Denmark and Finland fell under Germany’s control in the early stages of WWII with little or no resistance. Sweden didn’t have anything Hitler wanted, so the Swedish King made a deal with him, allowing troops to be transported across his Country to Finland, so he could pretend to be neutral and avoid the suffering of occupation. Norway on the other hand, with its immense oil reserves, put forth a mild resistance and was quickly Nazi-occupied.[i]Early in 2021 Amazon Prime released a made-for-TV series called, “Atlantic Crossing”, which is quite informative regarding the Norwegen Crown Princess and FDR at the time. Many Norwegians escaped to the USA to avoid political persecution at that time, including in 1940, Joakim Lehmkuhl and the Thomas Olson family, including Olson’s son Fred. Lemkhule was an engineer but also a politician – an unusual combination indeed, but a powerful one. At the time, he was active in anti-communist activities and ran the Country’s largest newspaper.
The two men found their way to Connecticut and Lehmkuhl later gained control of a company that had been building bomb fuses [ii] It became known as the “Anglo-American fuse” for the War effort using the so-called pin-lever movement. Lehmkuhl would go on to become the Henry Ford of the mechanical wristwatch industry by automating and mass-producing this unique design . Lehmkuhl as President in 1950 changed this complicated company’s name to Timex and under his direction, it went on to dominate the entire world’s wristwatch market for decades to come. Sadly, Lehmkuhl in his later years found himself unable to manage the enterprise, and Fred Olson, having inherited his father’s and grandfather’s enormous wealth, would eventually end up owning the fortune Lehmkuhl had created. Unfortunately, Olson lacked the skills and tenacity to carry on in Lehmkuhl’s tradition and almost simultaneously a sea-change hit the technology world, which would spark the inevitable decline of the company.
I was Vice President of Engineering for Microma, the Consumer Electronics Division of Intel, when Timex came to us in the 1970s to produce the electronics for their new analog watch. We did so successfully but in the interim Intel decided to exit the consumer electronics business; contrary to Bob Noyce’s hopes and dreams. My Intel Division was sold to Timex and I was given the task of making sure the marriage of the two companies was consummated – a task that would eventually prove to be impossible.
Shortly after we had moved into our new facility in Mt View, Lehmkuhl came for a visit, accompanied by Fred Olson and Fred’s daughter, a student at Stanford University at the time. When Lehmkuhl introduced himself he said to me in his broken English, “are you now warm in your new jacket”? I recall that I was wearing my favorite heavy blue wool herringbone tweed blazer, and I probably said something like, “yes it is pretty warm in here”. Olson called me aside later to explain that Lehmkuhl’s question, translated from Norwegian, was, “are you comfortable in your new job yet?“.
On another occasion, I was told by a group of senior staffers from the Connecticut headquarters that the reason we “West Coast technology guys” could not understand the mechanical wristwatch business was that in California we lacked the frigid-cold East Coast winters, which stimulated their minds and inspired their wisdom far beyond ours.
But my favorite was from Tommy Thompson, Chief Engineer for the entire Timex enterprise at the time, when he said to me, “I can’t wait until all this electronics stuff blows over, so we can get back to building real watches again”.
I could tell a hundred more stories of the two years I spent trying to induce this century-old company to see the benefits of adopting some new ideas. Alas, it was not to be, but in the process, I had the pleasure of dinner with John Cameron Swayze, who was widely viewed as the most credible newsman in the United States, as he told the World, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking”. Also, just before the Timex merger I met astronaut Buzz Aldrin, whom we had hired to promote our new Chronograph.[iii]The Microma MOD19 was rebranded and sold as the TIMEX Expedition.
The final chapter of the Timex story is a sad one indeed. Olson and his aging staff, having lost their founder, were simply not capable of seeing or following the path we carefully laid out for them, and the Company collapsed under market pressures.
Written: January 2022
Published: February 2022
Reader feedback always appreciated[iv]thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts
|↑i||Early in 2021 Amazon Prime released a made-for-TV series called, “Atlantic Crossing”, which is quite informative regarding the Norwegen Crown Princess and FDR at the time.|
|↑ii||It became known as the “Anglo-American fuse”|
|↑iii||The Microma MOD19 was rebranded and sold as the TIMEX Expedition.|
|↑iv||thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts|