|Ed Ulrich (sitting), shows off a BWO sweeper to Bill Terry, John Minck and John Young, circa 1963
Measure Magazine, May - June 1983
A VERY YOUNG John Minck
|We host the U.S. Sales Representatives once a year,
at quota setting time. Measure Magazine, Sep. 1990
Production Manager Kaaren Marquez
In any high tech career spanning 37 years, it is almost axiomatic that there will be some memo record of the internal operations of the company involved. So it was with me, and I was never hesitant to speak up to upper management when I perceived a problem looking for a solution. So, here for your amusement are a series of Minck Memos which took issue with multiple topics. At some point you might think that I was auditioning for curmudgeon of the year, or hoping to replace Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame.
I had joined the company in 1958 at the same time and worked closely with dozens of people who had moved up to higher level management through the decades. For example, I reported directly to John Young for 8 years, and felt comfortable sending up notes and suggestions of HP operations. Bill Terry was a contemporary, and so many others were personal friends whom I felt comfortable in writing to with some fairly critical issues. I was not close to Dave and Bill personally, since they were a generation older, but knew them well enough to write memos occasionally. Quite a lot of my working experience was compiled into my formal "Narrative History of Hewlett-Packard," which is presented elsewhere in this HP Memory archive.
During a lot of my years, HP office practice rules were enforced to maintain ONLY written business records which were specifically needed for audit and legal reasons. All the rest were to be destroyed regularly after a certain period of retrieval storage. But my complex personality had some obsessions for pack-rat tendencies, and so when my various secretaries were ready to send off correspondence for shredding, I would simply take it home and put it in another storage box. I recall that I had visions of retirement, that on a sunny afternoon, I would bring the boxes into my back yard and go through those years of activities and not just re-live some of those good times, but then destroy all the unwanted ones. Well, those backyard sessions never happened and so a good number of Minck's Memos remained for our amusement today.
I have selected some of the more amusing and significant memos below, wrote appropriate titles and provided a short synopsis overview of the content of each. If any one strikes your interest, just click the reference for the complete pdf file of the memo. They are in a more or less chronological sequence, identified by the approximate year.
This is a memo I re-wrote in 2011, remembering a proposal I wrote to Noel Eldred, V.P. Of Marketing, back in about 1970, to establish a plan to identify brand new BSEEs before graduating from college. The idea was to try to track their mailing addresses as they moved up in their new companies and became purchasers of test equipment.
As the magnificent Apollo Program which landed men on the moon was winding down, it looked like much of that huge and talented technology team would just slowly dissipate into the industry. These were the teams which created the worldwide communications antennas and signal links to control those week-long missions, and needed to be all around the earth to keep the moon always in sight. The computer programming was SO complex because of the need for precision in locating the vehicles, rendezvousing, recovery, supporting with ground resources, etc. At the same time, government agencies like the FAA were in turmoil trying to figure out how to upgrade ancient national air space flight control systems, both hardware and software. I wrote to Packard in the DOD to ask whether there was any way the administration could move entire teams of NASA engineers to FAA? His answer was basically no.
HP's growth was heavily dependent on microwave signal generators, which primarily consisted of a tunable Klystron oscillator and pulsed or square-wave modulation. These worked great for radar test applications and some receiver and component trouble shooting. Not very good for microwave communications systems, which got well covered by the UK specialized test equipment, such as channel linearity testers. But by the 1970s, the design strategy of radars were turning to complex phase modulations to defeat electronic countermeasures. The microwave communications systems were already moving to phase modulations to handle the digital formats in the hundreds of megabits/sec. I was discovering this in my contacts with customers in the NCSLI organization and at microwave trade shows. So I summarized these trends with a proposal to change the whole block diagram approach to signal generators.
Tek had introduced a modular instrument series concept which featured a common power supply and signal bus structure in a modular cabinet. It was quite popular, and HP had nothing similar. We did have one instrument from Loveland, the 3550 audio test set, which did use a modular packaging, but was not expandable or even conceived to package more than those three instruments included in the package. My memo was a try for someone to catch up to Tek. Ultimately HP did come up with VXI and other MMS modular microwave systems which were quite high performance.
In my travels, I tended to see places where standard literature practices and processes just weren't working well, and I found that the reason was that literature clerks in the field usually simply did what their predecessor did before them. This resulted in sub-optimum storage of expensive literature in hundreds of field office shelves. Since the various pieces of literature changed often, huge amounts of the old stuff was simply thrown out. This was an attempt to get someone to fix it. With the advent of the Internet, these kinds of inefficiencies are long gone.
During my year as National President of the National Conference of Standards Labs in 1976-7, I was doing a lot of cheerleading for the U.S. National Bureau of Standards because of their meager budgets which were totally insufficient for all their new Congressional mandates. That amazing government organization had a HUGE constituency for a concept called the National Measurement System. I wrote an overview of my concept of their global worth, and got this article published but I can't recall which trade magazine published it.
The Editor of the internal NBS employee magazine asked me to write an article on the crucial importance of their organization to the nation. As President of a global trade group, I was pleased to do that.
More cheerleading for the NBS budgets. Through my media contacts (Electronics Magazine) with McGraw Hill Publications, who published the biggest U.S. business weekly, Business Week, I got one of their reporters to investigate and produce this fine overview of the funding crisis.
More than once, I would be talking with a customer at a trade show or perhaps when visiting with a Field Engineer in the customer's office. They would be old enough to be perhaps 5-10 years out of college, and senior enough in their company that they were buying a LOT of HP stuff, or responsible for truly big contracts. And then they might casually mention that some years ago, when they were college seniors, that they interviewed HP for an engineering job, AND WERE TURNED DOWN. Talk about AWKWARD moments, I could only say, "Gee, I'm sorry, I can only imagine how hard that was." In my own case, it was Korean War time, and I think most of us graduates had 20 interviews and 20 offers. In this case, I found that our written letters which carried the REJECTION note were, I thought, quite bland and off-putting, and even hurtful. Further, to try to offer something helpful, I recommended that we re-write our turn-down letters to try to give the new engineer some measurement applications tutorials in his first job.
There I was, preaching to the employees, through Jay Coleman, the excellent Editor of Measure Magazine, the well-respected employee newsletter. Jay was a good friend, and I used to see him years after I retired when I roamed through the headquarters with my gold badge. He was willing to try some of my pushy ideas in his newsletter. In this case, my subject was turned into a full page monograph, to sensitize our factory folks with the facts that our very pay checks depended on the hard work EVERY DAY of our Field Sales Engineers and their support folks in the sales offices. I still have, attached to these sheets of hard copy memos, about a dozen emails I got from field engineers who sent their appreciation that SOMEONE was recognizing their hard work in a business recession. I didn't bother to scan those kudo messages, I knew most of them were pleased that someone cared.
As success comes to a large company like HP, managers and employees get complacent and to some extent insensitive to the fact that their paychecks and even their own success is the result of thousands of individual orders from everywhere. I never missed a chance to try to reinforce that attitude with the highest level managers so that they would become evangelists in preaching those principles. I did this kind of memo because people at Bob Boniface's V.P. level had many great speaking opportunities to make these important points to all our employees.
There is an innate human trait that says when a marketing or sales person comes into an HP booth or a microwave symposium of mixed HP people and HP customers, that it is far easier to go up and talk with an old HP friend. This is especially true if it is a middle manager who you haven't seen for a time, and you can get his ear for 15 minutes. It was a never ending issue to fight that tendency by pushing managers to oversee their people, and to talk with HP customers, which, after all, was the main reason we spent large amounts of money to establish the show or seminar.
On this memo, I just unloaded on Dick Anderson. I had known Dick since we worked together in the Microwave Division in the 1960s. He moved through several other divisions and came back to a Corporate Engineering job. Stanford Park had undergone major disruptions with the spin-off of the Spokane Division and the integration of the Manufacturing Division back into SPD. These kinds of moves involve HUNDREDS of people, their family lives, house moves, or job relocations. All of that causes serious heart burn for managers like Rod Carlson and his staff who take all these employee turmoil decisions personally and humanely.
In my career, I decided to join several customer trade groups: NCSLI, the metrology standards organization, AOC the Association of Old Crows, an electronic warfare group, very active here in the Bay Area with many EW manufacturers, and AFCEA, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a high-level organization with members from the top military communications commands as well as the top manufacturers, like Collins and TRW, big on satellite comms. Many local members came from the USAF Blue Cube Satellite Control Facility at the Sunnyvale Air Force Station. In these informal meetings I was able to talk with many of the systems engineers who were at the forefront of military system strategies. As a result, I often came up with ideas for new HP product designs and performance, and new system technologies which would require new instrumentation in a year or two. In this case, I was trying out the military idea of synthetic video on Barney?
My attempt to convince factory functional management of inviting Field Managers to come in from the cold and tell our factory people what they needed to succeed in customer sales.
A long memo of advice to HP managers to take a MUCH MORE active role in making customer contacts. This included strong cheerleading for HP managers to join industry trade organizations to widen their knowledge of customer and industrial practices. In spite of strong talk from the top executive level for community involvement, HP's middle management never really supported much employee membership in outside organizations. Almost never did it result in better pay or promotions, sadly.
Long before the Addison Street house and garage was declared a California State landmark, and Carly's HP bought the site, to upgrade those buildings, I had a "bright" idea of moving that garage plus the Polly & Jake garage and the Quonset hut over to the backlot of the Page Mill complex. There was plenty of room, and those buildings had a certain amount of HP history. On my proposal memo to Dave and Bill, Bill responded with, "don't think it is worth the effort." And Dave was even more dismissive, he told me verbally that he had no interest in those old things, although he did say he would not object if I wanted to organize and solicit funding to do it myself. I thought for a time of trying to solicit funding from some of the older engineers who had actually worked in the Quonset hut, and had received significant stock options recognizing their contributions. I figured that maybe $100K would be sufficient, probably more.
One of the most obvious quality features of HP equipment, when looking inside, was that the printed circuit boards were always gold plated, so they just almost sparkled when light shined on them. It was more than appearance, the gold flash coating made wave soldering perfect, and it prevented plain copper from tarnishing with the elements. In a cost cutting move, a new process depended on SMOBC, Solder-Mask-Over-Bare-Copper. Meaning that an organic coating was silk-screened over the board before loading with components and running through the wave solder machine. But there were field reports that those SMOBC boards had reliability problems, which I soon named a ticking timebomb, and sent up a flag memo. I can't remember now just how this ended, but I hated to see the gold process go away because at least for all our military and aerospace customers, they depended on certain quality and reliability.
I'm beginning to sound like the Chief Curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, bitching about answering your phone.
Actually I like auditors. I fully understand their purpose and their usual sensitive approach to looking down from on high at the current state of practices and processes. It assures that we are following OUR OWN rules as well as the legal and governmental ones. But I guess I felt that sometimes they get out of hand.
I don't remember the reason or the request, but here is a listing of HP measurement technology contributions for the RF and microwave product lines, going way back to the middle 1950s. Dean Abramson wrote one list and I wrote another.
I was pretty angry at the general treatment and status of our professional women engineers in the T&M group. In our OLD microwave division, things were worse, and I called this to the attention of Group Manager, Bill Terry, a very old friend. Bill and I signed on at HP in 1958, and knew each other well. But I felt that he needed to be MUCH MORE activist in laying out FIRM expectations for mentoring women engineers in a male dominated culture of the microwave industry.
You can tell from one memo or another that I was not much of a fan of some of the Group-level media advertising. It was more than just we old timer Marcom farts in the divisions who used to run our own show, work with our own ad agencies and decide where and when to buy ad space, albeit with tiny budgets. At least we controlled it. But then came Gil Reeser and Carol Schiefle who assumed all of our budgets into the Group campaigns. They fired our old ad agencies and hired the agency which had done HP computers (Saatchi) and had been displaced by an even bigger agency now doing HP computers. What did they know about instruments? After quite a long delay, they produced a 6-page foldout ad that covered some 10 new products, with about 8 column inches each, and which came to be called the "William Tell Ad." The title, "Close only counts in horseshoes and slow-dancing." Yep that will sell instruments.
More advice for HP managers to watch carefully how we treat customers when they are intermingled with HP people at shows and seminars.
This was my tongue-in-cheek review of the national importance of all aspects of the NIST tasks and mandates. The idea was that if the two campuses of NIST disappeared tomorrow, there would be national and international hell to pay. From weights and measures to global timekeeping and huge national research into material science, measurement technology, fire technology and equity in trade, they are simply one of our most vital government operations and almost NO ONE knows about it.
By 1987, I had worked several decades with ad agencies and bought a lot of ad space. Being an engineer, and talking with other engineers, I felt I had accumulated some important principles for the ad content of HP type products. I also paid a lot of attention to ad testing and surveys of similar content. And in my roles with the Metrology Trade Association, NCSLI, I had the continuing opportunity to talk with real customers, who we called the "gatekeepers" in most aerospace companies when purchasing lists of test equipment.
When I started in HP marketing, it was common practice among a few of the marketeers to use trade shows as a place to go in early in the morning before anyone was on the scene, go to a competitors booth and look behind a competitive product that might be a year old and read the serial number. Since almost all manufacturers used the same practice of sequential serial numbers, this could suggest an annual sales rate. I never felt that using a show venue to peek at serial numbers in another booth was ethical. Perhaps it was OK when in a good customer's lab, where you might ask if it was OK to look?
The massive acceptance of the HP-IB programming bus, used to automate almost all our new instruments with a desktop calculator was terrific. And yet, many customers were using the programmable systems to automate their production testing, and in ALL those cases, they absolutely DID NOT WANT any keyboard access to the HP desktop calculator software by test line personnel. So we were pleading with Negrete at the Fort Collins Division to create a desktop computer with only a simple front panel with minimal operating controls, and certainly no keyboard. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, no doubt they were selling almost more than they could already make, and didn't want that product concept. Pity.
This was essentially a tutorial for our marketing department defining and comparing the various way we could spend our precious (and small) Marcom budget. We were always hiring new young engineers and they were thrown right into the team efforts to write application notes or data sheets or write sales plans, etc. So I tried to take time regularly to teach them what our management decisions meant in choosing the various methods of getting our new product and new applications information out to customers.
This memo to Corporate Marketing Manager Dick Alberding takes on some pretty sacred cows in agency work with corporate HP. It was a little sobering to get a call from Dick who took me to lunch with his Ad guy, who arrived with an armload of binders to try to convince me that "What-if?" was a seriously good program. I was underwhelmed.
I'll be honest. I cannot remember this skit script which memorialized the 50th Anniversary of the HP Co. Although my name shows as the actor for Dave Packard, who with Norm Neely is visiting the Walt Disney studios to sell an HP oscillator. But I think it is pretty well done. I simply don't remember when or where, but it must have been 1989, the year of the 50th.
I was encouraging John Young to read a fascinating book on American Xerox corporation's actions in the laser copier competition. Xerox invented the technology, and did all right for a time, but Japan ultimately overwhelmed the U.S.
This wasn't a Minck Memo, but it was the basis of one of my critiques. These several years were known as the "Packard Returns" period, where, in spite of his age, he and Bill began poking around the corporation and causing some consternation among HP management. It was a lecture he gave to a top manager review meeting, and upon reading the transcript, I sent him a note commenting on several his points. See the next memo.
I've got to say that I was dumfounded when I got a note back from Packard which was a routing note to John Young AND THE ENTIRE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. Well, I didn't get fired, but I did get a followup note from John Young. See the next memo, Packard Returns Young.
Luckily I had worked for John Young directly during the 1962 to 1969 period, so he knew my compulsiveness to speak up. But I know this one caused him some heartburn. In the long run, Packard treated him pretty badly at the end of his great career. We need to remember that John took the company from about $1.6 billion to about $14 billion in just 15 years, IN THE FACE of some of the most complex computer technology issues of that time period. I was pleased that Chuck House, in his book HP Phenomenon, finally gave John Young the enormous credit he deserved for his HP career.
It seemed that in my later decades at HP, I was regularly pushing the concept that women belonged in management, even in our high-tech microwave business which had very few of them. When Cathi Merigold applied to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I was pleased to recommend her highly, as this letter shows. After her graduation several years later, she decided to move into Venture Capital, ultimately starting Vista Ventures, of Boulder, CO. To prove my point, several years ago, Cathi sold several of her venture companies, one for $360 million and another for $180 million. Nice job Cathi.
This was a novel process that was set up in the SPD Marketing Dept in the late 1980s, whereby each person, whether in Product Marketing, Sales, Service, Marcom, Pubs, or Admin, wrote up a single page report once a week. They were compiled and copied for everyone else to read. You weren't obligated to actually write one each week, and yet on a regular basis we would get 8 to 10 of the reports, and since they were short, concise and also contained that little "What's Interesting" paragraph at the end, they were well read, and kept the department current across the board.
Taking advantage of my personal friendship with Ned Barnholt (who worked for me in the mid 1960s) I make a lot of suggestions on our marketing operating practices. A bit impertinent too, although it had to be said.
This memo to Dick Alberding took on the relentless growth of corporate services which then increased what we in the divisions referred to as our corporate “tax.”
NCSLI supported a specialized sector of technology - test and measurement metrology - and the highest level of standards of measurement. These were the ultimate primary standards, which stood at the pinnacle of each country's measurement system. They made sure that weights and measures were correct, that different pieces of a satellite would fit together, when manufactured at different locations and assembled in another. They also supported 5 or 6 (smaller) colleges which maintained curricula for those specialized subjects of metrology and standards. In general those schools didn't qualify for the formal HP corporate school donation program which focused on universities where we recruited heavily.
Once, when looking over a storage room at HP, which held hundreds of surplus pieces of test equipment, I realized that those under-funded schools could probably get good use out of that old equipment. Those equipments were usually sold at an employee auction every 6 months or so. I felt that even though it was "old" for HP use, it was really "new" for schools, if I could get it to them. I was able to convince Division Manager, Rod Carlson, to pay for the freight. I worked with Judy (Miller) Silva, who was in charge of asset administration and the auctions, to set up our donation process. This required legal paperwork to transfer title from HP to the school, with proper waiver of liability, and was not trivial, especially since we also had to assure that the schools didn't turn around and re-sell the stuff. The upshot was that I probably was able to transfer 200 items over some years, and help two or three schools and their students learn about real life test products.
One of my letters to the Editor of Electronic Business, an important trade magazine, with criticism of the unbalanced trade practices with Japan, non-tariff barriers, etc. With a personal note from Bill Terry. Bill was amazing, I think he must have personally read 20 trade magazines regularly, and his little “Nice job” notes were famous.
With such a broad product line and perhaps 12 instrument divisions, the marketing communications problem of reaching real customers with all of our technical information was not trivial. We had Corporate Measurement News, a bi-monthly, which ran 60,000 copies in each Electronic Design and Electronics. M/N also had a direct mail list of some 200,000 names. And yet its size still limited the total number of individual products that could get published. So, some of us in the RF/MW product areas, including Dean Abramson (SRD), Al Thorne (SCD), Jan Whitacre (SPK) and QTD created a new quarterly newsletter which was conceived as a “Kiplinger Letter” format, with short informational paragraphs along with a small product pix. We called it WAVELENGTH, and arranged its distribution by bulking copies out to Field Offices where each one of the regions maintained a microwave mailing list. They used it as a basic document to combine with other useful stuff to their customers. One of its main objectives was to encourage ordering of application and product literature. It was highly successful but later ran into higher management objections.
There was a time when mailing a 8 x 10 photograph to one of our international field offices in certain countries WITHOUT A CUSTOMS DECLARATION actually got HP fined for illegal customs entry. Turns out that any “merchandise” like a computer disk or trinket like a ball point pen or b/w photo needed a customs document. Which led to an edict from corporate that every such thing needed to have a shipping paper prepared, at some cost. Further, once I visited one of our major freight forwarders at SF Airport, and noticed one of these tiny mailing envelopes sitting alongside a consolidated air shipment which was wrapped with those diamond-shaped rope slings that was about an 8-foot cube. At that point I couldn't see any advantage in our edict that regular mail should be mixed with freight. But it was. I finally took to just slapping a customs greenie sticker on such mail envelopes and taking them to my local post office, and got petty cash to pay for them. As the Internet came into being, all that problem disappeared.
I wrote a lot of letters to our established employee publications like Measure Magazine, to try to reach the entire HP population with general suggestions. Remarkably, those editors were pretty good to me and published more than my fair share.
This full-page cheerleading letter in Measure got a terrific response from friends who were Field Engineers, and appreciated that we in the factories acknowledging their hard work in tough times.
This long handout was part of my introductory talk to the New Field Engineer Training Seminar, over at the Page Mill Hill facility. It was aimed at informing these brand new sales people of the VAST information resources they had available to serve themselves and their customers. Interestingly, attached to this general overview was another long treatise which became the popular, “Everything you wanted to know about Microwave Things, without having to become too familiar with James Clerk Maxwell.” You can find its reference here.
Every new HP Field Engineer hired would come to the Palo Alto Training Center (Page Mill Hill) for a 3-week company "Neophyte" orientation seminar. (I always hated that title, applied to graduate engineers, some with senior design experience.) You can imagine with hundreds of products and dozens of technologies, that it was a jam-packed time. I was often invited over from my Bldg 5 to present some general orientation papers. One of these presentations had the above title, as it was written soon after the popular book, "Everything you wanted to know about Sex, but were afraid to ask." Microwave technology is hardly sexy, but this paper turned out to be a popular session.
Another generic orientation paper I presented to the Neophytes was a review of how Radio Frequencies and Microwave spectrum was assigned by the FCC and the global communication authorities. Applications from basic home radio to the most complex radar systems were overviewed. The intent was to show how our HP product line had such a wide variety of uses, and that those Field Engineers were going to enjoy an interesting and challenging career selling into those businesses. I also used this seminar paper to orient our new division personnel.