HP People Stories - George Springer

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HP People Stories



Mr. Divisional Sales Engineer
George Springer

Stanford Park on the Phone


It's the 1970s. You're an HP Field Engineer (FE), working out of one of the East Coast offices. You're sitting at the desk of one of your good customers, expecting to pick up the signed purchase order for a couple of signal generators to be used in a new production test station.

The customer usually buys HP, but has been known to buy less expensive equipment from time to time, so you are always sensitive to giving him good service. You always answer his questions promptly, making sure that he has the latest technical catalogs, application notes and data sheets pertinent to his work.

Today, the customer doesn't seem to have the purchase order sitting on top of his desk. Instead, he has the signal generator data sheet sitting there. And he quickly tells you that his production test specs have just been changed to expand the performance ranges he initially expected. And he urgently needs to know whether the HP instrument will work beyond the specified parameters.

What to do? Your commission depends on getting the order. And you won't be taking that home until you can answer the technical question he asked about the signal generator. It's not the customer's fault, these things happen all the time. Fortunately you know where to find the answer, and you excuse yourself to find a telephone (no cell phones in those days). You know the number by heart, because you use it more than once a week. 415-857-1501 ext 2612.

In Palo Alto, at the other end of the line is a friendly Sales Support Engineer whose name is George Springer. He gets up early, often 6:00 am, so he can be in his office by no later than 7:00 am, to try to equalize the time zone differences of 3 hours, where his East Coast force of hard working Field Engineers have already been on the road for a couple hours, looking for orders.

OK, I made up that specific story, but such events happened all the time.

George Springer was beloved by his Field Engineers on the East Coast and South. George had come up to Marketing from a job on the production line, so he knew all the players down on the test lines. He knew the R&D engineers and the Production Engineers, some one of whom would either know the answer for the FE, or who could make a quick measurement to see what the actual performance was in that unspecified parameter. You can bet your paycheck that George would have his goal for that day to get an answer out to the field in only one or two hours, with the objective of getting the customer to release the purchase order.

This was George Springer's life. A friendly and helpful voice on the line. Answering the phone and telegrams and later Comsys messages with dispatch. Helping the Field Manager meet quotas. Sales Support Engineers were the Divisional Cheerleaders, making it easy to sell that division's products. Until the Field Sales Engineers were split into the "A-bag" and "B-bag" product groups, there were more than 10 divisions selling through EACH FE. Even after the split, there were probably 6 divisions vying for attention, and some had product lines which were VERY DIFFICULT to sell. As a FE, you probably took the easiest course.

Sales Support involved more than phone work. You traveled to the region, doing training courses for new product rollouts, bringing training courses to the field and customer visits. It was a PERSONAL thing, with continued sales revenue depending on serious support and friendships.

The Microwave Division, later the Stanford Park Division had made a decision to assign senior engineers to the Support role. Other divisions sometimes chose the alternative, put brand newly-hired engineers in the support role, serving as a sort of training ground. Bad idea! The reason was that for an FE, time was money--his commission. If the engineer on the division end of the phone could answer technical questions off the top of his head, that division was the hero. Stanford Park had three of the most knowledgeable such senior people, George, who supported the Eastern US, Cliff Jones, the Western US, and Dave Widman, who handled International. Tim Brennan did the Midwest and South, although not nearly as senior as the other three. Tim used to joke that the RSEs at Stanford Park Division had over 80 years of experience at HP and he had 4 of them.

Honestly, with George, Cliff and Dave, we laughed that it was sort of geriatric corps, and at times they could show some signs of curmudgeon-ness. For the irascible Widman, he could be downright snippy when a brand new "2nd Lt." Field Engineer asked a stupid question. Dave would calmly point out that the answer for that simple question would be found on page xx of Application Note YYY.

But for all their personality quirks, they made up for those with rapid and knowledgeable answers, founded in the fact that they had done the same thing for years.

Tim Brennan Remembers

"When you talk about Sales Engineers, there was no one more complete than George Springer. He was the best. Now George did not sell directly to the users of our test equipment. He sold to the engineers who sold the test equipment. To be the best, you had to know your product, understand the field engineer's problem and make it easy for the customer to buy. Combine that with a little humor and can-do attitude and that was George.

I met George on my first day at HP on March 29, 1979. He came over, introduced himself and asked if I had any plans for lunch. I said no, and asked him what time the cafeteria opened. He said, "I'm taking you out for lunch. This is Hewlett Packard. Don't ever forget it." We had a nice lunch and talk down at the Fish Market on El Camino.

When we got back, he took me over to Bill and Dave's office and introduced me to Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard. I immediately thought to myself that this guy is somebody I should learn from. And thus became a great 30 plus years of working and knowing George. I enjoyed listening to all the stories he used to tell about the early HP days and his time on the production line (the 608s I believe.) Everything I learned about the HP Way and work ethics, I got from George.

George was the RSE (Regional Sales Engineer) for the East coast and arrived at work no later than 7:00 AM to take care of "his boys" in the East. They truly loved him. He was treated like a king every time he went back east and was always the focal point when we hosted the annual Senior Sales Seminar. He always went out of his way when the East Coast Neophytes came to Stanford Park, to make them feel welcomed.

George had a few favorite sayings, like "Whaddya got chief?" "Keep it in your knickers," and his famous "brata sock a moolycan," which he sometimes shorted to just "brata sock." I never knew what that meant, but I used to see George with a "Learn to Speak Russian" book on his desk which he kept next to his phone (x 2612).

George was great teacher and would be proud of all the successful careers of the young engineers he influenced, and how well he imparted the HP Way in us. And that, we have in turn, have passed on to our successors. I am honored and privileged to have known him as a friend and mentor. He will always be remembered.

George worked several different jobs on the production lines where he learned the products inside out and got to know everybody, from R&D to shipping. George's experience and personality eventually landed a job as Sales Support role that he enjoyed until he retired on October 31st, 1986. George was a perfect candidate for the Regional Sales Engineer position and the East Coast Region was fortunate enough to have him. His experience on the production line allowed him to answer most technical questions off the top of his head and also be able to explain the answer to the Field Engineer.

From his test line experience, he was good at understanding what the measurement problem was, or at the least, provide the FE the right questions to ask the customer, so as to provide the best solution for him. Often times our product would not do exactly what the customer wanted, but that never stopped George from trying to find a solution and get the order. There was a group called Special Handling, headed by Fritz Kohne, whose job was to take a standard product and modify it to meet the customer's needs. This could be anything from painting an instrument a different color, to tightening up a specification, to vibrating the equipment to make sure it would still meet specifications while on a ship or airplane.

George made it easy for the FEs and customers to do business with HP. He would always get calls about expediting a better delivery. He might get a call on a Tuesday from an FE who would say that he could get an order, but the customer would need it on his dock the following Monday. George's answer most often was, "You get the order. I'll get it delivered." He would go down to the production line and baby sit an HP 8672A through production, over to final test and wheel it down to shipping to ship out FEDEX on Friday to be on the customer's dock by Monday .

Maybe a customer broke a knob on an instrument. No problem, George would "find" one and have it in the mail the same day. That simple action of sending a $2.00 part, and not charge the customer was what made the FE look good in front of his customer and what made George one of the best. At a period when HP 8640s were having a knob breakage problem, he kept a box full under his desk.

Most people will remember George for his smile and making people feel welcome and part of the family. He always took the time to make himself available, whether you were a new employee at the division, a Field Engineer visiting the division for training for the first time or a senior manager.

Stan Brock remembers

George Springer was my factory field support engineer for 10 yrs. and when I became the sales manager, he was one of my field support engineers responsible for the Eastern Sales Region. As a field support engineer for me, while I was a field salesman, he was the best of all the factory support engineers from our 8 factories. George was always pleasant, responsive, resourceful, creative and determined to help you get the order.

One of his successes when I was at the Stanford Park division was to help the Eastern Sale Region close a multi-million-dollar order for microwave power meters. The US Navy needed an accurate power meter that covered a very wide dynamic range; HP required two sensor heads while the competition only required one but with much less accuracy than HP.

George worked with our specials department and created a solution using two sensors each with a different color code and one meter modified to identify which sensor was connected and automatically set the proper ranger from microwatts to watts. The deal was closed because HP had the sensitivity, accuracy and dynamic range required, along with the ease of use for the operator.

On one other occasion for a multimillion dollar order, the customer required multiple water proof microwave attenuator sets. George, again working with the specials department, was creative by suggesting we use one of our standard waveguide housings as a water-tight package. We inserted a standard attenuator and hermetically sealed the ends and added external connectors to meet the requirement. By using standard parts we were able to kept the price below the competition and closed a Multimillion Dollar order for Stanford Park division.

Whenever the field was polled on which division provided the best field support, George was always #1 in the Eastern Region.

Marie Bellas Remembers

Marie Bellas notes that people come and go in our lives, but there are some who make a lasting impression. George Springer was one of those.

George Springer visits Marie in 2009

"When I became Secretary to the Sales Group in HP's Marketing Dept at Stanford Park division, I was returning to a work force after spending many years in the role of housewife and mother. It was in July, 1983 that I became an employee, feeling very lucky to be hired on by the "biggest and best high-tech company in Silicon Valley, HP. And over the next seven years I remained at that job, enjoying my work, meeting many interesting people and making many wonderful new friends. George Springer was one of them!

If ever there was a pleasant person to work with (and for) it was George! Every morning he'd come in with a smile and have something cheerful to say. I always looked forward to the way he'd greet me, and others too, with some new and humorous anecdote that could have rivaled a Johnny Carson monologue!

If ever there was a thoughtful person, that too, was George! It was just a part of his nature to be kind and considerate. And patient, too. Heaven knows, in the beginning I made a number of mistakes.../but he was always there to advise and someone you could count on to lend a helping hand. Helpfulness, good service, and truly caring about people, that's what George was all about!

George retired in 1986, but we still remained close friends and continued to keep in touch. In Sept, 1999, he drove up to visit me. At that time I was living North in Willits, CA, in the heart of Mendocino County. I remember taking out my huge album which held loads of HP photos and memorabilia that I'd collected and saved during my seven years there. We had a great time going through it and reminiscing about our fun-filled days with the old HP crowd.

The years have flown by and it's all split up now. . . .everyone's gone off in a different direction. But memories remain. I was happy that I got to see George one last time before he died. It was in November, 2009 when he and his daughter, Fran paid me a visit in the retirement home where I now live, in San Francisco.

His health was in decline, in a wheelchair, but his spirit remained strong and vibrant. He was a genuinely warm and sincere person, and in losing George, we've all lost a dear friend. We miss him.

After George's death, his daughter, Fran, sent me George's old office telephone. It's hard to remember those days when HP departments had these gigantic multiple lighted push button phones, some with upwards of 30 buttons. This phone still had the cut cable, as if some remodeling person had just gone through and taken the fastest mode to remove it. The buttons for George: 2612, Cliff: 3356, Dave: 3555, Tim: 4409, and myself: 4440 were still annotated.

Tim Brennan noted to me that back in the early eighties, when Stanford Park split, with half going to Spokane, WA, they rearranged all of Building 5 Upper, They moved all the desks, taking down partitions and putting in new phones. They had all the phones piled up in the middle. There must have been 200. Tim went in on a Saturday to specifically get George's phone. It took him about an hour but he finally found it. Tim gave it to me, and I kept it, knowing someday I would give to George when he retired. And that is the story behind the phone."

Gail Heck-Sweeney remembers

"I recall George as the gentle teacher. When I came into the HP marketing department, (not even his group) George was the one who came over and welcomed me. He was the one that asked me to join him for lunch, showed me where the restrooms were, etc. George was the one who sat down and explained the products, handed me volumes of books to read (boring) but most important gave me the "lay of the land," otherwise called the HP way which was alive and well then.

The HP way was expected and was the code of behavior in the work environment. George was the one that would always answer your questions, make a point to introduce you to the field engineers and always made sure you were included. I make this sound like he did this just for me. He made it feel like he did it just for you but he was this way with everyone.

One day at lunch I mentioned I had never been to Bill or Dave's office, so directly from lunch we walked over to their offices. George spoke with one of their admins and there we were, INSIDE Bill & Dave's offices picking up items on their desk, hearing personal stories from their secretary, etc. Today I cannot imagine that happening."

Ann (Elmore) Palmer remembers

"I was the Sales Dept secretary before Marie Bellas. The thing I remember most about George was that he was always smiling and making me laugh. If he saw me try not to laugh, he would work even harder at getting me to laugh. He was also very kind to me as a new HP employee, as he was to everyone who was new. He told me stories of the "old days" and helped me with any questions I had about products or the whole "Neophyte Class" process, which was a really big deal for our Sales Department. He was always well liked and respected by the Neophyte classes as he had such a strong understanding of the products and he never talked down to any of them (or me)."

George's Daughter, Fran Struve, remembers

"When Dad was young, his father signed him up for the navy when he was 17, and stated that his son's birthday was on 10-30-24. So he would look as to be 18 years old. He had problems later with Social Security, where he had to show his birth certificate for this wrong birth date. The Navy sent him to Washington State, Whidbey Island. My Uncle, Clifford, was also in the navy at that time. My mother went out to help his wife, Ruth with their new baby. This is where my Mother met Dad. She worked at the PX and they started dating and the rest is history.

Dad was flying the SB2C planes, as a gunner. He also served as the radioman. He did very well as the radioman, so they sent him to Tennessee, to the naval base near Memphis and he went to Radio School. Then on to Electronic Tech School.

During their flying duties, they went to Guantanamo Bay, and there were five of them who contacted TB, and were sent to a hospital in New York. He had a spot on his lung, but never developed into full TB. The navy decided that he could not continue overseas duty, so they issued him a medical honorable discharge. He chose to go back to Michigan.

Dad started working with a gentleman, Ernie Jenson, who had a television repair place. My dad told him he would work for two weeks for free and if Ernie liked his work he could then hire him. He loved that work, they did all kinds of television repair, and also put in the PA systems in all the schools. Dad asked Ernie, since things were growing so much whether he could be made a partner? Mr. Jenson, to his regret later, said no. So dad moved on to the Flint, MI police department, and was assigned to repair all their dispatch radios, as well as install new radios in the police cars.

At the time, we were going to Catholic school, and someone came to the house looking for a donation. When the man asked my Dad what he did, he mentioned that AC Spark Plug, a division of General Motors was looking for trainers to teach radar operation to pilots. He asked if Dad would be Interested? Well, Dad jumped at the chance, and we moved to Milwaukee, WI. He trained for a year. Then they moved us to Riverside, CA, to teach bomb site radar to pilots at March Air Force Base. My uncle Clifford Edginton, was also retired from the Navy, was living in Palo Alto, and working for HP.

Cliff urged Dad to apply for electronic tech work with HP? They hired him on the spot, and wrote out a check to move us to Palo Alto. We stayed for a few weeks with my aunt and uncle and then Dad found a place to rent. After a year, he bought a nice home for us, in Palo Alto off Greer Road. And the rest is of his HP History was under way.

Oh one small thing. Dad saved the HP check they wrote him for moving and my uncles came and packed us up and moved us up to Palo Alto. My dad always was very frugal.

My dad always said that he loved working at HP. They had a no layoff policy. We always loved the summer picnics, with Mr. Packard flipping the steaks, with salad and beans. All the ice cream and popsicles you could eat. Lots of soda's. Plenty of beer for the guys.... I am sure it was a great time to work for HP. He loved the Navy, and Hewlett Packard was to him a dream come true.

The Welcome George Banner

When the Field Force asked for a favor, George got it done, even Bill & Dave's signatures.

And then there was the famous "Welcome George" banner, signed by Bill and Dave. The story is a bit hazy now, but, George was back in the East at an area meeting, or regional end-of-the-year bash or New Product Training session. The guys in the East made that banner, welcoming George. At about the same time the sales guys in the East, can't recall their names, but they were probably out of Rockville, and were working on a big Navy contract for the HP 8640s. At the wager event, alcohol may have been involved, and all facts were not disclosed. But the wager came down to that if George could get Bill and Dave to sign the scroll, or pose for a picture with it, they would sell 1000 HP 8640 signal generators that year.

As George told it, he suspected that they already, in essence, had the order in hand, and it was for over 1000. So George brought the sign back, went to Bill and Dave, and once they heard about the order they were more than happy to not only sign it but get a picture. The rest was history. I'm sure George knew that he would have no problem getting the picture.

This made George a hero in the Field eyes, because as part of gaining those two signatures, Bill and Dave were made aware of the significant big deal that their field office had closed. It never hurts to have the top management know that you're doing a good job. You can bet that Bill or Dave would surely have mentioned the event the next time that they were at a cocktail party, when the Eastern Region Top Management was present. It just worked that way.


Taps for George
"From Anchors Aweigh to the HP Way"

George Springer died on May 1, 2011, after a long illness, at a hospital in Stockton. George was a Regional Sales Engineer at the Stanford Park Division before his retirement in 1986. Burial and memorial services were June 17, 2:30pm, at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, CA. George was a U.S. Navy seaman before joining Hewlett-Packard in 1957. His Lifelong passions included golfing and collecting antique banks. He was a member of the United States Fleet Reserve and the American Legion.

George's daughter, Fran Struve, sent this picture of his headstone. It was a fitting denouement to a great sales engineer career. The HP Field Force LOVED George. The epitaph was perfect.

When you stand in a National Cemetery, the feeling is sobering and inspiring at the same time. Some of the men and women died in combat, some of natural causes. But all stood up and served their country. And I think I speak for all, that national service influenced the rest of our lives.



-- John Minck






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