1967 – 1968, Burgmaster
Editor’s Note: To gain a better perspective you may want to re-read, “1966 – 1967 The Hughes Tool Company, the Union and ME”, before reading this chapter.
1967 – 1968, Burgmaster
One of the reasons I took the time to tell you the war stories while I was at Hughes Tool Company was to point out that in the early days only the bulls like my boss and I fought back when data processing was sweeping the rest of the country’s manufacturing or materials managers into a temporary ice age.
As evidenced by my short stay at Hughes, the bulls sometimes didn’t last too long in any one company, but they/we kept the hope of someday returning our companies management to the rightful heirs, the “USERS” who are in the manufacturing arena.
After I left the Hughes Tool Company it took me about three months to find a job. I was probably hired around July of 1967 as the Materials Manager for the Burgmaster Division of Houdialle Industries. Burgmaster had recently been purchased by Houdialle.
Burgmaster was a machine tool manufacturer run by a man named Joe Burg. Mr. Burg’s father had invented the multiple spindle drill press many years before. It was a six-spindle table top drill press that, for its time, was a big deal.
Over the years Burgmaster had gone on to develop eight spindle machines, huge floor models, and models that traveled on rails twenty feet back and forth. The latest was a huge twenty spindle machine designated the 20T. It had twenty spindles for drilling and milling operations. Some of the models were computer-controlled and run by creating a punched tape.
I was hired to design and install a Materials Requirements Planning (MRP) system with inventory control and shop floor scheduling. As usual I started by reviewing their entire operation and then proceeded to design the system. After about a month I told Mr. Burg I was ready to make a presentation and his staff gathered in the conference room early one morning.
The presentation took all day and at about seven that evening they voted and gave me the go ahead. At that point something strange happened to me.
As I was standing at the end of the conference table with the systems diagrams and flow charts behind me I was looking at all who were seated there in front of me. They had just voted to give me the approval to proceed with the system I had designed.
At that instant I said to myself, “They just bought a system I designed and I sold it for a fixed fee, my salary.” If I had sold it as my own product I could charge one heck of a lot more. At that instant I decided to go into business for myself.
I had also decided to not leave Burgmaster until the system was programmed, installed and proven. As most companies the size of Burgmaster they didn’t have their own computer, it was 1967. Getting the programming and processing done using an outside vendor was part of the approval. I again headed to San Diego and met with, my now good friend, Don Weber, owner of Data Systems of San Diego (DSSD). Don was the man I had a meeting with at the San Diego airport to design the first quick fix program I used at Hughes Tool Company.
For the system I used the knowledge I gained at Air Research with their MRP system. Believe it or not I reverse engineered their MRP system from my memory of the reports that I used at Air Research. I worked with the Don’s programming staff and I ended up flowcharting the entire system well enough for the programmers to understand. We worked months getting the system programmed.
For those of you who may know a bit, the primary function of the system is to explode requirements for all Sales orders by quantity using a Sales Order File, the Bill of Material File and date required. Once that is done, for each part or assembly, the system checks inventory on hand, orders or purchase orders in process and tells the Material Planner when and how many parts are needed by month for the entire number of sales orders. The system also maintains inventory control files and schedules the machine shop and assembly area as part of a shop floor control system. Did I know my shit or not?
During the next year, sometime in early 1968, as DSSD finished the program, we started inputting Bills of Material’s into the system and I eventually trained the troops at Burgmaster and kept the company management in the loop. Because at the time, hard drives, floppy disks, terminals and keyboards hadn’t come into being yet, the entire program was created with decks of tab cards, thousands of them. The output was a series of reports like Bills of material, Where used, Inventory, Work in Process and Shop/Assembly scheduling.
I can’t remember, but I think there were 2000 tab cards per box and the program had about forty or fifty boxes. I think each card was a line of code.
During the design phase I made all the fields (i.e. Sales order, Assembly Number, Part number, Next Assembly Number etc.) a generic size instead of customizing them to Burgmaster specifications. This allowed me to duplicate the deck and “voila,” I had my own MRP system to market. I didn’t think I had done anything unethical because filed sizes don’t cost anymore in programming costs.
Once the program was tested we started the implementation process which is actually much more difficult than the programming. Manual systems and procedures have to be set in cement and attitudes must be changed.
It was during the months of implementation I got to know a man who had been the first man Mr. Burg the founder, had hired twenty or so years before. Because he was such a trusted employee this man became the biggest obstacle in the implementation of the new computerized manufacturing control system and we did not get along at all. On the surface he was all for the new way, but deep down he hated it.
It all came to a head one day in Mr. Burg’s office. This guy was losing the battle and in a last ditch attempt he was accusing me of ruining everything. In a meeting in Mr. Burg’s office, while yelling his frustration, he actually started crying as he pointed at me as the cause of all the problems in the universe. “You want to know the problem Mr. Burg? It’s him and his damn computer. I know what to do, I don’t need a computer to tell me what to do…”
It was a horrible thing to witness a man crying.
That man inspired me to write about him, almost twenty years later when I became the publisher of a magazine dedicated to the implementation of MRP systems. This is what I wrote in 1987. I called him Joe.
Dedication to Joe
“Over the years, I’ve invented an imaginary character called “Joe.” At least one “Joe,”– an individual with the same attitudes as our imaginary character—has existed in every one of the many companies I’ve worked with. With luck, your company only has one “Joe.”
You don’t have to be a consultant long before you meet a “Joe.” When you first work with a “Joe,” you may not realize what he really represents.
Who is “Joe”?
“Joe” embodies everything you think you couldn’t do without. He’s the one you think is the best; he’s the handiest employee to have around when you need something done right away. Typically, he’s been around the longest, and he knows all the products like the back of his hand. He knows how to get things done despite the system, and you always can count on him to solve any problem that pops up.
“Joe” thrives on solving problems and dealing with crises. In fact, if there were no problems, he’d probably self-destruct.
It is given “Joe” can solve problems that pop up, but how is he at finding and eliminating the causes of the problems? He’s not an organized individual and lacks the “Intellectual Curiosity & Intuitive Research” a good business analyst brings to the table. He still remembers when the company was a lot smaller, when miracles were created daily, and the constant theme was for everyone to chip in and get the job done. “Joe” just loves “the good ole’ days.”
If you asked him what he thinks of the new business system, he’d without hesitation tell you how he supports it. If you keep talking to him, however, and dig deeper into his true feelings, the true “Joe” will emerge.
Deep down inside, he knows this new system is the wrong thing for the company. He hates putting up with all the new business rules he must follow. He feels everything used to be a lot easier with the old system. He can usually be quoted as saying, “I know we have to change, I know it’s the best thing for the company, but I need the old reports”
I’ve met many “Joe’s.” All of them had to leave before we could get on with the implementation of the business system. The last thing a project implementation manager needs is a “Joe” sitting on a nearby hill with a rifle and a 20X scope, ready to shoot you in the back every time you stub your toe during implementation. And during an implementation you stub your toe daily. It’s terrible to admit, but the political B.S. stirred up by Joe can destroy a successful implementation more easily than anything else can.
The saddest part about “Joe” is he truly believes he’s doing the best thing for the company. He doesn’t realize the damage being done with his every innuendo. Because he doesn’t realize it, he’ll never change while he’s with you, and that is why Joe must go.”
Getting back to that day in Mr. Burg’s office, he looked at this man, his oldest and best friend while he was crying, and knew what he had to do. He looked toward me and asked me if I would leave them alone for a moment. I left and Mr. Burg did what he had to do. He fired his best friend.
With that last obstacle removed we continued and by mid to late 1968 the new manufacturing control system had been installed and production started running a lot better. We had cut the lead time of almost all the machines and started shipping them on time. I asked Mr. Burg if I had done what he had expected of me when I was hired and he said yes. When he answered in the affirmative I gave him one months’ notice. Fair is fair.
He was quite surprised that I was quitting, but I was determined to get out there and market my very own MRP system.
I left and incorporated my new company as Production Data Systems working out my second bedroom. It was late 1968 and that’s the next chapter.
The biggest problem Burgmaster had was they were so unique they would import tool makers from Europe for their assembly line. They were so unique some machines had a six month to a year or even longer assembly lead-time before delivery. They were so unique they had an eighteen month backlog and they could name their own price for their machines. And if the customer didn’t like it, they could go somewhere else.
Then the Japanese decided to get into the machine tool business.
No one told the Japanese you couldn’t build these machines in less than six months. No one told them you had to have European tool makers to build them. No one told them that the industry was unique in any way. Mostly, no one told them you could treat customers badly and get away with it.
So as the Japanese got into the various businesses they introduced new concepts in manufacturing. They introduced lower prices at first, and then came superior quality and all along they held their customers on very high pedestals.
The American machine tool company doesn’t have to worry about being unique anymore, or competitive. They’re out of business. But they didn’t go out without a fight. In one of their last feeble attempts to compete, they asked Uncle Sam to impose trade restrictions so they could continue being unique.
When I left that thinking wasn’t changed I think they ended up selling all the rights to a company in Japan.