figure out that is what we do.”

Several of the stuff shirt guys, never did really talk to me or acknowledge me again during the training, but I was certainly accepted by the rest of the class as being the guy that told the truth and by the staff, as somebody that wasn’t looking for a handout and a place to get a salary and hide.

The rest of the class went pretty well.  One of the instructors was a genuine deranged person, long hair and a beard and the most unusual sense of humor that I have ever seen.  I liked him.

Now that the tale of my transition to CSC has been told, I will go into a little more detail. Look for that in the next installment, “The best years of my career.”


High Tech Drifter Six   High Tech Drifter Six   High Tech Drifter Six

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Chapter 7-9

The CSC Years

 “The Cloud” in today’s technology buzzword environment is easily explained,  but back in mid-1974, I actually had to learn how to explain Timesharing... .

The narrative continues.
Click here for the PDF.





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HIGH-TECH DRIFTER

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