The situation in Singapore was altered in 1988 by the Singapore Government’s change in policy. It no longer needed technology transfer in support of its computer plans. This was now the responsibility of the National Computer Centre. Sperry was terrific and asked me to choose where I next wanted to live and work. Although we had never been to New Zealand, Audrey and I had a real respect for the majority of New Zealanders we had met in Singapore. New Zealand was our choice. Tom Yam, the Singapore vice president, encouraged me to approach Paul Travers, the vice president for Sperry Australasia, in order to explore that opportunity with Sperry.
I was interviewed over breakfast in Seoul by Paul Travers, white haircut with a fringe and tonsure (reminding me of a cleric of the Middle Ages), an aquiline proboscis, and a nose for business and people; sales director Dick Simpson, darkly aggressive and ambitious in a recognisable IBM mould; and regional financial controller Barry Hughes, squat and often talkative, despite a speech impediment. They were in Seoul for a negotiation round in the allocation of the sales quota for the 1986 fiscal year. Paul immediately advised that there would be a position in the region for me. He asked me to think about what I wanted to do and let him know. I called Paul a couple of weeks later and asked if I could go to New Zealand. His derogatory response was not the one I expected: ‘You must be mad. No one wants to work in New Zealand.’
I now understand the relationship between the Aussies and the Kiwis and could have predicted such a comment from the Duntroon Military College–trained vice president who was, in all things, very proudly Australian.
Paul asked if I wanted to be the branch manager. I declined. I did not feel I had the financial background and I had seen the inordinate amount of time that Rom Slimak and Gus Sichero had spent on administrative, non-selling matters in Singapore. Paul recommended that I take a roving role with the title of marketing support manager, and that a general manager would be appointed on an interim basis while I learned the bigger job.
I flew to Wellington and Audrey flew back to the UK to settle our younger lad in the British Army and sell our property in Cheshire. The first problem was for me to discover the address of the office. I could not find the address in the directories I searched from the James Cook Hotel on the Terrace. The Terrace was obviously the place to be, as the Sperry office was apparently hidden at number 39. I was expected, but information about why I was there and what I was expected to be doing had not reached this far. The staff in the office believed I was the new branch manager and that my reticence to accept the role was false modesty. I met everyone in the boardroom to dispel these misconceptions, but I do not think that anyone believed me.
The branch secretary showed me into a sparsely furnished office that was devoid of any paperwork I might address. My first visitor was Geoff Brader, the financial controller. He was most apologetic: my car would not be available until the Friday. That was a nice surprise. My move had occurred so quickly and without any formal paperwork, I had not realised I was getting a company car. A company car was good news to John Smith — a rugby-playing friend from Singapore who was working in Wellington, via Jakarta — with whom I took up residence, in his flat overlooking the Wellington Harbour, two days after I arrived in New Zealand. The fact that the car was a station wagon was excellent news to John, who was a keen surfer with a great deal of equipment to transport.
Bill Everett, the technical support manager, had the Australian contacts and it was he who learned that Sydney-based customer engineering manager, Dennis Lavell, was coming to be branch manager. Dennis arrived about a month after I did. Dennis is a most acceptable person as a work colleague. Dennis had an extensive computer background. He had worked for the Varian Computer Company in Australia when it was acquired by Sperry in the 1970s and had progressed with the company since then. Dennis was not particularly pleased with the move, and succumbed to a business complaint I had seen before, a complaint whose recognition, as far as I am aware, has not been blessed with a name: he slowed down to half pace so that he could have work to do after normal working hours and thus be able to grumble about the number of hours he needed to spend in the office to get all his work done. Dennis initially also spent an inordinate amount of time on the telephone to his ex-colleagues in Australia and we were kept well advised of Australian politics. Dennis’s family moved to Wellington but that did not improve his humour that much. He had chosen to rent a home in Khandallah, a district prone to fog, and a difficult drive into the city.
I returned to Singapore for a few days to help Audrey close that chapter of our lives, and we took the opportunity to visit Townsville, the Great Barrier Reef, and Sydney on our way to Wellington. I had to visit Sydney to be able to attend Sperry Australian headquarters and talk to the HR manager about establishing a salary. I agreed to be paid mid-point of the Hays’ Grade 13, which was not really enough money. I regretted that Terry Thompson had not had the courage to move me to Grade 14 in Singapore, although I had asked him a couple of times. I suspect that Terry was at that level as a group financial controller in the US. The titles we adopted in Asia had no validity in the real world. I also had the chance to talk to Paul Travers again, and he was able to confirm Dennis Lavell’s transfer. Paul suggested I should join in a sales meeting that was being conducted by Dick Simpson that morning.
Of the 20 or so people in the Northpoint, North Sydney, boardroom, Dick was the only person I knew. Impeccably dressed, he said that he would conduct a sales review by asking the Australian state managers to report on their first quarter performances. He prefaced his introduction of his managers by stating that he was unhappy about the level of success with the new UNIX platforms, and that each manager should address this and discuss his plans to remedy the poor performance of that sector of the sales plan. He called Peter Kalms, the New South Wales (NSW) manager, to the podium. As I would have expected, Peter was well prepared. He turned the top page of the flip chart to reveal a detailed matrix of numbers that compared the targets with actual results to date, with the expectation that the end of year results would exceed the targets. It was well done. I would have been pleased to present that set of figures. I was just thinking that this was setting a high standard of presentation and content — the numbers for NSW were similar to those we had been achieving for the whole of Southeast Asia.
But Dick Simpson was not satisfied.
‘Peter, where are your UNIX sales coming from? What have you done to train your staff for this market?’
Peter turned another page of his presentation and outlined the UNIX plan via bullet points. Dick continued to pressure him for the names of companies that Peter and his team had spoken to and their response to the sales pitch. Peter seemed a bit hesitant.
‘Dick, I have to be honest. I do not think we are ready to mount a major campaign yet. We have no software and the in-house machine does not stay up long enough for us to commit to a demonstration.’
Dick asked if the other managers felt the same way. Cliff Patrick from the Melbourne office said he agreed with Peter. Walt Heuer from the Canberra office confirmed the story, as did others. Dick asked Scotty Wallbank, the customer support director, to comment. Scotty had no alternative but to say that the UNIX system was much better than the salespeople had suggested. Dick followed this up.
‘I agree. We should be actively selling UNIX or we shall miss the opportunity.’
Peter Kalms responded:
‘But Dick, I have explained the constraints we have in Sydney.’
‘Peter, I have listened, but you have not heard. I have made the decision to double the UNIX sales target to ensure your enthusiasm for the product.’
‘Dick, you cannot do that!’
‘Peter, I just have — and that applies to all the state managers.’
‘Dick, get fucked! That is neither fair or logical.’
‘Well, you can all get fucked. These are the new rules.’
Suddenly, the f-word was being hurled across the room accusatorially as everyone joined in the free-for-all. I sat there, stunned, bemused, confused, and suddenly aware that I was no longer working in the UK or Asia, where obviously business is conducted somewhat differently to that in Australia. I did not express my reaction: ‘Have I made a terrible mistake?’
I did not participate in the meeting, which continued as if no real confrontation had taken place. The language remained colourful and the attitudes robust. Lunch was a convivial affair, and at the end of the day Paul Travers and others joined us for a drink in the pub below Northpoint. I did wonder how much interest Dick Simpson would have in New Zealand.
Once Audrey got to Wellington she found us a super house to live in, in Whitby to the north of town, overlooking the sea in the Pauatahanui Inlet on a street known locally as the Dress Circle, and I settled down to enjoy a new country.
Dennis Lavell joined us and we were beginning to find our feet. We had both been up to Auckland to meet Kim Bigby, the Auckland sales manager, and to look over his office in the suburb of Newmarket. Once again, Sperry was trying to remain incognito. There was no indication that we had a Sperry office in the directories. I had to call Wellington. We eventually found a very modern-looking three-storey office block with one problem: the architect had designed the skin of the building to be thick glass panes, which were stacked one upon the other, and the accumulative weight of the glass was prone to break the lowest pane with dramatic effect. It was, nonetheless, a nice office.
Back at our Wellington base, Bill Everett had assembled a competent customers services team around him. The team included Graeme Cameron, an older programmer who quietly got on with his assigned tasks and was an invaluable source of information about other computer professionals in Wellington. Graeme Denne was a tall, red-haired, independent spirit. He was the senior hardware troubleshooter and his temperament suited the basic customer engineering logic: ‘It was working once and I need to get it working again.’ It was commitment that sustained Sperry for all the years I worked with the corporation.
Carolyne Mitchell, our public relations manager, had a wonderful marketing project in hand. She had persuaded the company to be a major sponsor for the More–Sperry Business Woman of the Year and was working with the premier business magazine More as the other major sponsor. This was a New Zealand-wide accolade and a big event. It took a lot of her time and involved her in a lot of travelling to wherever regional candidates were being evaluated in anticipation of the final event in Auckland, which was televised and gained a lot of editorial. But it was too high a profile for the small Sperry New Zealand organisation and a huge drain on our finances. I believe it was obvious to everyone that it was not a supportable venture in the long term. When that decision was made, Carolyne left.
Carolyne was the start of a trend. Kim Bigby also left, as did both salesmen from the Wellington office. In late 1985 to early 1986 it was not easy to find suitable replacements and we took a long time to do so. In the interim, Bill Everett and I more or less took over the sales functions. Our two main accounts were the Wanganui Computer Centre and the Ministry of Defence.
Bill Everett had a really good relationship with Wanganui Computer Centre, which served three customers: the Police Force, the Justice Department, and the Ministry of Transport. The centre itself had a history. Wanganui is a two-hour drive from Wellington, and in many respects is a typical, large New Zealand country town, built around a main street containing the same retail outlets as every other town of comparable size. But Wanganui had the computer centre and the New Zealand Post Philatelic Bureau, which offered high level of technical employment in the town. The selection of Wanganui had been controversial and in November 1982 the centre had infamously been attacked by a suicide bomber who had caused considerable damage, blowing himself to bits and causing extensive damage to the front of the building.
However, due to the purpose design and construction of the building and its standby support services, the centre was not seriously prejudiced. (I was told that the installed Sperry 1100s ‘did not miss a beat’.) When I first visited it, the centre was isolated and protected by a formidable fence and strict security systems. My first tour included being shown the visible scars from the bomber’s attack; the impression of the bomber’s spectacles was clearly discernible in the concrete surround. Bill Everett told me of his respect for Bill Whittock, the original centre director who had instilled a sense of discipline and a dedication in his staff. It was a good place to go. It was full of Sperry equipment and we could expect to make the New Zealand sales targets every other year from upgrades to the latest technologies. The trick would have been to get the Ministry of Defence to buy in the alternate years, but it did not work like that.
Figure 10.1: The broken front of the Wanganui Computer Centre in 1982 after the bombing.
Source: Author’s collection.
Doug Hornsby was the Wanganui Computer Centre director. Doug was always well dressed, quietly spoken, and in control of what was going on. The politics were rife. It cannot have been easy supporting the needs of three contrasting organisations, and there were rumours that the Police and the Ministry of Transport enforcement force were to amalgamate, and that the David Lange Labour Government was looking to outsource the government’s computing needs. Doug’s office overlooked the security entrance to the centre and he knew what was going on.
The Ministry of Defence building in Porirua, a suburb of Wellington, was equally interesting. Porirua is built upon the earthquake fault line that devastated the original port of Wellington in 1848. The eight-storey building was protected against earthquake by being built in four quarters, with each quarter isolated from the other by huge rubber blocks, which were obvious inside the building. The main computer floor was designed to spread the units of equipment across the four segments in the hope that the chance of being able to continue business would be greater in the event of a quake.
We had one other Sperry 1100 computer customer: Capital Computer Company (CCL). Paul Kimberley, the director of marketing for Sperry in Australia, and who had been stand-in manager in New Zealand during 1983–1985, had sold to CCL. Paul was known as the ‘Silver Fox’ within Sperry circles, and was not totally trusted. He had sold two other computer bureaus in Australia, and had developed a most attractive proposal for CCL. Paul’s deal, however, was a constant source of problems for those who followed him in Wellington.
CCL’s expectations about the level of services and support from Sperry were much higher than we were able to deliver, and the relationship was a difficult one. Compounding these difficulties was the fact that our commitments to CCL were not recorded in a single document. Ross Davey, the managing director of CCL, was a constant source of stress. He summoned Dennis and me to his office to complain that we had not brought a single new client to CCL, remonstrating: ‘I am not surprised, because I have not seen the appointment of a single Sperry salesman responsible for CCL business.’ This was news to us. We told Ross that we knew nothing of any such arrangement. Ross responded, as he had done previously, and would do again, by reaching into his desk drawer to produce a letter signed by Paul Kimberley stating that Sperry would bring a specific monthly dollar amount of business to CCL. The letter stipulated that if CCL had not attained projected revenues on its own behalf, we would use the Sperry sales force to achieve that level of new business for CCL. At almost every turn we were confronted by a side letter committing us further, often beyond our capabilities. Ross was a huge man, a former Wellington provincial rugby representative with a wide circle of business contacts. We did our best to listen and understand, but it was not always easy, as we seemed to be constantly under the threat of litigation. Until we learned how to respond, as a single entity, to Ross Davey’s theatrics, he held the upper hand in negotiations. It took both companies time, and lost opportunities, to come to a consensus in working together.
We also had smaller systems that were working well. The New Zealand Wool Board had a Sperry 90/30 system with a working solution for monitoring wool stocks and prices. The board’s unique capability was to move a terminal into the wool trading auctions and to collect sales data in real time.
The Rhône-Poulenc New Zealand office in Naenae, the Wellington suburb beyond Lower Hutt, quietly got on with its support of the chemical manufacture and distribution business. I used to enjoy visiting the site for a monthly progress meeting and talking to finance manager Murray Georgel, and I always left believing in computers once again.
May & Baker in Auckland was still operating a Varian V77 computer system. Its system support came from the UK so our service to it was limited to keeping the hardware functional.
With all this going on, Dennis Lavell was under pressure to appoint an Auckland manager. The first I knew about it was a call from Tom Qureshi, who had just been appointed. Dennis was flying back from Auckland and had suggested I might be a good source of information for Tom. Tom sounded so excited that I was keen to help and emptied the Wellington library of marketing material to make sure that he had all he would ever need. Tom rang back the next day; the couriered material had arrived. Tom had a Middle Eastern background and was a UNIX man with a really positive attitude to that emerging standard. The guy was a real live wire and quickly enthused the Auckland office. He perplexed us in Wellington through his constant search of a deal for his UNIX prospects. The trouble was that the margins between the transfer price and the list selling price were really small. It was a new venture and, even with Tom’s experience, we experienced as much trouble in getting Sperry UNIX capability recognised in the marketplace. Tom was an early adopter of the idea of joint projects in which both the customer and Sperry might benefit from any application software developed for the New Zealand market.
It was about this time that we had a visit from Paul Travers, who took Dennis, Bill Everett, and I out to dinner and presented us with the option of New Zealand becoming a Sperry subsidiary in its own right, or of formally acknowledging a link to Australia as a direct subsidiary. It would have been nice to be a distinct entity, but it did not make sense. We were approximately 25 persons, with an annual revenue of US$3 million or so. We could not afford to employ the specialist support staff we forecast we might need. Paul was offering support from Australia at the rate of US$600 per man day plus expenses, so we went with that.
I spent a lot of effort in recruiting two salesmen for Wellington. Gerald Fiddes had essentially interviewed me on two occasions and had requested a written confirmation, prior to contract, of the points we had discussed. I thought this a plus in terms of account management and pencilled him in as a candidate to look after the Wanganui Computer Centre. He seemed to have worked for most of the computer companies in Wellington and to have a good grasp of what we wanted to achieve for Sperry New Zealand. Gerald was a very neat and tidy man. (I did not read the signs that he was very structured in his approach but rather pedantic and would get on everyone’s nerves at the Wanganui Computer Centre and they would eventually ask that we remove him from the account.) Mike Liapis was quite different; in appearance he was like a badly tied parcel. He needed a job and was seeking employment in Wellington to be near a young family from which he was removed, as he was then employed in Brisbane, Queensland. Mike came across as someone who was really keen to learn. I pencilled him in to look after our Department of Defence business.
Having salesmen to manage was the cause of some personal soul-searching. The Southeast Asia experience was one where I had, more often than not, been the only Sperry representative in the country. I had then carried a card that said I was a ‘technician’, and I had enjoyed taking the technical as well as sales decisions. When Dennis and I lost the sales team in Wellington, I had easily slipped into a self-sufficient mode of working. Now I had to get back to being a team player and leader.
Figure 10.2: I had managed to sell major systems for Sperry for 21 years before the opportunity arose for me to be senior enough to be included in the (almost mandatory) contract signing picture. Here, Murray Bond signs on behalf of Telecom. Neil McDougall and Dianne McDonald exhibit their relief that it is finalised.
Source: Author’s collection.
Meanwhile, I had potential business to close. The Telecommunication Authority of Singapore had been implementing a system to help them track the underground (tail end) copper wires that comprise an essential part of networks (and still do today). I had discussed the system in Singapore with a representative of the Swedish Telecommunications Company, its Swedcom sales subsidiary, who had told me that he was also visiting New Zealand. The timing was perfect, and we were talking to Warwick Kay, the computer director of the Telecom Corporation of New Zealand, who was the correct level of executive. Swedcom was in the process of talking to Telecom and was amenable to our joining its sales effort. The Swedcom software ran on Sperry equipment in Farsta in Sweden, so it made sense for a joint approach. Warwick Kay instigated a business case analysis based upon the Swedcom figure of an effective 40 per cent increase in revenue potential from the copper wires which would be rediscovered through the street-based database. The database would be created from in-house historical data and actual discovery during day-to-day operations. Better still, Telecom recruited Murray Bond from the Department of Defence to head the business case project. Murray had two independent contract consultants working with him, Neil McDougall and Dianne McDonald. As it happened, I had met them both through the New Zealand Computer Society. Murray made the business case and we signed the appropriate contracts. The application software was to come from Swedcom, so the Sperry support obligations were principally in the training area.
Telecom appointed a most amiable, rotund project manager, Eddie Palmer, to oversee the system installation and implementation. Eddie was not daunted by the size and importance of the overall system to be installed in Palmerston North, a two-hour drive north of Wellington. Eddie reported to the Telecom area data processing manager. They worked well together with the project staff in a strong union environment. The union did not wish to be too conscious of the rule book, and the project moved forward. Sperry appointed a project manager from the Sydney office, Col Cunningham, who fitted into Palmerston North and was seen to be doing a great job. Engineering support was provided by the Wanganui Centre staff as required until the system became operational.
Eddie Palmer instituted a Thursday-night sports evening for the project and I was in Palmerston most Thursdays, taking on all comers at darts, dominoes, bar bowls, ten-pin bowling, or any other activity. We played a few games of cricket, including one against the Sperry Wellington office. The resultant team spirit was excellent and project matters were progressing well, but the dark clouds of ‘rationalisation’ were hanging over us. The Lange Government was one of the first in the world to attempt to disengage government from the day-to-day operation of state-owned enterprises. The New Zealand Post Office was broken up into New Zealand Post and Telecom New Zealand. Our project was eventually a victim. Before it died, the hardware was moved into the Telecom New Zealand data centre in the Wellington CBD.
One challenge I was keen to take up followed Sperry’s announcement of an initiative to promote a presence in artificial intelligence. A significant grant was to be awarded to 20 universities selected worldwide, and the grant package would include the award of the (Texas Instruments rebadged) Explorer LISP-based processor, which was very fast, and had huge memory. The specialised software to translate the expert’s thought processes into manageable algorithms was provided by IntelliCorp through its Knowledge Engineering Environment. Why not have some New Zealand participation in the scheme, I thought. I went to see Professor Stan Smith, head of the computer and systems engineering department of Victoria University of Wellington. Professor Smith was an American mathematician, and he was keen to make an application for a grant. He introduced me to Peter André, a senior lecturer in the department. Peter was a wonderful character, well respected and very recognisable about the campus as he had decided that he was comfortable in shorts and did not need to wear shoes. Peter would sit cross-legged on his seat in front of a computer terminal as we put together the grant application. It was a good application. Peter won the confidence of the head of the engineering school and our project would be to try and build a representation of the thought processes of an engineer consulting on the efficiency of a continuous production process — we had in mind the Mitsubishi assembly plant in Porirua.
Figure 10.3: The contract signing with Victoria University, Wellington. Professor Stan Smith, Dennis Lavell, and I attended.
Source: Author’s collection.
I was really pleased when Victoria University became the recipient of a grant. We used the occasion of the contract signature to invite Paul Travers to be a signatory. Paul came and was a delightful guest. Professor Smith arranged that the Vice Chancellor of the university would be their signatory and we met in the Vice Chancellor’s office for the photo opportunity. Professor Stan Smith, Dennis Lavell, and myself attended. We enjoyed a sherry during our informal meeting and completed our business. As we walked through the university grounds, Paul commented: ‘Sherry is a most civilised drink. I wonder why we do not drink it more often.’ Paul stayed for lunch that day and we did drink some more sherry. Most civilised, we agreed.
The Australian National University in Canberra was also successful with its grant application. Graeme Denne installed the Texas Instruments box and the software at Victoria University, and kept the system operational, despite the fact that spares took several more months to arrive. Not only had spares been an oversight, the company also failed in putting a monitoring liaison system in place to follow-up and coordinate the three-monthly reports on progress that the award recipients were contractually obliged to submit. That became rather a burden to the two Australasian offices, but we did attempt to keep interest going in the Wellington activity. Peter André had two PhD students working with the equipment, but they lost the support of their expert. This was a limitation of artificial intelligence — it is a people limitation, as the expert has to have the time and the inclination to explain his thought processes for their translation into a repetitive process, which is tedious and time-consuming. The university liked the equipment and made good use of it for postgraduate studies, although not strictly for the purpose intended. Professor Smith, whose speciality was the predictive management of telecommunications networks, persevered with the two assigned students, developing a model of his own expertise and the two students were awarded their doctoral degrees.
Another piece of business I wanted was from Air New Zealand. I felt quite confident that I knew enough about the UNIVAC Standard Airline System to be able to prompt an interest from Air New Zealand. In the first two years I was in New Zealand, I must have made four appointments to see John Englefield, the computer centre director, and spent several hours waiting to see him. He would eventually appear, looking and behaving totally stressed, to ask me to forgive him, and for me to speak to Alex McFarlane, the network manager who seemed to be Mr Englefield’s deputy. John Englefield had a terrible reputation for agreeing to see supplier representatives but never being available, and was always anxious to buy the latest and greatest from IBM. I really did want to speak to Mr Englefield about an initiative in which Peter Williams — an engineer based in Christchurch who was used to fending for himself and had been encouraged to look for business when he was not busy in his customer engineering role — was making progress in his endeavours to get into the maintenance division of the airline.
The Air New Zealand maintenance division in Christchurch was progressive, and was expanding its portfolio to offer services to other airlines and aircraft operators, including the military. Peter Williams had unearthed a Mapper-appropriate application. At about this time, Sperry announced a PC-based Mapper 5 hardware and software system that dramatically reduced the price of a small Mapper package. When Air New Zealand maintains an engine, it breaks it down into its constituent parts for inspection and certification before rebuilding the engine. It was Peter’s proposal that each part be assigned a barcode and that the physical movement of each part as it progressed through the engineering workshop be recorded in a Mapper database. This meant we had to design a barcode reader interface, but it was an ideal application. The Air New Zealand engineers understood the value of knowing where engine parts were at any time and were not about to attempt too much, although it made sense to compile the cost of new spare parts when they were required as well as the time spent working on each part as it moved through the maintenance shop. Peter had done a great job with the airline. I spent time with him putting a formal proposal together and then worked with the engineering manager on the business case before we got approval.
When the Air New Zealand engineering director raised the issue of head office support for a computer system that was not wearing an IBM badge, I convinced him that Mapper was a tool, not a system. I knew we were potentially avoiding a major issue, but it seemed expedient at the time. One of the reasons I had wanted to talk to John Englefield was to tell him about the maintenance division’s interest in Mapper. The division was looking ahead and could see the application of a similar system to monitor staff placements. The scheduling of planned and preventive maintenance for the airline and its external clients was also being discussed. I had advised the airline’s marketing group of what we were planning, and it sent an analyst to help with the system documentation, which might be used in the future as a marketing document, subject to Air New Zealand allowing us to sell its application to other interested users.
In early 1986, we had heard rumours that the Burroughs Corporation was talking to Sperry about a possible takeover or merger. We did not pay much attention to the rumours. My knowledge of Burroughs was sparse. We knew that it had provided systems to two government computer centres in Wellington, and we were enviously watching the progress of a new building carrying a huge Burroughs banner opposite our office on the Terrace.
The merger took place in late 1986. The merger was initiated by the dominant player, depending upon the market presence of the companies in their own parts of the world, so, in New Zealand, the 360-strong Burroughs Corporation was easily able to absorb the 20 Sperry people it chose to keep. Dennis Lavell was pleased and relieved to go back to Sydney.
The target date for the effective merger to take place in New Zealand was 1 January 1987. I had an interview with Brian Clarke, the Burroughs New Zealand general manager, in October 1986. Brian was an impressive man in his early 40s, tall, dark, and wearing a neat, clipped beard. Brian presented the merger to me as the opportunity to join what had been designated Burroughs’s top country team that year. He was very confident. He told me that I would be left with responsibility for the Sperry business and business plan until 1 January 1989, and he asked me to give him and the new company a two-year trial period. I made that commitment to him with a handshake.
Brian Clarke was the only Burroughs manager to approach us. That worried me. I thought it appropriate to meet someone else. I rang Burroughs, and eventually spoke to Dave Arlidge, the manager of government business. Dave and I met a couple of times, had lunch, including a couple of beers, and wondered which of us would hold that appointment after 1 January.
From 1 January we were a combined company. Those of us left moved from the Terrace into the shabby old Burroughs office on Thorndon Quay, pending completion of the new Burroughs office. It was obvious why the company had decided to move. The Burroughs people were of a kind. While they were a mix of ages, with different backgrounds and education, they exhibited a common committed discipline and a practiced response. I was reminded of the rows of terracotta soldiers that stood in rows as a part of the Chinese funeral celebration, all different, but essentially indistinguishable.
I had another short interview with Brian Clarke, who instructed me to convert all of the Sperry 1100 mainframes to Burroughs A Series systems, and to lose the smaller Sperry systems, without making it obvious that we were trying to get rid of them, and to report on these objectives to Bruce Christianson, the Burroughs sales director. My initial reaction was one of horror. Trying to be pragmatic, I asked Brian to consider the amount of development effort that had been put into their systems, particularly by the Wanganui Computer Centre and the Ministry of Defence. I told him that it was most unlikely that either customer would even begin to consider a change. I reminded Brian that the newly merged entity had written to its combined user lists to state that all product lines would be fully supported for a further five years. Brian suggested that how I went about my new tasks was up to me and that Christianson was there to help. It was not the time for a debate. My concern also extended down to the smaller users. I knew the effort that had gone into the implementation of viable systems for them. It was a black day for me.
The Burroughs style was different. Its people were not as worldly-wise as my Sperry colleagues. If my new colleagues had travelled, their overseas experience had been of their own volition, a traditional rite of passage undertaken by most Kiwis. They were a considerably larger group of people than I had experienced so far, and, it seemed, involved less mixing of disciplines, even in a bid situation. In the Burroughs case, the bid manager would formally seek written input from the appropriate company disciplines. I had been used to small group discussion and consensus. On reflection, the largest Sperry division I had worked for had been the first one, with perhaps 50 people in the UNIVAC division of Remington Rand. Every subsequent move had taken me into a small group dedicated to opening a new market where we had needed to be generalists rather than specialists.
We worked for a few months without a new name for the merged entity. Every employee was invited to submit names, with a fairly substantial prize for the winner. Brian Clarke handled the announcement of the new name imaginatively, until the moment of the unveiling. Everyone in the company was presented with a bottle of champagne and a written invitation to watch the television at 6.00 am the next morning for the formal announcement. On the television, Brian announced the name of the company as UNI-sys, or was it uni-SYS? Brian emphasised both start and end of the name in his presentation. My guess was that he had not heard how to pronounce the new name and was working from hard-copy. It was not a name that slipped easily off his tongue. The underlying theme was unified systems, or universal systems. Audrey and I drank the champagne early in the morning before we drove into Wellington to work. By the time I got in to the office I already had a facsimile from Unisys in the UK, the footer of which carried the new company logo and an explanation: ‘UNISYS–UNIVAC is still your supplier.’ This did not go down at all well with my new colleagues. I thought it quite funny.
My place in the new Unisys had been made apparent on the day we moved into the new office. Burroughs bureaucracy pervaded the new office. Senior managers had enclosed offices and were given black desktops. Everyone else was seated in a low cubicle in the open-plan area. Junior managers were allocated a black workbench, workers were allocated a plain white worksurface. Of course, my workstation place was white.
I was made to feel less welcome than I had anticipated: I was not initially signed on to the in-house computing system, and was not allocated a terminal, although I did have an allocated (white) workspace. My car, which was due for renewal, was not renewed, and I was not allocated a place in the company car park — in fact, the car park attendant took it upon himself not to allow my older car into the company car park at all (as I was not on his list, even as a casual user). I was expressly forbidden to meet a visiting former Sperry colleague, Alfred Tong, at Wellington Airport. Alfred had won a regional marketing appointment in the merged company. He had been a real friend to me when I arrived in Singapore, but I was told that it was not policy to meet people at the airport. The company paid expenses to travellers. I argued that Alfred was a friend as well as a former colleague, but Christianson formally forbade me from meeting him. To add to a feeling of isolation, I was denied the acknowledgment of a salesman of the year trip to South America for the Telecom New Zealand order and other 1986 business, because it had not been on the Burroughs list of prospects. Another excuse was that, although the value of the contract would have qualified me as a Burroughs salesman, it would not have qualified me as a Burroughs sales manager. I had both roles in the Sperry sale. The value of the contract, however, was used to allow two former Burroughs salesmen who had not achieved their targets to make up their numbers.
I was aware that Bill Everett was fighting Unisys for monies that it had agreed were owed. The company even took possession of the original Sperry car from Bill’s home. It was a ridiculous situation — the administration manager of the merged company had been a colleague of Bill’s when they were both younger engineers with Burroughs. To top it off, the new human resources department asked me to repay the monies that Sperry had spent moving me from Singapore to Wellington. Its argument was that the Burroughs Corporation did not pay such expenses and in discussing the move I had told Brian Clarke that I had instigated it. The numbers would have passed through the Sperry books two years previously, but HR had dug them out.
Brian Clarke was an innovator. The New Zealand organisation was selected by Unisys to explore the potential for organisational development, which we called the ‘flattening of the organisational pyramid’. Today we describe it as empowering staff to make decisions based upon their understanding and knowledge of company principles. An organisational change manager was appointed, and he and Brian met every one of the company employees, in small groups of up to eight people, and would present the theory and practice of the changes they wanted to introduce. The session I attended was a virtuosic performance by Brian. He ran the session at the pace he wanted and gained complete acceptance from the participants. I know that he also won over the Wanganui Computer Centre engineers, who had been far removed from management philosophy at Wanganui, when they attended their sessions with the new boss. Brian set and published the rules for the process. The small group would meet at 8.00 am and not be interrupted for any reason until noon. Brian won kudos from the entire organisation when he refused entry to one of his directors who wanted to join the group, having missed the 8.00 am start.
Bruce Christianson took it upon himself to talk to me once a month. This was, at times, quite enjoyable. I was having some fun at his expense. Bruce and I would discuss a raft of issues without seeming to ever reach a conclusion. On the first such occasion, he was interested to learn who had authorised my introduction to a defence artificial intelligence visitor a few weeks earlier. I told him that no one had authorised this. He stated that he was astonished. On another occasion, we discussed at length the technical merits of the Sperry 1100 36-bit word architecture and multi-program real-time operating system versus the Burroughs A Series 60-bit word single-program operating system, from a salesman’s perspective. Another time, we argued the merits of Mapper against the Burroughs Linc fourth generation software development tool. One day, we even discussed the merits of the Sperry personnel policy that had seen me change my role from sales, to technical, to administrative, and then back to sales on a two-year cycle. He admitted that the former Burroughs people found it difficult to place me: ‘Are you a technician or a salesman?’ He seemed totally content with his 40 years with Burroughs in Wellington, starting with the basic accounting machines and developing his portfolio to include the biggest hardware systems. We discussed Burroughs’s paper-driven, bureaucratic approach and compared it with Sperry’s more initiative-driven attitude. What I did not realise until much later was that Bruce was in the process of counselling me to look for another job, as Unisys was going to fire me when my two-year agreement with Brian Clarke was up. I did not fit its mould, so I did not deserve to be employed. At the time, I thought that Bruce might actually be interested to learn about the way Sperry had been used to doing things.
It was a surprise to be called in to the office and be given a written dismissal notice. I was to leave in six weeks time, on 30 September, the second-year anniversary of my commitment to Brian Clarke. The man who saw me expressed disappointment, but his demeanour was not one of contrition. As hard as I had tried, I did not fit the New Zealand Unisys pattern. I sought legal advice regarding whether six weeks notice was appropriate after 23 years of service. My solicitor said that it was not in accordance with New Zealand practice and wrote to Unisys, who replied that it considered my tenure to have started when I had come to New Zealand four years previously.
Richard Hawkins, with whom I had worked so closely in Malaysia and India, had left Singapore before me and returned to Sperry Australia, and had recently contacted me. He had not stayed with the new Unisys Australia and was working with Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA), the airline’s private network operator and outsourcer (before the service was defined as such), who was a major user of Sperry systems. Richard asked if I had an interest in joining SITA back in Singapore as he had done. I asked Audrey if we wanted to go back to Singapore. We did not. But she did add that I was more interesting a person when I was travelling, and I had hardly spent any time out of Wellington since the merger. In Singapore, I had been used to being out of the country for 200 days a year. One reason for our move to New Zealand was so that we might spend more time in support of one another, as our two boys had opted to go back to the UK rather than stay in Singapore and do national service. I read into Audrey’s comments the implication that I might seek a job with travel opportunities.