Rags to Riches to Rags
for my engineer friends that would be R(TR)2
Most of us have witnessed or at least read about a classic Rags to Riches to Rags in two generations story, where the father (or mother), often climbing out of poverty and many times, having come to the USA from a foreign land, spends a lifetime building an enterprise of some sort, then leaves it to a son (or daughter) who squanders the entire fortune. The exact same scenario also happens with corporations. The time frame is usually longer because there are far more people involved, with minds that cannot be changed, but the process and the underlying causes are exactly the same. I have been witness to a few.
I joined Fairchild Semiconductor in the mid-1960s, at a time when the modern history of the technology world had just begun to be written. Bob Noyce, who would go on to patent the integrated circuit, partnered with Gordon Moore and later with Andy Grove, to flip the proverbial switch at Fairchild Semiconductor that would turn the world of electronic communication upside down. No one, including Sherman Fairchild, could have predicted what would happen next, but the genius that flooded those Company hallways soon started leaking out and Fairchild and his Company were left behind. A decade later it would be purchased by the French company, Schlumberger, never to be heard from again.
Noyce, Moore, and Grove then left Fairchild to found Intel, where their cumulative genius would pioneer not only semiconductor memory but the entire microcomputer industry as well. As the years passed and all three retired, Intel totally missed out on the biggest product explosion of all. Motorola had invented the cell phone much earlier but it took Jobs at Apple to propel it into the consumer marketplace. Meanwhile, Intel, having lost its founders, probably saw it coming but was simply not able to muster the management resources to dominate as they had in the past. I was right in the middle of the failings of both Fairchild and Intel and I am saddened that there was not more I could have done to avoid the outcomes. Both are good examples of management-induced, Rags to Riches to Rags scenarios, but Timex was yet to live the classic story in every sense.
Joakim Lehmkuhl and Fred Olson had both fled Norway in the early stages of WWII. They met much later in Connecticut where Lehmkuhl had taken over a Company building bomb fuses for the War effort. The Company, later to be renamed Timex, would go on to dominate the entire world’s watch market for decades to come. Sadly, Lehmkuhl in his later years was not able to manage the enterprise and Olson lacked the skills or tenacity to carry on in Lehmkuhl’s tradition. Almost simultaneously a sea-change hit the technology world that would spark the decline to follow.
I was Vice President of Engineering for Microma (the Consumer Electronics Division of Intel) when Timex came to us to produce the electronics for their new analog watch. We did that successfully but in the interim Intel decided that they did not want to be in the consumer electronics business after all. My Division was sold to Timex and I was given the task of making sure the marriage was consummated – a task that would prove to be impossible. The final chapter of the Timex story is a sad one indeed. Fred and his staff, having lost their mentor, were simply not capable of seeing and following the path that we laid out for them, and the Company died.
In the Fairchild example, I was a lowly wafer fab engineer with no management experience, so I had no understanding of what was to come. Later, in the Intel example, I was not part of the senior staff so what I thought would have had no effect anyway, even if I had understood it. In the last example involving Timex, I understood completely. I had plenty of business experience by that time but I was one guy, sent there to turn around a company of thousands of people, who had been conditioned to think in the 19th century. When the Vice President of Technology confided in me that he was looking forward to the time when the world’s fascination with electronics had passed so he could get back to making mechanical watches, I knew it was time for me to move on.
A story, even sadder than the Timex one, has been unfolding in recent decades with our Federal government. The prosperous and vibrant nation, built by brave Americans is being destroyed by the abandonment of the core principles that made it all possible in the first place. In a few short generations, an ill-considered and hollow “Lib-rall” agenda has put the USA on the path of the long procession of failed countries and empires, reaching back as far as history books can go.
My friend Sanders recently passed on this quote from the late ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
“My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son rides a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to ride a Land Rover, but my great-grandson is going to have to ride a camel again.”
“Hard times create strong men, strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men, weak men create difficult times. Many will not understand it, but you have to raise warriors, not parasites.”
It is curious that the so-called fact-checkers on the Web have invested such an enormous amount of time and effort to disprove that he might never have said it, meanwhile totally missing the point – history has proven over and over again that the core of the statement is undeniable, no matter who said it or when.
Written: January 2022
Published: January 2022
Reader feedback always appreciated[i]thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts
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