Skip to comments.False Diagnosis (And the Passing of Arlen Specter)
Posted on 10/15/2012 10:13:36 PM PDT by Hildy
On the day of the California primary, an all-but-meaningless election with record-low turnout, two famous men died, both in their early 80s. One was Edmund Muskie, former senator, briefly secretary of state, and the candidate wistful Democrats like to imagine might have been their 1972 nominee if not for a dirty trick and tears in the snow. (They forget, conveniently, that McGovernites had engineered the delegate-selection rules.) Muskie's obituary took 82 column inches in The Washington Post, 84 in The New York Times.
The other man--eulogized in a mere 28 inches by the Post (eight devoted to his two years as deputy secretary of defense), 40 by the Times--was David Packard. On the day he died, the only American politician who could rival him in real-world importance was Ronald Reagan. But the papers didn't see it that way.
Packard was co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, one of the most influential companies in the history of American business. The Palo Alto garage where he and Bill Hewlett started is a state landmark, designated "the birthplace of Silicon Valley." HP has created billions of dollars in wealth, tens of thousands of jobs, and hundreds and hundreds of innovative products. (Stashed in a closet of my house is one of the first-ever financial calculators, a miraculous HP product my father bought for several hundred dollars in the early '70s.) Yet even all these accomplishments don't begin to account for the company's broader importance, which lies in the management model it created, the famous "HP Way."
In the age of hierarchical Organization Men, HP pioneered a style of management based on granting employees broad discretion--"empowerment" is the current buzzword--and deemphasizing rank and privilege, most famously by giving everyone from the chairman on down a doorless office. HP trusted its employees with unlocked supply cabinets and with decisions. It fostered a sense of community and promoted from within, but, unlike many large employers, it held no grudges against HPers who left to start their own companies or to work elsewhere. Among the spinoffs were Apple, Silicon Graphics, and Tandem.
In 1991 the founders returned to active management, saving the company from death by bureaucracy. The turnaround started with a letter from an HPer to Packard, then chairman, complaining that she was spending all her time in meetings instead of productive work. It was an extraordinary demonstration of HP's open-door policy that the letter was not only written but read and acted upon.
"Profit-sharing, flex-time, management by walking around, sales force automation, global customer service systems, new employee health programs, reduced workweeks instead of layoffs--H-P has always been there first," says technology writer (and former HPer) Michael S. Malone in a San Jose Mercury News article on Packard. "As such, it has always taken the risks for which the rest of us have eventually enjoyed the benefits."
Packard was the model of what the opinion establishment says CEOs should be: philanthropic, unpretentious, concerned about employees, public spirited, politically moderate. His obits were certainly positive. Yet the nation's leading newspapers--and the establishment culture they shape and reflect--judged David Packard less than half as important as a senator notable mostly for his might-have-been presidential bid. It is, they suggested, the Ed Muskies of the world who determine the future, not the Dave Packards.
We're all used to thinking in those terms. Asked to name the five most significant events of 1968, few educated people would think to include the founding of Intel. Such milestones take place out of camera sight. We tend to think of them as unimportant, or nonexistent. We assume that what matters is what makes the evening news.
It is worth pondering such assumptions, and the world view they create, especially in light of recent rhetoric toward business. For the first time since the 1970s, corporate is becoming a pejorative word outside narrow left-wing circles. From Pat Buchanan to the editors of Newsweek to the secretary of labor, important people with loud voices are denouncing the management of the nation's companies--and suggesting that politicians and intellectuals could do a much better job. They are preaching "loyalty" and decrying CEOs as ruthless job killers. Extolling the security of old-time monopolies, they mock anyone who dares point out the thousands of jobs added in recent years by such upstarts as Federal Express (6,000 in 1995 alone) and MCI. They roll their eyes at Silicon Valley.
Above all, they suggest that good change comes from above--from wise men in Washington and Cambridge--and only bad change from below. There is, they imply, One Best Way to be an employer, or an employee. The world is divided into good and evil, "A-Corps" (Sen. Jeff Bingaman's term) and meanies. And companies will never realize how well they could do by doing good unless somebody gives them a subsidy or tax break. Nobody will ever invent an HP Way unless Robert Reich hands them the instruction book.
This argument, if it even deserves the term, ignores history. It is intellectually dishonest, pretending that loyalty is an unalloyed good destroyed by greedy, overpaid executives. In fact, loyalty as a corporate value has been under attack since the mid-1950s--for good reason.
In the 1950s and '60s, social critics attacked the regimentation and blandness of corporate life, with its demands that managers sacrifice their individuality, autonomy, family life, and community ties. The Organization Man, William Whyte wrote in his 1956 book of that name, "must not only accept control, he must accept it as if he liked it. He must smile when he is transferred to a place or a job that isn't the job or place he happens to want....He must be less 'goal-centered,' more 'employee-centered.' It is not enough now that he work hard; he must be a damn good fellow to boot."
Whyte observed that younger managers--managers who would today be in their 60s--were particularly prone to embrace loyalty to a single organization as the center of their professional ethic. By closing their career options outside the company, they became dependent on it.
Whyte wrote: "When I asked a group of [older, senior] executives whether they thought that in the years ahead they should make a point of keeping their eyes open for opportunities elsewhere, two thirds stated, emphatically, that they should. I asked the same question of younger men. Only one third thought the executive should keep his eyes open; the consensus was to the effect that such behavior was characteristic of the What-Makes-Sammy-Run type, and that companies would be better off without such people." Lest anyone be tempted to bolt the organization, companies made fringe benefits, including pensions, non-transferable.
This is the world we are losing, to the consternation of today's social critics. Henry Allen, writing in The Washington Post, laments a study of corporate employees: "Half the people surveyed said success at work was personal satisfaction from doing a good job. Less than a third said it was 'earning the respect or recognition of supervisors and/or peers.'" Once upon a time, we would have considered that a healthy sign that more people were "inner-directed," more concerned with the substance of their work and less with what other people thought of them.
Silicon Valley has been the vanguard of that new culture, which Rutgers labor professor Charles Heckscher calls "the professional ethic," as opposed to "the loyalist ethic" of the old Organization Man. The new ethic--in which managers are motivated by the mission at hand rather than lifetime loyalty to a company--accounts for Silicon Valley's resilience. The local culture fosters adaptability based on personal mobility and constant corporate invention. Annalee Saxenian, whose book Regional Advantage analyzes the differences between Silicon Valley and Massachusetts's Route 128, quotes a high-tech manager who moved West: "The mobility among people strikes me as radically different than the world I came from out East. There is far more mobility and there is far less real risk in people's careers. When someone is fired or leaves on the East Coast, it's a real trauma in their lives. If they are fired or leave here it doesn't mean very much. They just go off and do something else."
This is the culture David Packard, along with many others, created--a culture whose evolution took place far away from news cameras and presidential candidates. It responded to the demands not only of customers and stockholders but of employees who wanted to be treated as adults. Increasingly, it is the culture from which all businesses, and employees, must learn. It is worth understanding, and honoring. And it is far more important than anything Edmund Muskie left behind.
When I heard about Arlen Specter's death yesterday, I felt nothing. And that's ok. I considered him a turncoat, a poster child of everything wrong with American politics.
On the radio today, I was listening to a parade of pundits and politicos speaking of the greatness which was Arlen Specter. The term that really annoyed me was the repeated mention of his "30 years of public service." To me, someone who works in a soup kitchen, or volunteers their time to help another human being is performing a public service. There are hundreds of jobs that I would consider a great public service. A Senator? Not so much. Arlen Specter was very well compensated for his "service," as is every other Congressman and Senator.
But the thing that I must say is that, in my opinion, Arlen Specter's public life was a complete failure. 30 years of presiding over the demise of this Country. Unless we stop idolozing these people who beg to get into office, and then ignore us when they are there, nothing will ever change.
Arlen Specter did a few good things, but that's what he was elected AS A REPUBLICAN to do. So, why the big fanfare?
That's when I thought about an article I read over 15 years ago in REASON MAGAZINE. This article was published in 1996, but it's as relevant today as it was then. You know a great article when you remember it 15 years after it was published. It always stuck in my head... the question .... who we, as a Society, choose to honor. I searched it out and it's as relevant today as it was then. I am posting it and I would like to hear your thoughts.
16 years later and nothing’s changed. We still worship politicians (those on our side, naturally, depending on which “our side” is), still reward them with life tenures. Why do you think Jesse Jackson, Jr wanted the Senate seat so bad? It’s a gravy train from which you never have to get off. “public service”? What a joke! But who besides us ever questions this term which has become like an assumed truth from up above in a church theology?
The ignominious way in which Arlen Specter began his career in federal politics is what I shall remember him by, his defense of the hippie guru murder, Ira Einhorn. Evidently, Einhorn was quite a favorite with the rich and powerful in Philadelphia, people that Specter needed to help finance his campaign, so defending Einhorn, seemed like a good way to cultivate their favor.
The only good thing that Specter ever did was to thoroughly cross examine Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, coming close to accusing her of perjury.
My reaction is very specific regarding Muskie. In his autobiography, Robert Novak made out Muskie to be an absolute bore and a lazy dullard.
Is it any wonder we didn’t know enough about Packard? The noble services of countless republicans go unknown by the public because of what the media have been for many decades. Could there be any greater disservice than the way a great man like Eisenhower is forgotten? Ike not only won WWII in Europe, as president he successfully ended the Korean conflict which drove Truman out of office. Yet Truman was made into a folk hero and Eisenhower was labeled a too “boring” (read successful) president.
Actually, Specter did say that Anita Hill committed perjury.
I didn’t realize that. Well, then he really did do one honorable thing in his life.
Spectre failed to convict Slick Willie during his Impeachment grounds on the basis of ‘Scottish Law.’ He remained a horses ass till the day he died.
Without Specter its very unlikely there would a Justice Thomas sitting on the SC today which in my view goes along way to make up for Specter’s many faults..
Dead parasite said something right once? Like maybe that the sun rises in the east, and that blueberry pancakes are delicious?
Specter did okay questioning Randy Weaver (Ruby Ridge), too.
That makes two things.
He is pretty much responsible for Thomas’ confirmation.
“Actually, Specter did say that Anita Hill committed perjury.”
Your mention of Packard and HP immediately brought to mind Carly Fiorina, a destroyer and wannabe public servant, also a Republican. I use the term "destroyer" in its naval sense since she left the hulks of HP and Lucent in her wake.
“Your mention” should have been “The mention”
That’s an excellent post, and thanks for posting the article. Good points, well written.
Specter was also front-and-center in killing Hillarycare.
Which is ironic given his later switch to the rat party and support for the equally hideous Ubamacare.
It shows what a desperate sleazebag Specter became.
Thank you for this article. It is a good point, we obsess way too much on politicians and movie stars, and way too little on the people who build up the culture. I heard an interview with the author of a new book, “Freedom’s Forge” which is about Henry Kaiser and WWII build up.You might find it is along these same lines in a way.
This is an excellent piece on many levels. I worked with HP as a consultant during the 1980s and 1990s. It was a very good organization and it’s culture was distinctive. Interestingly though, that culture needed the likes of a Dave P or Bill H to sustain it. When I started working with HP, the HP Way culture was already under attack from the top in the form of John Young. Great organizations and institutions need great leadership: Weak or ego-centric leadership - like that of Obama - is corrosive.
False Diagnosis (And the Passing of Arlen Specter)
The relief is refreshing!
Very good comment from you and nice 1996 article. In my father’s factory (1960s-1970s) we had an industrial oven to bake enamel onto steel. It had a Hewlett-Packard control. These controls were a large part of HPs business. These days anyone in China can manufacture such controls but back then...... You sat in Asia or Latin America and wanted an industrial control. You bought from HP. This HP item was 100% made in USA so kept factories humming, people employed, plus helped our USA run trade surpluses
It is the collective government bureaucratization of industry that has done more to destroy industry in this country than any other single thing besides unions.
I work in health care, and there is currently a medical-grade barium shortage. Many hospitals have run out of barium to perform tests like Barium Enemas, swallowing studies, etc. My hospital, which kept a good stock on hand but will run out by the end of the week. We had other hospitals calling us to ask if we could loan them barium.
This shortage was caused because we killed the industry that supplied the barium. Due to the hostile climate for industry in this country due to hyper-regulation, overtaxation and government intrusion, the plants in this country gradually boarded up over the years and no new plants were built.
Today, there are two medical-grade barium plants in North America, one in Mexico run by Tycho International, and one up in Montreal. From being a diverse industrial base, our industrial policies have gradually destroyed that competition by making it impossible for companies to compete, resulting in just two plants in North America.
Then, the plant in Mexico (big surprise here) was shut down because of bacterial contamination of the product. Guess what? That leaves only ONE plant in North America (Montreal) running 24x7 to try to keep up with demand, and they simply can’t. And there aren’t a huge amount of options for doing alternate types of studies without barium contrast because the alternatives are generally a lot more expensive and won’t be reimbursed. Patient care is suffering as a result.
Does this sound familiar? It should, it is the same kind of thing we see going on in the energy sector, particularly with refineries. Due to the environmental, regulatory and other barriers placed in the way, no new refineries have been built in this country since 1976. We have therefore been running our refineries at higher and higher capacity, squeezing more and more out of the same infrastructure by operating them longer and deferring maintenance and improvements.
So with petroleum refineries, we are operating on the edge. One fire, one storm, one strike, one unexpected (or even expected and planned) shutdown means immediate shortages and increased prices for the consumer.
Unless we get a grip on dealing with environmentalists and dialing back government hyper-regulation of industry of everything from environmental to worker relations, industry in this country is doomed. It isn’t dead yet. But it will be.
Yup. She took a company that was innovative and made some really great products (that most people don't even know about) and ran it into the ground, then stepped off thinking she'd done something good. I had an HP "Test and Measurement" catalog years ago. It was a hardbound book, with some really neat devices. I always wanted my very own atomic clock.
One testament to HP's products is that people still use 20+ year old HP calculators.
I agree 100%. These stifling, job killing, business killing regulations come at you from all levels of Gov’t. Federale, state, county etc
But just to zero in on the EPA, this is the Federale agency I despise the most. 50% of the Federal Gov’t is a jobs program for useless liberals and affirmative action babies. So the EPA will mess with the producers of America.... much of this is simply to justify their paychecks and their miserable job’s existence. IOW if the EPA don’t hassle our producers they could be out of a job down the road. Unless they have one of those useless eater Federale jobs where you can shut the door, pull down the blinds and surf for porn all day. Obviously America would be a lot better off if each “worker” at EPA did exactly this
Take the EEOC and Department of Education. Those are huge affirmative action hiring halls and their main purpose is to provide paychecks to AA babies. A little secret is how heavily gay and lesbian the Federal workforce in DC area is. This heavy gay hiring is not duplicated in say, Montana’s Federale workforce