1981 – 1983 Jerrold Division, General Instrument Nogales Mexico
I had returned to Tucson wanting to get out of the car business, but I got a job the next day as a new car sales manager at Sundown Datsun. While I was in San Diego the old Bill Ellis Datsun dealership had been sold.
They had been looking me for a while and it was easy for me to start making good money immediately, but after a few months I still wanted out. I finally received a response to one of the resume’s I had sent out. I got an interview with the Jerrold Electronics Division of General Instrument. (G.I.). They had an office building and warehouse in Tucson and a large assembly and manufacturing plant in Nogales Mexico about an hour drive south of Tucson.
The assembly plant had about 3000 employees on the Mexico side of Nogales where they assembled all kinds of equipment for the cable television industry. (CATV). Things like Line Amplifiers, Splitters, the computers that keep track of customer cable routing and all that kind of stuff.
They had a huge inventory and a production control problem that needed help immediately. I was interviewed by the Production Control Manager at the Plant and was eventually hired. The fact that I could speak Spanish actually played a role in my being hired. I took a large cut pay to get out of the car business. I was just happy to get back to my roots and get out of the car business.
Car dealers don’t like anyone to quit, so they let me go without accepting the two weeks’ notice. Unlike San Diego, I was on top of my game making good money as the new car sales manager and Sundown was now owned by the same people who owned Westchester Ford out of Denver.
October 5th 1981, I know that date because I still have my copy of the hiring document.
General Instrument (GI) was one of America’s largest CATV manufacturers and when I started with G.I. I was the assistant to the Plant Manager at the Nogales Plant. My job was to identify the problems that affected production and come up with the solutions. That had been my expertise my entire manufacturing systems life. I had been out of this kind of work for over ten years and got back in without skipping a beat.
By early 1982, I had designed an Assembly Fabrication System (AFS) and was ready to show it to management. The system included an inventory module, a purchasing follow-up module, a bill of material module and the assembly floor control module.
More importantly it required a number of manual systems and procedures that had to be set in stone. Most people didn’t realize the importance of the manual portion of any manufacturing system.
The software portion was to be programmed by corporate IT and would end up marking a number of firsts. During the design phase, corporate programmers would visit the plant and one was assigned as a full-time System 34 programmer.
The IBM System 34 was ordered to process the daily transactions and would be first computer to be installed in Nogales Mexico. We also needed a method to have the computer in Mexico communicate with the corporate computer which was not an IBM.
Corporate rules required the major files be maintained at corporate in Hatboro and on the corporate computer. This meant we had to communicate with corporate on a nightly basis and that caused a bit of a problem.
The corporate computer was a Burroughs 6000 and was a completely different architecture than an IBM System 34, the two were not compatible. The estimate from the corporate programmers was something like $300,000 to write the programs so the two machines could talk to one another and that was totally unacceptable.
Instead, I designed a really simple hair brained way they could talk to each other and it worked. It had to do with writing programs that would pretend to be processing data cards in the format of the receiving computer. We could do this because both computers had card readers. We didn’t actually create cards, we pretended we did and tricked the computers into thinking so.
While some of the system wasn’t real time, the inventory, the purchasing module and assembly order status, was. What the hell, it was 1982 and it worked. Or, I had planned for it to work.
Once we figured that out, I needed to get the appropriate number of computer access hours every night on the Burroughs and that took me to Hatboro PA the first time. Hatboro Pennsylvania was where GI Corporate was located. I met the Corporate MIS Director, the Chief Financial Officer and the rest.
In a meeting, the MIS director kept trying to tell me they couldn’t give Nogales the time we needed and we would have to figure out another way. The discussion got quite heated and at some point, I told him he was corporate and corporate didn’t pay anyone’s paycheck. Only the Queen Bee paid our salaries and the Queen Bee was where they made stuff and shipped stuff to customers, the Nogales plant.
He actually jumped on the coffee table in the CFO’s office and started screaming at me something about who I thought I was and stuff like that. I wasn’t afraid of him or anyone up there, I worked for the Nogales Plant Manager and had the authority to represent him. To make a long story short we won the battle and the director figured out some way to support us.
At the same time and before I could get the OK for all this to work, the Plant Manager had to be convinced I knew what I was talking about. The GI management in Hatboro decided to bring in a heavy hitter who was a retired big wig who the highest of the high trusted. His name was Rom Van Stolk.
Rom and I met alone for five straight days in the board room for about ten hours a day at the Mexico plant. I presented him with all my plans, flow charts and my reasoning for doing what I was suggesting. I was calling for a major change in how the plant would be run. I mean, a MAJOR change.
As each day passed I could feel Rom was understanding more by how intelligent his questions were getting, but he still had to determine if I knew what I was talking about. That’s why he was there.
During our talks, we got to know each other and talked about our backgrounds. I told him all my experience in designing systems from Aeronutronics, Hughes Tool Company and Burgmaster. He told me about the time he was the Manager of all military European PX’s in Paris after the war. Later he was also in charge of Quality Control during the construction of the Twin Towers in New York.
When he mentioned Paris, I mentioned I knew a beautiful French woman in Tucson who was a really good friend of mine. She had been a model in Paris when she was younger. He didn’t say anything else about it.
On the last day of our talks, a Friday, he started talking about Paris again and asked if he could meet the woman I had mentioned. I told him I didn’t see why not, if she was free. Later, I called her and she agreed to go to dinner that night. Her name was Natasha.
I picked her up and we met Rom at the designated time and he immediately fell in love with her, figuratively speaking. They talked all evening about Paris, all things French and in all in French. I just sat there and watched, waiting for them to finish so I could go to Smugglers.
I had met Natasha about six months before at the condo complex we both lived in. I had a second-floor condo with a balcony overlooking the pool. One day I was sitting on the balcony when she walks by, in a bikini, on her way to the pool.
I pulled a Speedy Gonzales, and shot into the bedroom closet, put on my bathing suit, grabbed a towel and was down at the pool within seconds of her arriving. I was like a blur. We eventually started talking and I found out about her love of jazz and things seemed to be looking good.
Then she told me her fiancé had died and she was still in mourning. With that, the party was over and I knew it. Actually, the party switched gears and we became close friends and have been friends ever since. She is a best friend of my wife, and the grand kids call her auntie Fifi.
The fact that I produced Natasha, after an off the cuff mention of her, put me over the top with Rom and that meant something to him. It took a small thing like that to convince him I wasn’t a bullshitter and for him, the rest of the puzzle about me fell in to place.
Rom told the plant manager he thought I knew what I was talking about and suggested he allow me to go forward. I was called into the plant managers office where he gave me the, “We’re all depending on you,” speech. I got the green light and I was in charge.
Rom would return about three more times, to check and see if my system design and ideas were actually working. He wrote a memo to the big shots with the following comment about my plan and he left a true believer.
Memo to Plant Manager
“From the above, it will be noted that some $2,371,000 have been earmarked as a calculated saving, directly resulting from the implementation of Chuck Diaz’s (WIP) concept.”
Rom Van Stolk, Jerrold Electronics
During the system design and after its implementation I trained all the users in its use. This is where my speaking Spanish really helped.
In this effort, I had purchased the first American computer installed in Nogales Mexico. Even the Mayor of the city was at the plant for the occasion. Within three months of implementation the plants overall productivity increased 25%, work in process inventory was reduced $2.5 million, inventory transaction processing dropped from 60K per month to 7K and inventory accuracy became a reality.
When I say “I purchased,” the computer I don’t really mean that I paid for a computer, but I did purchase it unauthorized, outside the normal G.I. purchasing approval structure. In Mexico, the company had ordered a System 34 computer from IBM Mexico. By the time I needed the computer the Peso had devaluated more than once and the computer we ordered was stuck between the US and Mexico wrapped up in red tape. Mexican law required we buy from IBM Mexico.
I couldn’t wait for red tape so I made an appointment with IBM Tucson and in a meeting I signed for a bill of about $150,000 or more, I can’t remember. My point is, IBM knew the order was good and they knew how to cancel the order that was wrapped in red tape.
So now I had to figure out a way to get the computer into Mexico. I had remembered that it was possible to ship something, “In Bond.” In Bond is like our embassies around the world. The buildings at an embassy are on American soil.
Shipping anything, “In Bond,” allowed me to have the computer shipped and stored in Mexico and the problem was solved. When the Terminals arrived, I put them on our daily G.I. truck and sent them to Nogales.
The terminals had already been received and shipped to the plant by the time the computer arrived in Tucson. Unbeknown to me, a new border customs commander had been appointed. He had just come from the CIA or some other organization like that.
For some reason or other he held the computer at the border and I was called. I was in Tucson office that day and I drove to this guy’s office on the border.
America was really touchy about things like computers going out of the US, so I had to go talk with this marine. During the, not so friendly, conversation he asked why I needed the computer in Mexico. I said because I had the terminals there and I had to match them up.
In a high voice he asked, “What terminals?”
In an equally high voice I said, “The ones that are attached to the missile.”
I thought it was funny, he didn’t. He damn near had me arrested on the spot, but he came to his senses. He realized we had all the paperwork and he was being a dick for no reason. He released the computer and all was well.
By this time, we had also built a state of the art computer room with a raised floor, air conditioning and big windows so everyone could see the computer when they passed by. The company did what was necessary to declare it a bonded area and Mexico approved the designation. That’s how we avoided any problems buying the computer from an American IBM office and we cancelled the order from IBM Mexico.
During those days of implementation I was busier than hell. During the week, I stayed in a hotel on the American side in Nogales Arizona. I got to know the IT staff and all the managers and supervisors in the plant really well. All management were men and the plant was almost 3000 women. I also got to know and ate at some of the grungiest places in the world, but the food was great.
It was during the following months that the corporate Director of MIS started coming to the plant more often to watch what I was doing. He never interfered, but he attended all the meetings, the training sessions and asked a lot of questions. I was teaching him how it was done, real time.
He was also a single guy and enjoyed going out with me in Tucson. We would always go to Smugglers on any Friday or Saturday night he was in town because by now I was really well known at Smugglers. Unknown to me my reputation preceded me within the corporate hierarchy.
Before you knew it, all the big wigs were coming to visit the plant and always had a Friday or Saturday night in Tucson. I took them all out and we all had a great time and I’m sure it all helped me in the scheme of things.
In Nogales, about once a month, I would go out with some of the Mexican supervisors and have a few drinks. I would try to buy more than one round, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They each bought a round and then we would either start all over again or call it quits.
Mexicans are a great bunch of people and I saw their real mud when the Peso devalued in February of 1982. The boys still wouldn’t let me buy more than my round. Then in August, the peso was devalued again. Look at it this way. Let’s say you had $200,000 in savings. After the devaluations ended you would have been left with about $35,000.
If that happened here I think a lot of Americans would be jumping out of buildings. Mexican law didn’t allow GI to increase the employees pay so the payroll bill went down to almost nothing. I still couldn’t buy them a drink so I was really glad the implementation was coming to an end.
One Sunday night before a huge meeting I had scheduled for Monday morning there was a knock on the door at my apartment in Tucson. It was an old girlfriend who had moved out a couple of months before. I told her I didn’t want to see her, but she wiggled her way in, just to talk.
As the night got later I told her she had to leave because I had an important meeting in the morning. She wouldn’t leave and barring physical force, she was not leaving.
I tried going to bed and not letting her in, but that didn’t work. The effect of the stress on me started with chest pains and before you know it, I told her to call an ambulance. They took me to the hospital and while I was waiting on the gurney they drew some blood.
While I was waiting, the ex-girlfriend came up to me and told me she was there for me and I told her she was the reason I was there. She left and promised to leave me alone.
A while later the nurses came running down the hallway like a bat out of hell and rushed me to a very highly monitored room with all kinds of TV like monitors. They stuck a needle receptacle in my arm that was connected to morphine.
They gave me a button and instructed me to push it if I felt any pain whatsoever. They actually called my mother in L.A. and advised her she better come. She and my aunt where there the next day. I stayed on a morphine high for about four days.
Rumors at the plant were running rampant with some saying I was dead. On the fifth day, the nurses came in the room, unhooked me and said false alarm you can go home. WHAT?
In 1982 they couldn’t peg a heart attack the way they can now. Apparently, when you have a heart attack your body secretes some stuff that is picked up in a blood test. That same stuff is secreted when you have a massive hiatal hernia attack. It was enough to fool the female doctor on duty, but lucky for me it was just a hiatal hernia, a major heart burn attack. So, I went back to work the following Monday and the plant manager was so happy to see me you’d had thought I just got back from the war.
By January of 1983 all the things I had told them would happen, happened. Everyone celebrated the improved on time shipping percentage, the improved inventory accuracy and the cuts in inventory costs. By February, corporate was serenading me to become part of the corporate team.
With the success of the system at the Mexico Plant I was offered a job working out of corporate GI in Hatboro Pennsylvania. I was promoted to Corporate M.I.S. Senior Manufacturing Systems Analyst. Basically, the same job as I had in 1966 at Ford Aeronutronics, but on a much larger scale. Go to where the problems are and fix them.
Before I accepted the job, they had to agree that no matter where I traveled to, I would spend my week end in Tucson and I would be based in Tucson. When they agreed to that, we had a deal. I was now making pretty good money.
My official office was in Hatboro, but I was only there about three times. On one of my visits my boos, his girlfriend and I went sailing in the Chesapeake
In this capacity, I was also responsible for assisting in the selection, implementation and training of manufacturing management software at the corporate level and working with all divisions. I worked with Jerrold Electronics Canada in Toronto and Delhi Canada, the Tocom Division in Texas as well as the Tucson and Nogales Plants and one in California I can’t remember its name.
In this capacity, I also reviewed most of the leading Materials Requirement Planning (MRP) software across the U.S. There were over two hundred companies that had developed MRP software by that time. It was part of my job to review as many of the top packages as I could. More on that later.
My first assignment was The Jerrold Division located in Toronto Canada. It was April 12th 1983.
That’s next 1983 – 1984 From G.I to GMD