Chapter 5

Len Capelli


Capelli dons his white hat, rides in to call on 40 automotive manufacturing plants, comes up with a game plan to penetrate the Big Three, and saves the day. 

Automotive Sales and Plant Floor Data Collection

The Senior salesman that I was assigned to team with, was a long time Friden/Singer employee.   He had a degree in engineering, and actually had taught at the Friden Headquarters in Rochester for a number of years, before deciding that he wanted to move into sales.  He had been a salesman in Wisconsin for a few years before being promoted to Detroit.  He was very professional and probably one of the smartest and most widely knowledgeable people that I have ever known.  He was also a nice man, which wasn’t something you could say about everyone in the office.  Besides being a mentor in selling to the automotive industry, he introduced me to cabin cruisers, dry martinis and sweet manhattans’.  I will be eternally indebted for all three of the important introductions.

At about the time that I finished up my programmer job and moved back into sales, the gentleman who had the Ford Account was promoted to a branch manager position in another office in the Midwest.  That meant that the new automotive team now had all three of the Big Three.  I had no idea that Friden/Singer had so much success in the automotives.  In Ford and Chrysler, there was equipment in almost every automotive plant in the hourly personnel departments.  These machines helped standardize the hiring process and helped to maintain more concise and retrievable records of the employees. 
More about this later. 


We started to develop a game plan
to penetrate the Big Three 

 My introduction was to visit over 40 automotive manufacturing plants in Michigan, Ohio and New York to meet the managers, buyers and users of the equipment.  This was valuable in order to see how we might introduce the new System Ten computer into this market.  I enjoyed visiting all of the plants.

Dad had worked at Ford Motor for 47 years.  He actually was still working when I started selling to Ford, but he was a die setter and I never actually saw him at work.  He came to Detroit in 1923 at 19, when the coal mines started shutting down in Kansas, and found a job at Ford and worked there until he retired.  He always counseled me go to college and get a good job so I didn’t have to work in the factory.  He was proud of working for Ford Motor and proud of the job he did in helping to produce the best cars on the road.

After a thorough introduction to Ford, GM and Chrysler we started to develop a game plan to penetrate the Big Three.  Singer had a few surprises in the offering and one of them was a new plant floor data collection system and it included an hourly personnel system with electronic time card readers and real time collection of data.  The Data Collection terminals looked an awful lot like the new electronic cash registers that were introduced in the retail market the next year.  They had a large display screen, a punch card reader, and electronic card reader and a simple programmable keyboard.  They were truly state of the art for 1972. 


I learned that to be successful, you really had to have good connections at three or four levels

I learned that to be successful, you really had to have good connections at three or four levels within any of the companies.  First you had to establish a good rapport with the Data Processing Managers at each of the plants.  They had to feel that whatever you were proposing was going to make their job easier and by supporting your product they would get some positive recognition.  These were all Career Automotive Employees.  There were a few exceptions, but not very many.  Second, you had to have a good presence and relationship with the divisional data processing people.  They had to approve what went on in the plants that were part of their division. 

The next level was of course Headquarters, for Ford that was the Glass House in Dearborn, Michigan, for GM, it was the GM Building in Downtown Detroit and for Chrysler it was generally the headquarters in Detroit, in an old section of town or the Corporate Headquarters on Jefferson right on the Detroit River. 

That building interestingly enough is now the headquarters of the UAW.  Wow, never saw that coming.


graphic of UAW Headquarter Building, Detroit, Michigan



The fourth level was the purchasing department of each of the big three.  They all approached purchasing differently, but there was something very traditional at all three and especially Ford and GM. 

The purchasing department operated in a vacuum

The purchasing department operated in a vacuum.  They could approve, not approve or simply sit on a request for proposal or a purchase request if they did not feel that it was in the best interests of the company.  Often, and this no longer happens, it meant in the best interests of the buyer.  Sad but true, these men and a few women wielded unbelievable power over the company and the rubber met the road with dealing with salesmen.  Some had to be wined and dined, others appreciated good seats to sporting events, others liked to have golf or boating outings.  Others, let you know what they needed at any given time, and surprisingly, the value of things that they suggested, had a direct relationship to the value of the order in question.  I don’t want to say that all purchasing agents and buyers were on the make.  But a large percentage demanded a tribute before a purchase order was released.


I was a new, and not very knowledgeable sales rep,regardless of what I thought, and my partner was experienced and very organized, focused and dedicated.

 Well, I was a new, and not very knowledgeable sales rep, regardless of what I thought, and my partner was experienced and very organized, focused and dedicated.  We really complimented each other.  He was an engineer by training and by inclination and one of the best wood workers I ever met.  More about that later.  We made a good team, and we enjoyed each others company as well.

 As I mentioned, we embarked on a thorough introduction to the Big three, and much of it was done in a series of road trips to various plants in the Detroit area, the suburbs and then Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.  Ford had put various manufacturing, assembly and parts plants in a variety of locations.  All had good access to rail and highway and most had access to sea ports that could accommodate shipping.  GM had plants around Michigan and Ohio and so did Chrysler.  Of course Chrysler also had plants in Illinois, but at that time, there were limited operations in the south.


We met with plant data processing managers, personnel department managers and when possible the plant managers.  We met with all of the regional data processing managers and we were able to develop a quality game plan.  We recognized that the industry and the automotive people at Ford did too.  GM was more interested in managing budgets and Chrysler was trying to decide to be centralized or decentralized so not many new projects were planned.

We decided to focus on Ford

So, we decided to focus on Ford, and because of the proximity to Detroit and our ability to support a new and creative installation, we focused on the Division that made components.  Their headquarters was in Rawsonville and they had plants in Ypsilanti and Saline that had very progressive data process managers and of course the management in Rawsonville was also very progressive.  We kept in touch with other plants and divisions and made regular calls on GM and Chrysler but we had a plan and we had a focus. 

Next step, sell something


We had decided that the best opportunities were with the Ford Motor Company and with the Parts Division. It was headquartered out in Rawsonville, Michigan a suburb west of the City of Detroit just past the Wayne County Airport, not far from the old Willow Run Airport .

As an aside, Willow Run was the original suburban airport for Detroit, and the airport where a lot of World War II bombers took off after being assembled in the Willow Run Manufacturing facilities.



Working the plan and planning our work. 

 We knew the data processing managers in all of the plants from working with the Friden hourly personnel systems that were installed.

We had access to the division Data Processing management.

We had limited access to the Data Processing Management team at the Glass House, the headquarters of Ford Motor in Dearborn Michigan. 

We knew which of the buyers was responsible for purchasing data processing equipment and computers for the Parts Division.

We also knew the Data Processing Manager of Ford World Headquarters. This was significant because data was transmitted daily to headquarters for processing of payroll, vacations, retirements, workman’s comp. etc.

We were sure that this team of very dedicated people had to feel comfortable that any data coming to them would be in an acceptable format and would be compatible with their existing systems.


Check. Check. Okay.

So we practiced some presentations. We worked with the programmers to set up some simple but focused demonstrations.  We got one of the new multi input units for plant floor  data collection, and worked with the programmer staff to figure out how to use it.  It came with instructions, but as I remember, they were obviously written by someone using specs and not having seen the actual device. We went over the existing systems installed.

We were ready to make live calls on the various levels of Data Processing Management. 


In the meantime- another story comes to mind...a true story, and somewhat indicative of how the many forces of nature seem to swirl around my life. 


I am not complaining, it has been a heck of a ride so far, and it just keeps getting better. The weekend prior to 4th of July, I flew to Chicago to visit a new lady friend, and to meet up with my ex-wife to repurchase our Isuzu Trooper from her.  I was living in Texas, San Antonio to be exact and had recently formed a partnership on a small horse ranch. 

I also had another partnership; this one was with an old friend of mine.  We had
a small quarter horse racing operation.   Actually he was the brains of the outfit, when it came to racing.  He had been a professional bull rider before he went into the high tech sales industry, and knew his way around a race track.


He called one day, and asked if I wanted to go in halves on a race horse.  I replied, “What the F&%$.” And WTF racing was formed. 

We mostly raced in California, at Los Alamitos and Hollywood Tracks.  We also had some races on the fair circuit.  I will tell my personal history of quarter horse racing in some future article, but today I just want to  leave the reader with one comment: “If someone tells you that they made a lot of money racing quarter horses, they will probably lie about other things as well.”

Anyway, this weekend trip was actually three fold.  To buy the Isuzu , which I needed on my ranch, to visit my newly minted girl friend, and to drive by Hot Springs, Arkansas on my way back to Texas and pick up a couple of brood mares to help build our racing stable.


The tale unfolds, and gets better.

I had a very pleasant lunch with my ex wife, a delight and successful lady.  I drove over to my new friend’s house, after stopping by Sam’s liquor in Chicago, the cheapest place to by liquor in an inexpensive liquor town. Unlike Michigan, Illinois had lower taxes on booze and in Chicago they even put some things on sale.  Sam’s had a great sale on Chivas Regal and some 12 year old single malt scotch.  So naturally I bought a case.I had a very nice few days visiting with my new friend, and left on the next part of my trip with a smile in my heart and probably on my face as well.The drive down to Hot Springs was an easy one, the Trooper was a great SUV, my second and this one had the added benefit of a big 4 cylinder and an automatic transmission. 

Life was good. 


I got to Hot Springs and met the very colorful fellow that was bartering/loaning me the horses.  This detail changed a year or two later, but at the time it was a very happy transition.  He had a horse trailer waiting for me, and we hooked it up to my Trooper with very little trouble, and backed it up to the field where the two horses were waiting. 

The black Thoroughbred was beautiful.  The sorrel quarter horse was a good looking horse, except she looked crazy.  She had wild eyes. 

I have learned a lot about horses in the past 30 years of owning them and I should have sensed that she was as goofy as she looked.
We got the black horse on the trailer, with no problem.  A little grain and she followed me right up the ramp and into her stall.  Not so much cooperation with the Sorrel.  She bucked, kicked, bit, thrashed, and was generally non cooperative.  We backed the Black out of the trailer and tried again to get the Sorrel mare in.  Finally, he wrapped a rope around the back of the trailer and we kind of leveraged her in, by pulling tight and giving her no opportunity, kind of like using a shoe horn.  She was finally in, but not happy at all. 

I asked if maybe we should reconsider, but he said she would settle down, not to worry.  I didn’t know it would take until we were in Texas and she had a shot, to get settled, but again another story.  We were able to reload the Black horse and I was on my way. 

As I was getting ready to depart, he mentioned that the horses had no papers, and that I would have to sneak in to Texas.  I looked at him and said, “Sneak into Texas with a Jeep and a horse trailer full of two horses?” 

He smiled and said that otherwise they might get impounded at the state line that Texas was pretty tough on moving animals without the proper papers and documentation that they were healthy and had passed a coggins test.  OK, well another complication I would worry about later.


I was off to Texas, with my two new horses, my case of old scotch and my smile, although the smile had become somewhat pensive.  The wonderful part of the trip was that this was the 4th of July.  As I drove through the mountains of Arkansas, on down toward the Texarkana area and into Texas I was treated to small town fireworks that light up the sky for miles around.  In every direction, there were stars of colors and umbrellas of bright lights.  The rockets, the shooting stars, the grand finales over and over and over. 

It was truly a magical performance of light and sound and color.  I had the opportunity on of seeing Arthur Fiedler lead the Boston Philharmonic for the Boston 4th of July celebration and while not having the symphony, the many individual celebrations were unbelievable.  [ try iTunes ]

Later that night as I was winding down from Arkansas and headed toward Texas, it started to rain.  Well, not just rain but storm. 

Fortunately it was nearing midnight and the celebrations were over.  I had not been sure of how I was going to “sneak” into Texas with my rig, but an idea was forming with the rain.  For a holiday, a large number of semi trailers were out on the road.  Maybe they enjoyed the fireworks, or maybe they liked driving with a bunch of drunks on a holiday, but it gave me a plan. 

As I neared the Texas State line, I pulled into the left lane and stayed right beside a big truck.  The animal check was not in the same spot as the regular truck scales, or maybe the scales were closed.  Anyway, I stayed right there, driving the truck driver a little crazy, by speeding up and slowing down to match his speed and have him virtually hide my trailer from anybody on the side of the road.  After a mile or so, I slowed down and let him go on his way. 

As I fearfully looked over, nothing but fields were to be seen.  A great sense of relief flowed over me.  I saw a truck stop in the distance and decided I would chance a stop to get some coffee and get rid of some.  A few minutes later, I was back on the road, I had decided that keeping the horses on the trailer for the minimum of time was a necessity so I planned on driving straight through.  I was younger then.


As I started out, I picked up a local Country Western station on the radio.  A song I had never heard before started to play.  I think the singer was Jerry Jeff Walker, whom I did get to know a few years later, but that too is part of another story. 

The song was the secret to life.  I smiled and waited to hear the secret.
Well he went on about the fact that the secret was Older Whiskey, Younger Women, Faster Horses and More Money.   try iTunes 

Added to the fact that I had a case of old whiskey in the truck, I had just solidified a relationship with a much younger woman, I had to race horses to improve our breed stock in the trailer and I had just received a promotion at my company and in my next check would be seeing More Money. 

I had in fact, solved the secret to life. 

The rain was starting to let up as I was approaching Dallas for my turn South to San Antonio, and as daybreak was brightening the sky, a beautiful Rainbow appeared that looked like a multi colored Arch of St Louis, beckoning me into Dallas an onto San Antonio.I thank you for reading this and it is actually a pretty accurate story of what happened. 

I omitted the names to protect the guilty.  We had a lot of fun racing horses, having your picture taken in the winner’s circle with your horse, jockey, trainer and partner was always unbelievable.  Thanks to my former partner and still friend, we got quite a few win pictures and a lot of smiles.  I still own two horses, I still drink older scotch, I don’t have more money but hope too and the Lady that I am with is well you wouldn’t want me to tell her age now would you?




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