Sunday, November 28, 2010

Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part IV:

{I began this story here, about the two biggest divisions of Exxon Office Systems.}

Well, you’ve now heard the high point of my story. This final part is about some of the fallout. My Princeton site had generally dealt with Vydec regarding our hardware needs. Now we had to deal with Lionville (that’s where Qwix was). The contents of the Vydec building had been packed into 51 trucking containers of prototypes and paper, and it took Lionville a year to unpack and catalog the stuff. They weren’t delaying or anything, they just had to fit the unpacking into their already overbusy jobs. For a long time, Lionville people could not find any hardware plans we needed. When at last they could, we had to jump through hoops to follow the operations document that spelled out what every Qwix employee could or could not do. That was really hard, because this operations document was not written down. I learned of it in bits and pieces, as Qwix employees explained why they did not get back to me to say why they had broken a commitment without telling me. I was reminded again and again of Big Julie, a character from Damon Runyan’s New York demi-world, who plays Craps with his own personal, worn-out dice. The spots have been worn off these dice, but Big Julie remembers where they formerly were.

And there was Gary, a Vydec employee who committed to making the transfer to Philly, even though his friends were certain he would never move south. Gary was deep in many projects. Somehow he kept his office in the old Vydec building until a new tenant moved in, and then he kept a temporary Jersey office. Eighteen months after Vydec was closed, his new bosses told him he had to relocate, so he resigned.

With Vydec closed, Lionville was no closer to headquarters in Stamford, and headquarters became more powerful, with marketing consolidating there. Qwix managers still had to make those ten hour round trips to Stamford for meetings.

The Qwix building developed its own defense against the rest of the company, a defense I still find utterly fascinating. From time to time, we needed copies of hardware documentation. Any piece of paper that left the Lionville building was stamped “Preliminary.” This might be a document describing the current Qwix typewriter that had sold hundreds of units; the document might bear the approval signatures of every vice president and director; it was still “preliminary” if it left the building. No commitments, no promises!

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