Thursday, January 17, 2013

Woody Allen Comes to Exxon Office Systems:

Today I weighed 219.6 pounds.

In about 1980, Exxon consolidated the most successful of its computer ventures into a single company: EOS, that is, Exxon Office Systems. The separate parts of this venture had shown vague hopes of success in the office market. Together, we formed a great dud that took several years to properly crash.

One of the first challenges for EOS was to define internal standards to enable the company’s various parts to evolve its products together. This goal, very synergistic, was imposed from above. Each segment of the forced marriage that created EOS knew that its own development procedures were far and away the best. They hoped to be left alone while the rest of the company fell into sync with their own distant drummers. But in order to appear to acquiesce, we formed a few committees.

I represented the Princeton Faction on one committee. At our first meeting, I got a good intimation of how little we might ever accomplish. At the second meeting, our hopeless prognosis socked me in the face, because one of the two largest factions sent a newly-hired employee to represent their interests. This man – I’ll call him John – knew nothing of his new division’s history and methods, and clearly carried no weight with his more entrenched superiors. But there was, still, something very special about John.

He looked exactly like Woody Allen.

John represented the North Jersey faction of EOS. This second meeting took place at the other large division’s headquarters, south of Philadelphia. People generally believed that the Philly division had built their building in a highly synergistic location, if you can restrict the concept of “synergy” to computer development and gourmet food. There was a superb restaurant nearby, a restaurant suitable for expense account dining. We ate lunch there, that day.

We were a four-person committee. We had not had a chance to exchange words in private, but I was sure my friends were thinking the same thing. He looks just like Woody Allen! Does he know? What does he think? And of course, we were also thinking how impolite it would be to say anything.

We sat down to eat, and soon our table was lit by a highly bright light. A good half of the small restaurant lit up, quite the opposite of what one expects. (Even in the 1980’s, many restaurants preferred to keep their patrons in near darkness.)

Well, there was a reason. The manager of the restaurant appeared at our table and apologized. He explained that the local Philadelphia network TV station was doing a segment on his restaurant. If we preferred privacy, he would be glad to move us to the darker half of the room.

When the manager made this suggestion, John drew himself up and said, “What’s it worth to you to have Woody Allen in your restaurant on TV?”

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