There I was at the IBM Centennial on 16 June 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Quite the achievement to have begun prior to the First World War remaining a well established brand in Barack Obama’s presidency. I believe that IBM is among our national treasures if not for its potential and if only for its heroic contributions to our country over the past ten decades. As with all champions, within its strength lies the seeds of its demise as it wrestles with the unsettling premonitions of the prevailing global economy. There is certainly much to admire in its people as there is much reason for concern as its own customers struggle mightily in adapting to and adopting the changes wrought by technology, particularly the speed at which markets gather information and make their own decisions. In my own professional lifetime, the corporation journeyed from market advantage by virtue of its access to business machines of various sizes and designs, typewriters to computers, office buildings and medical benefits, to the present where its seems that the average business enterprise struggles to understand the popular tools readily accessed by its customers, and even, employees, which are often superior to those provided at work.

The luncheon on the 100th recalled my first encounter with IBM. I was a customer in the Material Control Department of Bath Iron Works, circa 1984. We successfully upgraded our mainframe, from DOS to MVS as I recall, and implemented a suite of packaged software that was the rage of consultants at the time, MRPII. My role within the Department expanded to include traveling around talking to clients and partners, especially the Navy and Littons Industries, our construction partner, about the lessons-learned of our project. After a while, I thought that maybe I had a chance to apply for a position with IBM as wearing a nice suit seemed preferable to work boots and winters in the shipyard. I arranged for an interview with the Branch Manager in Portland, Maine (Branch Offices and their Managers were the fiefdoms and lords of its marketplace empire in those days. Today, nearly 50{915b2618a7c304f461205894c34b2284541042d3c677679407e2f30838792dcd} of the 425,000 international employees work from home). I dressed-up, drove to Portland after hours. I remember the time of day because every single desk in the Branch was cleared and locked with numerous signs reminding employees to clear their desks and to lock the contents. Entered Wally’s office; we met a couple of times before. Look on his face told me that this was a courtesy interview and not an inspection of my potential contribution to his company. We chatted politely and briefly, very briefly. He began with the opener as I recall, ‘so it seems that you’re interested in working for IBM.’ ‘Yes!’ I nearly exclaimed as I seized the chance to describe how my MRPII experience might suit me well for a role in sales or systems engineering. He nodded and related a personal story of how competitive was the prevailing computer marketplace where customers sought the low-cost provider more than the very best solution. Loooong pause with head nodding; eye contact; staring; me nodding; me staring. ‘You know,” he continued, ‘I have a friend who makes $150,000.00 selling shoes to department stores around New England. There are lots of ways to make money.’ Me nodding, me staring in absolute bewilderment at that remark. Wally rose, offered a handshake and thanked me for coming over. ‘See you around the shipyard,’ he said.

I guess that is really the tale of how I ended-up in North Carolina and spent most of fifteen years in software start-ups of one type or another. Not finding a sales job in Maine gave my wife a chance to study landscape architecture in North Carolina where the move south suited us both.

As I looked around the cafeteria on Thursday’s Centennial after the multitudes side-stepped through the bbq chow-line, I wondered how many of those present, especially the 600+ retirees, sat in a Branch Office. Many, I surmised. Even though we were connected by the path of IBM’s 100 year journey, I recognized that in some curious and necessary way, IBM probably has changed more since 1984 than I have. At any rate, despite the very casual attire for the occasion, out of respect for the moment and my amazement at my inclusion (when I really think about it), I wore my best suit with my best pair of shoes, Wally.

Reflections on the Pennsylvania US Senate election campaign of 2010.

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Lesson #1. Repeat after me, “every vote matters.” As chaotic, unsavory, touching, inspiring, defeating, even ridiculous that the process or charade or Coliseum-like spectacle of aspiring to be elected to public service seems to entail, at the very end of the loop, “every vote matters.” This key is akin to Dorothy’s ruby shoes as she learned from Glinda, ” You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.”

During my ten days as the campaign interloper – and no threat to either Hunter Thompson or to Theodore White- I observed that just getting involved matters, benefits and enlightens. Lesson #2 “just get involved.” Stripping away the veneer of the campaigning process, an apt term, I was exhausted and strengthened by the insight into the scale of our nation’s problems which are genuine and complex. Whether in West or North or South Philly, whether amidst lovely row homes or nodding good morning to the early boozers, the commonality of the wide range of Philly neighborhoods is that we all want basically the same things: a home in a safe neighborhood, reliable work, the promise of an improved life for those we love.

But the lies are insidious which are told to achieve some related agreement which might accomplish these goals. And these untruths are not individual but systemic. It is well beyond the degrading ads on broadcast tv which degrade viewer and composer alike. I was irritated that my lunch during the NFL game was punctuated by costly advertisements describing Joe Sestak, my candidate, as a untrustworthy, wasteful, LIBERAL enemy of the Republic (my take on the ad). Joe spent 31 years in our Navy achieving the rank of three star admiral. Not any admiral could be so described. The ad was like a sudden tantrum at the day-care center. Everyone present has to pay attention, understanding the nature of the outburst, hoping that a responsible adult will quiet the interruption as soon as possible so that we may all get back to the matter at hand. I’ll tell you what did work: scaring seniors about their health care benefit. And this was achieved via snail mailings and phone calls more than televised hysteria. I had a premonition for this issue as my journey from Durham to Philadelphia began. Boarding my flight first were seven wheelchairs of senior citizens. Quite the parade on a Sunday morning!

In the end, visits by President Obama, President Clinton and by Mrs. Obama, all to universities, failed to rally the students. And this is a lesson-learned by the Democratic Party’s adult handlers. The President won in 2008 due in large measure to the turn-out of that generation which wears those ear-buds connected to those iPods. Moveon.org attracted tens of millions of them. To the Party’s permanent regret, this volunteer army was all but ignored in the governing process of the past two years (another accepted feint of the political process: that those who get us there somehow don’t matter as much once that There is achieved). Governor Rendell, BFF of Christy below, projected that if Philadelphia turned-out 38{915b2618a7c304f461205894c34b2284541042d3c677679407e2f30838792dcd} of the Democratic vote (Dems out-number Republicans by one million in the state with the concentration being in Philly and Pittsburgh) that Joe would win the seat. The African American community produced a 40{915b2618a7c304f461205894c34b2284541042d3c677679407e2f30838792dcd} turn-out in Philadelphia. I heard the reason described by two women in West Philly on election day morning as, “those other people are mad! If they win, they are going to turn it back to what it was.”

Too little, too late. Even with the Presidential family and the former President trying to re-rally the students at Cheyney, Penn and Temple, our campaign canvassers could not get them to ‘take the earbuds of their heads’ in the words of one. Ultimately, the red zones of Pennsylvania were more inspired for change than the handful of blue districts (Democratic) were able to repair the Pelosi-Reid breech of the past two years.

Big victory by the guys and girls who, in large measure, got us into this economic mess. And with plenty of active support and equally active neglect by the other team’s guys and girls. Full disclosure: I’m a registered Independent and more Republican than Democratic in my political views. I vote for whom I think is the most trustworthy candidate which is why I fully supported Joe Sestak’s campaign. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of older posts, I am impressed how the Katrina disaster of my hometown of New Orleans was/is such a premonition of the circumstances and fates that await and reveal themselves for our nation at large. It takes a lot of cooperation to build a housing bubble fueling a financial bubble; it takes plenty of neglect to promise unfunded healthcare to a population which doesn’t really take its individual healthcare that seriously. So, here we are. A long list of long-term challenges (politely expressed). Step one is to re-arrange the deck chairs on the listing ship per Pennsylvania.

And there is the option of a bright future for us all. Yes, indeed. Because at some point, we’ll meander through the phases of shock, denial and anger and admit quietly to ourselves that the way forward or up or out is to get together and to get involved. This is where my #1 lesson will come into play.

IMG_1360 Christy Brinkley at age 56! An equally attractive and much younger friend commented ‘she’s (CB) made a pact with the devil.’ For those keeping score at home, Governor Ed Rendell, her host, is on her left.

IMG_1344 Even in noisy gymnasium – he did not speak in the Music Center at Cheyney University- the former President was the master of the moment both in substance and style.

IMG_1376 Picture of Allison Building on Rittenhouse Square from my taxi cab window as I left Philadelphia on the day after the election. Indeed!

June 2011 additions to the related photo library from our September luncheon in Philadelphia with Congressman Sestak and the President. Ironically, we made our financial contribution with the mortgage payment that we did not have to make because we refinanced our home from 15 years to 30 years. Curious how 50+ year olds were able to refi a home for 30 years and use the savings to help a politician run for office. We wondered if this is truly financial reform?!

Congressman Sestak and President Obama share dais as guest speakers at our luncheon.

Chaotic luncheon to photo and to touch the President.