Monday, November 22, 2010

Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part I:

I have not yet blogged about one of the most fascinating chapters in the miserable history of Exxon Office Systems. This is a long story, so I will break it into short chapters. It’s the story of how, as some of the employees put it, everyone at Vydec was entitled to a cow.

In the1970’s, Exxon asked itself what it would do when the world ran out of oil. They found one business where profits were higher than oil profits – computers – and decided to get their toes wet. Eventually, Exxon started 21 ventures in many aspects of computer operations. Most of these were miserable failures. That’s a compliment, because it suggests that Exxon had the nerve to take forward-looking risks. Around 1980, Exxon consolidated its best ventures into Exxon Office Systems. EOS’s evident goal was to be so successful at selling office computer equipment that it would overwhelm Xerox. (I’m not making that up. EOS fixed its goal on Xerox while ignoring the PC word-processing tidal wave that would utterly destroy their business models.)

Two of the consolidated ventures were big, with over a thousand employees: Vydec, and Qwix. I had a great front row seat to follow, and be buffeted by, the machinations of EOS, as an employee of one of the three little ventures that were included in the new company. (I was in Princeton-based XONEX, a venture to develop the paperless office, using optical disks as storage in 1980. Ha.)

Vydec and Qwix vied for domination of EOS, and Vydec won. They controlled marketing and planning. Both they and Qwix could manufacture hardware. The Vydec site also developed software, although the software was never very good.

The physical layout of EOS was weird, because hardly anyone was required to move when it was created. Headquarters were in Stamford, right across the road from Xerox’s biggest Eastern office. Vydec was in North Jersey. Qwix worked out of a gigantic building south of Philly, in a rather bucolic area. The smaller pieces of EOS were in San Francisco, Princeton, Miami and Connecticut. When major managers were summoned to meetings at headquarters, the Qwix people might spend ten hours in a car, round-trip.
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