LARRY JOHNSON DIED, March 22, 2014
The last couple of years, 4 old HP retirees, Bob DeVries, John Borgstedt, Larry Johnson and John Minck have met for breakfast every two weeks. It was an opportunity to laugh about all those wonder years in the Golden Age of High Tech. It was also when John found out about Larry's article about how his Bendix project to contract for an automated missile test system led him to be hired by HP, and his move to California. This is the article.
John remembers Larry for his major contribution of creating the HP Preferred Parts Catalog. He ran the Materials Engineering under Hank Taylor. The objective was to reduce drastically the number of different values of components like resistors and transistors and nuts and bolts, tens of thousands of them. By limiting the available shelf stock in the Lab storeroom, all the engineers would design their circuits with preferred parts. Before computer data bases of parts, this catalog printout was at least 2 inches thick.
Hank Taylor remembers his working time with Larry. Hank was promoted to run the Purchasing Dept, and had approval from Dave Packard to "shake up" a group of buyers who had become too close to vendors and suppliers. Hank reasoned that since HP production requirement purchases were virtually the same month to month, that the main function he needed was technical experts for each class of components that HP bought by the millions. The only function that purchasing needed to do was to take the forecasted quantities and place orders which became almost automatic.
With Hank as HP's Materials Manager, Larry supervised a group of very skilled Materials Engineers, about a dozen. He was a brilliant engineer and knew everything about semi-conductors. With some effort, we pulled together company-wide usage information from all of HP's world factories (Europe, Asia, Americas). We were already well along in defining a "preferred parts list" which Larry's people created, to minimize the out-of-control use of special values of the same component.
Larry's team made sure all compatible usage was correctly bundled together and then negotiated worldwide purchasing contracts at very reduced prices because we offered very large quantity production runs to the manufacturers. Each of his Materials Engineers was assigned a specific list of purchased parts, and became the company expert in those technologies--Larry's was semiconductors. Larry led his whole team in perfecting that new process for me, and the total result was to lower HP's manufacturing costs by many millions of dollars. In this process Larry worked hard and put in long hours.
He was a person that I and the company could depend on to be correct in his judgments. Although at the same time he was very direct and didn't suffer fools. He thus sometimes ruffled feathers, but you couldn't hardly ever prove him wrong and his great technical knowledge and respect smoothed the waters.
I was privileged to work with him and those he supervised so skillfully.
Click HERE for Larry's obituary.
After graduating from Carnegie Tech in 1948, I spent a few years as a Research Assistant in the Carnegie Nuclear Center. Then in 1952, I went to work at the Bendix York (PA) Division in their Talos surface-to-air missile division. I was assigned to the radar simulator project which is where I worked on electronic test. After extended negotiations, I was able to talk HP into building a custom radar test system. In connection with that rather large project, I got to meet and know quite a range of HP people, from Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, onward through Ralph Lee, Pete Lacy, George Mathers, and Howard Poulter. Needless to say, I was very impressed. And Bendix York Division was very fortunate that HP - whose lifeblood was a standard off-the-shelf line of electronic test equipment - was willing to undertake a serious deviation in the form of a fairly large complicated custom microwave test system.
So it happened that I met and got to know lots of very sharp HP guys, and they got to know me. Around the time when the project was nearly finished, my dear first wife Isabel - a Pennsylvania girl whom I had met and married when she was secretary to Dr. Ed Creutz, boss of Carnegie Tech's cyclotron project - died from the after-effects of cancer surgery. So there I was - heart-broken and kind of foot-loose, and looking for a change. Why not ask Dave Packard for a job? I said to myself, he must have a fair idea of what kind of guy I am - and I knew that California was a great place based on the WWII military service time I spent at the Presidio 6th Army Headquarters. My Army tour interrupted the Carnegie BSEE and MSEE degrees. That Army time also included six months at Stanford studying electrical engineering. So one thing led to another; letters were exchanged, and I made an interview trip to Palo Alto over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1956.
After the interview there came a job offer, and by the middle of January I was on my way to Palo Alto. For about a year I worked in the engineering lab on microwave and oscilloscope stuff (my first workbench was in 8U right across the aisle from Russ Riley's). After a bit of work under Norm Schrock on one of HP's first oscilloscopes - the HP 150A - I was put in charge of the Bldg 8 plant's test department. One of my first chores was to recruit technically smart guys for that test group - the idea being that the about-to-be-introduced oscilloscope product line was going to necessitate expansion in the test area. I was told, "OK, Johnson, go out and recruit some guys. We'll place ads in the Denver and Chicago newspapers, and you'll go out and interview the promising responders."
We got responses, and I said, "OK, I can type so I'll do the letters to the guys I want to interview." "No way, just have that new gal who works for Eileen Dugan do the letters." "OK", I said, and it worked out just fine. Well the interviews worked, the job offers worked, and I took that new gal out to lunch. One thing led to another, and pretty soon we were planning a wedding and buying our first house.
And that's how Esther and I got together. We had 50+ wonderful years together, lived in three houses while we produced two wonderful children, who in turn have produced five wonderful grandkids (one of whom is now wearing funny white clothes in his Plebe year at Annapolis). Esther died in Oct, 2011.