1965 – 1966 Ford Aeronutronics
When I sold the Doll house I had a rough time getting a job. I had gone on a short vacation blowing the money I had made on the Doll House sale and I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to get a job.
At every interview I was told I was over qualified because of the job I had had at AiResearch as a Production Control Supervisor. Things got so bad I was living in a pay by the night cheap hotel. It was an all-male hotel and there actually was a sign outside my window that blinked “CHEAP” in big red letters. For a dollar a night more I could have a TV set for the night.
Things got so bad I would go to a machine by the office and buy a can of warm spaghetti for a quarter. I really had to watch the little money I had left until I got a job. I had purchased. a brand new 1965 Mustang in early 65 and I was still making payments on that
I call it the first real “Valley” period in my life. I’ve had a few more “Valleys” since then, but they have one thing in common, they all make the “Mountain Tops” that much more wonderful. I’m currently holding onto a pretty good size “Mountain Top” with my fingernails firmly entrenched and wrapped around a tree. And I avoid any contact with people named “Murphy.” But only time will tell.
But back then, just as the last of my money was about to run out, and I mean the last, I was hired by Aeronutronics in Newport Beach CA. Just as a side note, I never asked my parents for help or applied for unemployment. I wouldn’t even go to my parent’s home for a free lunch or dinner. That would be a disgrace.
It was a bit of a drive for me as I never moved to Newport Beach. They hired me as a Production Control Planner. Having been a Manager, this was somewhat of a step down for me but I was glad to be out of the bar business and happily rented a small one bedroom apartment in Inglewood.
In my mind Aeronutronics was what I called an egghead factory. It had a library, a barber shop, volley ball court, pool tables, an area to throw a football, all the things needed to get your mind back in order after thinking it to near death. Highly educated men would lock themselves in their offices working on things like, what effect Martian atmosphere would have on Swiss cheese. In reality they were doing a lot in space stuff.
But it was the kind of place that if you wanted to talk to me for a minute you would have your secretary call my secretary and make an appointment. Of course, as a Planner I didn’t have a secretary.
The entire complex was affectionately called, “The Hill.”
One of the products they developed there was an anti-tank missile called the “Shillelagh.” It was developed in a very laid back, non-production thinking, east-coast, egghead factory atmosphere. While under development things involving money didn’t matter too much, the company had a CPFF contract with the Army.
CPFF stood for Cost Plus a Fixed Fee which meant that the government would pay any costs of the development program and Aeronutronics would tack on a Fixed Fee (usually a percentage). This meant if you wanted to have your desk moved from one corner of the office to another, you called Bekins Moving. That would increase the Cost so the Fee would also go up. Let’s face it, the government has been wasting our money for a lot longer than we think.
Then one day, in spite of everything, in spite of all the egghead policies, they received a production contract for the Shillelagh. I think this came as a shock to everyone on the Hill, but they got the contract.
They leased a facility from the Army that was located in Lawndale, CA and named it the Lawndale Army Missile Plant (Lawndale). (It is currently the Los Angeles Air Force Station) Next they staffed the plant with a mixture of production type people from the surrounding area.
On the Hill, my job, as a Production Control Planner, was to create a Bill of Material for some program, I’m not sure if it was for the Shillelagh. They actually wanted me to do it manually.
Instead, of doing it manually I put together some of the knowledge I gained at AiResearch. I went to MIS and asked them to keypunch the bills with part number, description, quantity per, unit of measure, and next assembly. Once that was done I asked them for two listings, one in next assembly sequence and then part number sequence. With that I had the bills of material I was asked to do, plus a “where used” listing.
You have to understand this was 1965 and what had been estimated to take six months to accomplish manually was done in three weeks and management hadn’t even considered the where used listing. They had one of the largest MIS departments at the time I don’t think they had ever heard of a Where Used List. I learned it at AiResearch.
The idea of creating the Bills by having them keypunched never entered their mind and management was so impressed I was immediately summoned to the Director of Management Systems office. We talked for about an hour when he picked up the phone and called the Director of Personnel. When she arrived she was a woman about 6’6″ tall and he instructed her to immediately reassign me to corporate management systems. They had immediately promoted me to corporate MIS in the Management Systems Department as a Corporate Systems Analyst. To them I was some kind of computer genius. I received an appropriate raise to boot.
For a while, during the process of my promotion, I was almost considered a rock star because I had some common sense and knew a bit about using a computer to help you. I learned that at AiResearch. I would find out later in life I learned a lot at AiResearch and I put it to good use.
It wasn’t long before I wasn’t very well liked with the three piece suites but I had an advantage, I had real life production experience. But I still didn’t fit well with the Ivy League east coast bunch. They even got on me because my car wasn’t a Ford.
One day a problem arose in the Corporate Management Systems Division when the plant manager at the Lawndale had the armed guards walk the corporate management systems analyst off the premises for being the egg head he was. He was the rep from our office on The Hill.
My enemies decided to send me in as punishment for other things I had done to piss them off. It was like throwing Brer Rabbit into the Briar Patch. I was finally HOME in a production plant that needed my help to organize to ship missiles on time. That was my forte’ then and it’s my forte’ now.
The corporate MIS department had what at the time I called, an east-coast attitude towards doing things. They were very stuffed shirt and pompous. During the entire Shillelagh program they worked on a three-year plan to automate the entire Shillelagh production world.
Having been nursed in a pure production manufacturing atmosphere at Aireasearch, I didn’t get along very well with my associates on The Hill because I was more production oriented and had a different attitude. My attitude was, a small fix to help get the job done today is better than a major system design a year from now. Not to say that planning for the future is not required, it just must be kept in perspective. That perspective being, the manufacturing plant is the queen bee and when necessary any supporting department must fall on a sword in support of the manufacturing plant.
At one staff meeting, that was called to discuss the three-year plan, as a joke I covered a Los Angeles phone book with a phony cover. It was at least four inches thick and I had printed on the front cover “Five-Year Plan.” During the meeting, I announced I had a solution to their three-year plan and threw the book on the table. I thought it was funny, but they didn’t.
They disliked me so much that when they gave me the assignment, they were thinking I too would be defamed. What they hadn’t realized was my attitude and background was right in line with the plant manager and his staff.
One of the first things I tackled was a quality defects reporting system the quality manager had been trying to implement to meet a contract requirement. Prior negotiations with “The Hill” had given him a 12-month programming task and a $240,000-dollar estimate.
We solved the problem with a little keypunched card program and had it in operation within a couple of weeks. It was another case of the corporate systems people not knowing what was really needed and trying to design the all-encompassing system. It was also an example of the user, in this case the quality manager, not knowing enough about systems to get what he needed.
Having succeeded with my first task, the plant manager had now gotten to know me better and trusted me. In the few months that followed, I became the plant’s shield against “The Hill” and we installed many programs, from a purchasing follow-up system to the way we filed documents that reduced the number of people needed in the document room to file documents from six to one.
Then one day the plant manager called me into his office and gave me a monumental task. He had been to an electronics plant where their manufacturing system had a shop floor control system that had NO shop orders in the process. He told me to design a system that would allow the manufacturing of the primary castings for the missile with no shop orders.
It took moving machines, installing a roller conveyor system and stationized manufacturing instructions, but we did it. It all helped the plant do its job. And they eventually shipped missiles.
The more I did for the plant the more the corporate management systems guys on the Hill disliked me. But then out of the clear blue sky I’m offered a promotion to Material Control manager. I immediately accepted and it seemed to me I was getting what I deserved.
While my new boss had a dotted line responsibility to the plant manager, his real boss was located at corporate on The Hill. This was to have a surprise for me in a few weeks.
Then in September of 1966 I got a call from a guy I knew back at AiResearch and he told me Ralph Fleener, my bosses bosses boss at AiResearch had taken over as Manufacturing Control Manager at Hughes Tool Company. They were trying to build helicopters and were way behind schedule. He said Mr. Fleener wanted to see me. I accepted the invitation and went to meet with Mr. Fleener and his staff on the following Friday.
I had only been the Material Control manager for a couple of weeks when this happened and I didn’t really feel any loyalty to Aeronutronics anyway. You’ll read what happened next in the chapter on The Hughes Tool company, but when I told my boss at Aeronutronics I was leaving he looked at me and said, “You must live under a lucky star. The only reason we promoted you was so we could fire your ass in a couple of months.” The Hill had plotted against me and I dodged a bullet.
For me it was another step in my learning who I was and what I brought to the table. What I learned at AiResearch taught me that MIS should not be the final word in developing a manufacturing system. What I learned at Aeronutronics reinforced that thinking. I was developing an attitude towards MIS and it expanded even more at the Hughes Tool Company. It was September 23, 1966 and that’s next.
A few years after I left Aeronutronics, and even after I left The Hughes Tool Company, the missile contract was completed. I was told the buildings that were used to produce missiles, stored all of the documentation from the program. Part of the unused documentation stored there was the corporate MIS department’s three-year plan and programs. They never did finish it.