Adventures in CADAM-land
a memoir by Michael Bourgo
Early in 1980, my boss informed me that a special marketing team was being assembled out of Division HQ to provide CADAM (acronym for a software product called “Computer-aided Design and Manufacturing”) marketing and support expertise across the country. He informed me that he had received inquiries about my availability to join this special task force. He further added that if I were interested, I could accept an invitation to be interviewed. Following that, he said, if I thought it was something to pursue, he would be willing to release me from the International Harvester team.
Naturally, I was excited at the prospect of a move up to a divisional posting. By tradition in IBM people started in the branch, learned the ropes, and demonstrated successful results. That led to a staff job in the regional or divisional office, where one acquired a broader perspective of the business and learned a new set of skills. If that posting was deemed a success, it was followed by a move back to the branch office either in management or as a senior professional at a management paygrade.
On the other hand, it was also somewhat unsettling. What if I didn’t have the stuff to do the job? What if I found the travel requirements (which Jim warned would be extensive) were not a good fit for my family life? What if?
There was no reason to stay in the Chicago West IBM branch on the Harvester team. 1979 had been an utter disaster all around. The strike started, which brought budget cuts. Our old friend at the IT center, John Novack, had retired and his successor, a brash character from the truck division and no friend of Big Blue, had at quickly replaced two large IBM mainframes in the Corporate Computer Center with copycat versions made by a competitor named Amdahl. The success my sales partner Marv D. and I had achieved with our CADAM installations could not offset that much red ink in our sales ledger. Marv and I were both rather disgruntled fellows: we had turned in banner results in 1979 and our reward was no recognition and meager commission checks since we were on a shared plan with the rest of the team.
The manager of the new national CADAM team was a man named Gerald Patterson, and he had taken note of what Marv and I were doing in Chicago. Thinking about this forty years later, I now wonder why he recruited me instead of Marv. I had not learned a great deal about the CAD application over the years. I knew how to operate the display scope and do simple drawings, but I certainly did not have the skills to explain or demonstrate in detail how to produce a complete engineering drawing on the system. My strengths were in the computer support realm: how to select the hardware, install the software, how to solve typical problems, how to do back-ups, etc. All were valuable things to know and essential to the success of the installation, but it was Marv who knew how to talk to the engineers in their own language and persuade them that CADAM was a better answer than pencil and paper.
Patterson got in touch and we had several preliminary chats over the phone. He then arranged to meet with me in March in Chicago. It was a long discussion, well over an hour. I gave him a rundown of what I had been doing at Harvester. He gave me a very thorough and frank picture of what should be expected in the proposed job: no promotion for the moment (not music to my ears), a lot of travel, a lot of overtime and an uncertain future. Jerry was not terribly friendly, in fact a bit gruff, but impressed me as a no-nonsense straight shooter that I could trust.
As he explained it, his team was an experiment designed to discover if IBM could become a force in computer-aided design. His crew of eight would be a resource to help the branch offices by bringing in depth knowledge to the CADAM sales process. It had been three years since the CADAM product was introduced and there had only been a handful of installations. He thought we had just a couple of years to show results, and if we failed, there was no telling where we’d end up. We parted with an agreement to be in touch. Though Jerry did not make a formal offer, I felt that I had passed muster.
I went home that evening and explained the situation to my wife. Never a risk taker, apprehensive about how much time I’d be absent, and no fan of overtime, she was dubious. Over the next few days I argued that this was our chance to move up in the world and that it would not be wise to turn it down. Eventually, she agreed.
Before long my boss informed me that Patterson had an offer to make. Jerry and I connected on the phone and he spelled it out: I would be working from downtown Chicago covering the entire Midwest Region (some 15 states or so) and paired with a sales partner named Don M. I would still be an IBM journeyman at salary level 55 (same as my rank in the branch) but with a very decent pay raise—about 10% as I recall. I was to start my new duties as an “Industry Specialist” on May 1, 1980. For the next 30+ months I could say, “Hi, I’m from HQ and I’m here to help.”
Don was moving to Chicago from New Orleans, where he had sold CADAM to a major ship builder. Originally from Philadelphia, he was a stylish dresser who sported a Frankie Valli pompadour. He was the stereotypical salesman in every way—jovial, optimistic, and prone to hyperbole. He had some background in engineering and was a real performer when giving a presentation or a demo. As the guy who knew the computer side of things, I would be his complement. Though we were complete opposites in terms of style, interests and skills, we hit it off at once and worked well together, though as time went on, we tended increasingly to operate alone in order to be able to cover more situations.
My first few months on the job were not very productive, but a learning experience. I paid close attention to Don as he went through his song and dance and began to feel much more comfortable with the language of engineering and engineering drawings. I went to Chicago’s venerable bookseller, Kroch and Brentano and purchased a comprehensive drafting textbook, which I studied from cover to cover. I talked Patterson into funding a trip to Los Angeles so that I could attend a weeklong CADAM basics course at Lockheed’s ed center. With that and many hours of practice on our demo display unit in the Chicago Data Center, I was eventually able to demonstrate all the functions of the system both confidently and competently.
My father (a civil engineer) had died the year before I got this new assignment and I have often thought how amused he would have been to witness his son, the history major, enmeshed in the details of drafting. I can still imagine him saying about time that I finally learned some really useful skills.
The next two years went by a with a blur. I averaged some 100 air flights each year, and visited virtually every branch office in the region. We had booths at various manufacturing and engineering trade shows where I learned the ins and outs of scooping up good prospects on the convention floor. I also spent far too much time away from home, leaving my wife to carry the load there while I went about the job of making myself a likely prospect for future promotion. By midyear of 1981 I had done enough good work to persuade Patterson to promote me to the advisory level, which meant I was now positioned for my post CADAM career.
It was in 1981 I really came into my own. First I managed to close three sales in Akron—Firestone Tire, Goodyear and Timken Steel. Along with other wins, I sold the product to Long John Silver’s and opened up the fast food industry for CADAM, which eventually led to a close at McDonald’s (though the actual sale at the golden arches was not completed until after I left the team). This record resulted in a IBM Director’s award ($1000) and an invitation to the SE Symposium, which was to take place in Miami. My spouse was not amused. “I’m supposed to be happy that you just won another trip out of town?”
But I did manage to reward her just a bit for her sacrifices by arranging a weekend for her in New Orleans, a city that had long been on her wish list. With the assistance of Don and one of his old pals in the New Orleans branch, several prospective customers were located who needed a call from an IBM product expert to close the sale. I went down on a Wednesday, spent Thursday on business and Friday met Jerrie at Louis Armstrong International. We had a glorious weekend seeing the sights and enjoying several of NOLA’s best restaurants. I have no idea if IBM ever managed to sell anything to the two accounts I visited.
On one other occasion I managed to preserve domestic harmony with a bit of travel ingenuity. It so happened that my son’s first cello recital and a major executive presentation in Akron at Firestone were on the same day. The presentation was at 2:00 PM (EST) and Jon’s recital was at 7:00 PM (CST). Theoretically, I should be able to fly home in time to get to the concert, but there were several large if’s looming in the background. Would the meeting end at 3:00 after the customary hour or so? Would I be able to get the Cleveland airport in time for a 4:55 flight? Would the plane be on time landing at O’Hare? And so forth…
There were two things I could do to help, and I did them. First I booked the home leg from Cleveland rather than Akron since it would be a direct flight and bit faster. Second, I paid for an upgrade to first class so that I wouldn’t have to wait ten minutes or longer to deplane from the back of the aircraft in Chicago. I had a few harrowing moments here and there on the way home, but all worked in the end. Just as the musicians started to file in, I took my seat and escaped any possible fall-out since I had promised my family that I would be on hand without fail. (As a bonus, the presentation had gone off without a hitch, the VP of engineering signed off, and we had an order in hand the following week.) Occasionally, everything seems fated to work out.
My success in Akron led to an effort by the branch to recruit me. The bait was a promotion to senior rank (with pay equivalent to first line management and a promise that I would be reporting directly to the branch manager). However this had not been done according to the rules, which called for getting Patterson’s permission before approaching me. The ever alert Jerry did a little sleuthing and discovered that Branch Office 012 did not have a hire ticket or a budget for my move. He at once broke up the romance and instructed me to have no further truck with the offending manager (who just happened to be the former account exec at Harvester in Chicago). As things turned out, Mr. Patterson had other ideas about my future.
In the spring of 1982, Jerry landed a job as the Location Manager in Cedar Rapids and left us. His team had more than met expectations: over two years, we had landed more than 50 new CADAM accounts. Don and I had accounted for about 40% the wins, even though we were just two out of eight players on the team. We were not pleased with Jerry’s replacement (in fact I can’t remember his name), and Don started job hunting in earnest. He was ready to go and more importantly, his wife was a warm weather soul and he wasn’t sure his marriage could survive another winter in Chicago.
After two years of this, I understood how a support staff job like mine burned people out. The constant travel, the hours, and the intensity of the situations we found ourselves in were highly stressful. In my 33 plus years at IBM, my 30 months in CADAM were by far the most jam-packed I ever experienced. Before and since I never worked that hard or learned so much in just a short time.
A large part of the strain was that every situation seemed like a crisis or could become one. We had to deal with a lot of skepticism from our engineering clients. After all IBM was not exactly a major player in the engineering and scientific realm—our forte was record keeping and bean counting—in short data processing (this despite the fact that an IBM 360/65 mainframe guided the Apollo missions.) The political landscape in most companies found the engineers and the IT folks on opposing sides.
The CAD marketplace was intensely competitive and some of our rival firms had products that were more functional than CADAM. We quickly learned to size them up and recognize when we were in a weak position. If a customer wanted to do intricate 3-D design work, we were in trouble. On the other side, if a customer wanted to speed up the time it took to release new product specs to manufacturing, this was an opportunity we should not lose. Of course, productivity was not always an easy sell among engineers preoccupied with elegant designs.
Because there were so few of us, we had to be careful how we allocated our time. If we thought a situation had already been lost to the competition or the customer was simply “kicking tires,” we might refuse to get involved. Such decisions were not welcome among the branch office sales teams that solicited our help, and we were all recipients of numerous complaint letters. Happily enough, Jerry was a tough-minded character who refused to be swayed or intimidated, and only rarely did he find that a complaint was legitimate. In that case, you got a brief lecture, a pat on the back, and were sent back to the fray.
I also experienced a goodly share of the humility that comes with defeat. In some cases I suppose I had done my best and it was simply not enough to overcome the obstacles to a sale. In others (and there were more than a few) I made a serious mistake or my skills were not up to the task. It’s a cliché that we learn from failure because it should be true—though as we all know, there are plenty of people who don’t seem to profit from their mistakes.
Towards the end of 1981 I had my first and only opportunity to use my knowledge of French in a practical setting. To address some of CADAM’s shortcomings in advanced 3-D design, IBM struck up a partnership with Dassault Aviation in Paris, which had developed CATIA (a French acronym for 3-D interactive design software), which ran on IBM mainframes and used IBM display technology. Henceforth we could offer the two products in tandem: complicated design on CATIA and high speed drafting via CADAM.
There was a problem with the product launch: the support team sent by Dassault had minimal (some said no) knowledge of English. What to do? My esteemed boss stepped forward with a solution to this dilemma that he knew would please his boss, our industry director: he just happened to have an employee with a working knowledge of both French and computer-aided design. So for some four weeks, I got to follow the French around, acting as their interpreter at various events. Their boss was a bit officious, but his employees were nice fellows. Patrick Rozoy and I became good friends and stayed in touch for a while after he returned to France. After 40 years his business card is still in my file.
As 1982 rolled on, I really was feeling a bit worn out and I knew I was ready for something else. What would it be? Turns out Mr. Patterson had a plan in mind: upon taking charge in Cedar Rapids he discovered that he had an SE manager that did not meet his requirements. However, said manager was apparently very anxious to leave town, and Jerry wasted no time finding him a job somewhere else. He then offered the position to a fellow that he thought could do the job properly—one Mike Bourgo. It was an offer that pleased me (I was ready for a move up) and my wife (Iowa was the place she wanted to live). The children? They were not sold, but what could they do? Not much.
Sometimes I think about all those people I spent so much time with and what happened to them. Jerry Patterson and I never lost touch and the sad news of his death at 79 came with the Christmas card in 2020. I recently decided to google Don and Marv. I found a Don of the appropriate age (78) in Henderson, Nevada, just the sort of town that might have appealed to a guy with more than a bit of the high roller in him. A Marv D. (age 85) turned up in Houston, again a suitable place, in this instance for a guy who knew a great deal about engineering and aviation. But will I make any effort to find out if these are the fellows I knew? I think not—after all, the guys I knew no longer exist—just as the me of 40 years ago is scarcely here anymore, either.