Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Publisher Wanted - Guaranteed Best Seller

My non-working hours were spent looking at houses my wife had found during the day.
Initially we tried to work through a real estate agent recommended by Rav, but after
making little progress, we decided to strike out on our own and find the house we wanted.

The first weekend on our own, we found a house just north of Williamsburg, which is a pleasant, small rural town north of Chicago. We both liked the house, but it was slightly out of our price range and I wanted to do some comparative shopping. A week later, after looking at about ten other houses, we decided to make an offer on the house located just north of Williamsburg. Since the house was owned by a couple who were now living in Tennessee, we had to negotiate a price though the Pabst Brewing Company, who had relocated the owners. After extended offers and counter offers, we came to a price which we felt was just affordable to us and was acceptable to the owners and the Pabst Brewing Company.

In the summer of 1976 mortgage money was loosening up, but sizable down-payments were still the rule rather than the exception. Since we needed 90% financing to purchase the house, we put in several applications for mortgages at banks and savings and loan institutions around the area. While searching for a mortgage, John Mason informed me that Arnold Cline was Chairman of the Board of the Bluefish Bay First National Bank and that he could arrange a mortgage. In fact, John had obtained his mortgage that way.

The next day I spoke with Arnold Cline about obtaining a mortgage through the Bluefish Bay Bank. He said he would look into it and would get back to me. The next day he informed me he had spoken with the loan officer at the bank and had set up an appointment to speak with the mortgage loan officer. Now here was the chairman of the bank and my employer telling me he had arranged a meeting with the loan officer so naturally I assumed we would get a mortgage.

That evening I explained the situations to my wife and the next day she met with the loan officer. I was shocked when I came back from work to the motel room that evening to find Anita crying. Our request had been denied! Anita had worked in banks for over ten years in various positions, and knowing the circumstances of our application, she had fully expected the processing of our mortgage request to be routine. Instead, she had been told we did not qualify because we did not have 20% down. My first reaction was to comfort my wife and to assure that we would get a mortgage someplace else, but I couldn't hide the fact that I too was shocked and bewildered by the unusual turn of events.

A couple of days passed before I saw Arnold Cline again and he laughingly apologized for the “misunderstanding” and said he did not realize we did not have the necessary 20% down payment. I really didn't know what to say to him, and he quickly exited from the embarrassing conversation.

We had no trouble qualifying for a mortgage through another source, and we finally decided to finance the house purchase through the Chicago Federal Savings and Loan which offered us a 25 year fixed interest rate mortgage. Obtaining a good mortgage quickly eased the pain and disappointment of the Bluefish Bay Bank experience, but that incident left me with an uneasy feeling.

We closed on the house on July 15, 1976. That was exactly one month from my first day at work. It was our first house and we had to go into debt, other that the mortgage, to make the finances. My parents lent us $500.00 so that we were able to cover the closing costs. I was not concerned about the debt because I thought I had a good future with Gamma Supplies and at the rate at which housing prices were increasing in the suburban Chicago area, I felt the house was an excellent investment.

But when I purchased the house, I violated on of my own basic tenets. That rule is never purchase a house until you are sure about your job. Once a house is purchased, the new employee is almost locked into their new job for at least one year because it is financially taxing to resell a house quickly. Thus, the purchase of a house is a sign of commitment to the company. This is not necessarily bad, but it gives the company tremendous leverage against the individual.

With the purchase of the house, we were financially broke. I could not have moved if I had wanted to, since I did not even have enough money to buy gas to leave Milwaukee. The reason I was willing to make such a commitment to Gamma Supplies is easy to understand if one looks at my background and my current situation. I came from a lower income family which had rented living accommodations the entire time I had lived at home. Since I was ambitious, I had set a goal that I would own my own home by the time I was 35. This hardly seems ambitious to someone who has grown up in a middle or upper income family, but for someone of my background, just owning a home was a significant achievement.

The costs of homes were skyrocketing at the time and every year the purchase was delayed, the more difficult the initial purchase became. I had what I thought was a job I really wanted, and I thought I had a good future with the company. Thus the purchase of a house seemed to be a reasonable, logical decision.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Publisher Wanted - Guaranteed Best Seller

Later that week, Ravi ushered me into the laboratory and introduced me to Jeff Teller
and John Mason. John was a slender, balding, energetic man in his early 40s. He had
previously worked for Ravi at Wonder Oil. He had retained close personal ties with Ravi and had been recruited by Ravi to work for Gamma. His loyalty to Ravi and his know-it- all
attitude was to become a major obstacle for me.

Jeff was a young, nice-looking man, a recent college graduate, and as I was to learn in
time, one of the most immature people I had ever met. He was the type of person who
would laugh if he saw someone run over by a truck. Jeff was instructed to assist me in
learning the laboratory test procedures for evaluating foundry binder systems. He
demonstrated the correct technique for making “dog bones” specimens for testing and he
instructed me in the use of the testing equipment. Watching Jeff do the testing and
evaluation of different binder products, showed me that there were major scientific
procedural problems in practice in the lab.

Ravi then instructed me to practice the testing techniques by evaluating the Gamma Supplies “Rapid Set” system which was the object of the Better Supplies' lawsuit. It did not take me
long to learn that the Gamma Oil “Rapid Set” system was significantly inferior to the
Better Supplies “Fast Set” system. My results were in direct conflict with data John Mason had generated which showed the two systems to be competitive. At first, I attributed the
difference to my poor beginners technique, but repeated efforts produced the same results.
When I asked Jeff to see his data, I found Jeff's positive results were a product of an active
imagination and a poor interpretation of data. I began to understand why he had resisted so
vehemently to show me his data. When I confronted Jeff with the conflicting data results,
he rationalized the discrepancy as a result of batch to batch variation in the products
components. This new revelation lead me to inquire into the source of the phenolic resin
component of the Gamma Supplies system.

Ravi informed me that Tenneland Corporation manufactured some of Gamma Supply
products because Gamma did not have adequate facilities to manufacture the phenolic resin
portion of the “Rapid Set” binder system. I was to fly to Summerfield, Ohio with John Mason and to observe the manufacture on the phenolic component at the Tenneland
plant. Ravi and John went on to explain that there was a problem with “Rapid Set”, and
the problem appeared to be related to the phenolic resin component. According to them, at
times “Rapid Set” did not work at all compared to the Better Supplies “Fast Set, but sometimes
the “Rapid Set” worked well. The difference in performance depended upon which
Tenneland manufactured lot of phenolic resin was used. A cursory visual inspection
of the phenolic lots from Tenneland quickly verified that the lots were not consistent
and there was a great deal of product variation.

Most of the time, I saw very little of Ravi because he was busy writing a patent
application based on the Gamma Supplies “Rapid Set” formulation. Later when I read the
application, I was amazed to see the magnitude of the numbers reported in the application.
Apparently John's active imagination numbers were being used in the application.
Enhancing data data is a common practice in research laboratories in large corporations
where there is plenty of places to hide and other people to blame when the product
ultimately fails in the market place. John had apparently learned this lesson well at Wonder Oil and had continued this practice at Gamma Supplies. And now his inflated numbers were being
used in the patent application.

In reflection, I was inundated with information and surprises during my first two weeks
at Gamma. This was to become a pattern while I was there and it had a well defined purpose
as I was to find out about a year later.

Monday, May 12, 2008


The second week on the job provided even more surprises. First, Ravi came in my
office and explained that Gamma Supplies was involved in a lawsuit with Better Supplies and told me to study a six inch thick patent file that had been prepared by a Chicago law firm. Now the significance of why Jordan had refused to talk abut Better Supplies during our tour of the
McCormick exhibition hall was obvious; he didn't want me probing or digging into their
relationship with them. Second, Ravi explained that he was going into the hospital the
following week for open heart surgery, and he would be out of work for at least six weeks.
The latter revelation was the first major news I was told that didn't come as a shock to me. Finally, Ravi suggested that I get busy in the laboratory and do some hands-on work.
The first revelation almost floored me and it caused me great concern. No mention had
been made of a lawsuit with a giant corporation like Better Supplies. I could see were a
lawsuit could have major ramifications on a small company like Gamma Supplies. And Ravi's
medical problem, which had been casually mentioned during an interview conversation,
was obviously serious, but not necessarily life threatening. More importantly, his surgery
had to have been expected and well planned in advance of my arrival.

His third revelation, that I was expected to work in the laboratory bothered me the most.
I had been hired as a manager, and while managers in small companies frequently do hands
on work, I had not been introduced to anyone as a manager and I still hadn't been
introduced to any of the other laboratory personnel. I was really having second thoughts
about the job, but I didn't want to leave a job in the second week. From a practical point of
view, it would have been difficult to do. My personal possessions were in Chicago and
the shipping and storage charges were being paid by Gamma Supplies. I was living in
accommodations paid for by Gamma Supplies, and I had just spent six months looking for a
position and had notified all other potential employers that I had accepted another position.

Rejection of a job offer is taken very personally by companies, and my chances of
reestablishing relations with one of the previously interested companies was nil. And
although I didn't know it at the time, probably any attempt by me to extricated myself from
my situation would have been futile!

Monday, May 5, 2008

My New Job Begins

A few days later, after returning to my job on the east coast, I decided to accept the
Delta offer. I had several other companies interested in hiring me, but none had met as
many of my requirements as did the Gamma Supplies job. Gamma Supplies was offering me in writing a responsible management position, a good salary, a small company atmosphere and a new technology field that would provide a base for fulfilling my longer term objectives even if
the Gamma position fizzled out. I took the position knowing there was a calculated risk
involved concerning my career future, but the advantages far out-weighed the
disadvantages. Besides, in my almost two years in my current position I had mad a lot of
outside contacts , and I knew I could always get a job just by contacting some of those
friends. In fact, several of my outside contacts had discreetly inquired about switching
companies while I was in my current position. If things did not work out at Gamma, I could
always get another job and my career would suffer only a minor setback.

In June 1976, after my wife and I watched our belongings loaded onto a truck, we
hopped in our car with our dog Fluffy, and headed for Chicago. We arrived two days
latter at our temporary accommodations at the Holiday Inn. This location was convenient to my work place and was in the northern section of the city. Since we had decided on our previous trip that we would seek a house in the northern suburbs, the accommodations were also convenient for seeking a new residence. The next day I went to work and Anita commenced looking for a house.

The first day at work I moved into my office and Ravi gave me some literature to read
about the foundry industry. I was totally ignorant about the foundry industry and knew
only that Gamma Supplies supplied products to that industry. I had been told little abut the actual product lines sold by Gamma Supplies, but I had gone to the library at my former company and copied several reviews concerning the chemistry involved in foundry binders which was the major product line of Gamma Supplies.

The first few days I read and educated myself abut the
practices of the foundry industry. Interestingly, and somewhat disturbing to me was the
fact that during my first week I was not introduced to a single Gamma employee; I came to
my office, read, learned, asked Ravi questions, and when the day was over, I went home.
It is highly unusual for a company to hire someone into a management position when he
has no experience in that field, but I naively rationalized that Gamma Supplies was not a major
research center, and I felt they were fortunate to have someone of my educational
background and ability to fill the position.

Among the deficiencies at Gamma Supplies was the lack of any library and an absence of
sophisticated instrumentation. The former need was partially satisfied by the use of the
Chicago Public Library which has an amazingly complete selection of chemistry books
and a fairly complete set of U. S. patents. The need for sophisticated research equipment
was primarily satisfied by the use of equipment at two State Universities – The
University of Wisconsin, Blackwater, and the Chicago State University. Fate
had placed my former office partner at the University of Florida on the faculty at
Blackwater and a former student of mine at Florida was now a graduate student at Chicago State University. As a result, I was able to gain access to the research instruments
at those institutions. I also had access to their technical libraries. Access to the facilities at
these two universities was a major asset and coupe for me since chemical analysis done by
outside laboratories can be very expensive and a small company like Gamma Supplies could not
afford it.