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Ed Means Column - Learn about Ed Means



Ed on a boat on the Falkirk Wheel in May 2011

Ed Means’ Autobiography, Part 1

Introduction

I was born in Inverness, Scotland on 5 April 1936, the first child of Catherine (Katie) MacKenzie of Inverness and Thomas Escue Means of Georgia, USA. Mother and Father had met in 1918, when she was 17 and he was 18. Father was a U.S. Navy wireless operator at a naval communications station by the Muirtown Bridge over the Caledonian Canal in Inverness. He maintained wireless communication with vessels laying mines between Scotland and Norway in a British-American operation to prevent the German fleet and U-boats escaping from the Baltic to open sea.

 

Mother’s father, Alexander MacKenzie, was born in 1868 in Ullapool, the main harbor and fishing port in the Western Highlands. He became a seaman on the Caledonian Canal steamers Gondolier and Glengarry. He died in 1904 when my mother was three years old. Mother’s mother, Annie Ferguson, was born in Inverness in 1872 and died at the Ach-an-Eas home in 1952. After Grandpa died, Grandma supported herself and three daughters by making their tiny row house at #10 Wells Street – just four houses from the River Ness – into a bakeshop. Mother and her sisters helped with the baking and delivered bread, rolls and scones to Grandma’s customers. My mother did well at the Central School, was considered a “lass o’ pairts”, completed her studies at the Inverness Royal Academy, and was employed by the Inverness Parish Council until she married Father in 1927 and went to America with him.

 

Father’s Family

Father was the youngest son of a farmer in rural central Georgia. The Means family were Ulster Scots in County Tyrone, Ireland. Family members had been straggling into America since 1718. James Means, the first of my direct line in America, arrived around 1782-3 in Savannah, Georgia. He initially lived with relatives near what is now Charlotte, North Carolina. His son, also named James, was born in 1790. The younger James married Mary Ann McKenzie in 1812. She was born in North Carolina in 1787. She was the daughter of William McKenzie, born in 1758 in Cork, Ireland (where his father was probably a British revenue official), and Ellinor (or Eleanor) Campbell, who was born “near Inverness, Scotland” in 1760. Father’s mother was descended from a Scot, William MackGahye, who was a landowner in Virginia in 1654. He is the progenitor of all the McGehees, and many of the McGees, in America. He was probably born in Galloway.

 

The Story

After World War I ended on 11 November 1918, Father remained in Inverness while the former mine-laying team were clearing the mines. He returned to America in mid-1919 and was honorably discharged from the Navy. He became a radio officer on merchant ships and signed onto ships bound for the Glasgow area or northern England. While the ships were in port he would travel to Inverness to see my mother. He later became a stenographer for the U.S. Senate, where he recorded and transcribed the proceedings of Senate committees. When the Senate was in summer recess, he would be off to Inverness again. In 1927 my mother finally agreed to marry him, but first made him promise that all her children would be born in Scotland. That was a major commitment in times before transatlantic air service, but Father honored it.

 

Father and Mother were married in Inverness on 28 October 1927. She subsequently accompanied Father to Washington D.C., where she worked for the Washington agent of Lloyd’s of London. She was greatly surprised to become pregnant in 1935 after eight years of marriage. She returned to Inverness for my birth and left me with Grandma when she returned to Washington some months later. She returned to Inverness in 1938 for my brother Tommy’s birth on 10 August 1938. In 1939 Father became seriously ill. Mother returned to America with me. She left Tommy in Grandma’s care, never dreaming that war would prevent our return until 1945. During the war she took a job in the US Defense Department. When she retired in 1967 after 26 years’ service, she was awarded the Defense Department’s highest award for distinguished service by a civilian. The Secretary of Defense personally presented the award.

In 1940-42 I lived with the family of one of my father’s sisters in Macon, Georgia. In 1943 I moved to the Naval Air Station on the island of Key West, Florida, where my uncle Edward was stationed. He had been in the Navy from 1912 to the early 1930s and then retired to the Naval Reserve. He was recalled to active duty in early 1942. The Key West Naval Air Station was a base for seaplanes which hunted German submarines that were attempting to torpedo oil tankers sailing from the Gulf coast oilfields to east coast ports. After V-E day we moved back to Uncle Edward’s home in Portsmouth, Virginia.

In the summer of 1945 Mother and I returned to Inverness and #10 Wells Street. My re-entry to Scotland was eased by the wonderful staff of Central School. I knew little about £-s-d, stone, hundredweight and the like, but Mrs. Cameron, my 3-B teacher, put extra effort into remedying that. She prepared me well for Miss MacDougall's 4-A class. Miss MacDougall had also taught Mother and remembered her well. She and other teachers had done well for my mother, who, although a poor lassie who delivered buns from her widowed mother's bakery, qualified for and was very successful at the Inverness Royal Academy. 

I spent many hours on the green by the River Ness playing scratch-up football (soccer). Once, several playmates and I ran along the river bank trying to stone a sgarbh, which only years later I discovered was the Gaelic word for cormorant. One of the boys had heard there was a bounty (five shillings as I recall) on them. We didn't collect. I also remember going “oot the Longman” airfield to play in the wrecked airplanes. And then there were the piper and the organ grinder who played (not on the same day!) at our end of the Greig Street Bridge. Sometimes we would “help” them by dancing, but when they finished a tune they would fiercely chase us away.

And I will never forget being on Culloden Moor for the commemoration of the battle exactly 200 years before, when “Bonny Prince Charlie’s” army was crushed by British regulars with artillery, aided by government-supporting clans. The subsequent wanton destruction of the Highlands was not the British Empire’s finest hour. I still regret my inability to attend the 250th anniversary on April 16 1996.

Mother returned to America with Tommy and me in 1947. Scottish education proved very helpful: Tommy and I were tested by education officials and assigned immediately to advanced classes. I was advanced three levels, which in retrospect was not a good thing because I was not allowed to do many things my classmates could do. Luckily I had grown tall at age 11 and most of my classmates never knew my real age until the graduation ceremony. I was fourteen years and two months old. The usual graduation age was 17 or 18. I tried going to a regional college, but I realized I wasn’t mature enough and dropped out.

For the next year I worked first as a grocery clerk and later as a newspaper copy boy, having added three years to my age so I could get the jobs. Tommy and I then moved to Washington and lived with Mother, who continued to work at the Defense Department in the Pentagon. Tommy continued in high school and I worked first as a newspaper copy boy, a notoriously low-paying job. I switched to being an office boy/messenger in the Washington office of Pan American World Airways, which paid a tiny bit more but gave me the huge benefit of an almost free flight after a year’s service. Christmas 1952 (and “Hogmanay” 1953) was my first return to Inverness since leaving in 1947.

I left Pan Am a few months later for much better pay as an offset press operator at the Washington gas company. This machine turned out to be the Corporate Secretary’s new toy. Within half a year I was promoted to be a clerk in his office. I then took another shot at college in evening classes, but couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I did know I didn’t want to go into the Army for the required two-year draft, so in January 1955 I enlisted in the Air Force for four years instead.

That was one of the best decisions I ever made. I grew up and – after basic training – had fun while doing it. I was trained as an intelligence specialist and then assigned to an air rescue squadron near Kaiserslautern, Germany, between the Rhine and the French border. My squadron was equipped with amphibious airplanes and helicopters. It was charged with maintaining high readiness for finding and rescuing airmen downed behind enemy lines. As an intelligence specialist I maintained details of small airfields, lakes suitable for water landings, and radar and antiaircraft installations and capabilities in iron curtain countries. I would assist the intelligence officer brief our aircrews on this information before missions. Our squadron prepared to deploy to Cyprus when the infamous five-day Suez war started in 1956, but the war ended before we could deploy. We were also on full alert for a week or so during the Hungarian revolution, but otherwise all was peaceful.  

 I took evening classes in German and also in other academic subjects that were taught under contracts with professors from U.S. colleges. I frequently hooked rides on our airplanes that were going to Britain. Our aircraft were serviced at a U.S. base near Warrington in northern England. Since the aircraft would not return for two or three days, I would take a train to Crewe, where I could connect for a train to Inverness. Sometimes I could hook rides on planes going to bases nearer London, where I could visit cousins. I also hooked rides to Denmark and Norway.

My three-year assignment in Germany ended in June 1958. Luckily for me, the U.S. forces were being downsized at that time. I was discharged six months before my enlistment expired. I started college that September from Los Angeles State College and worked part time. The college honored the classes I took in Germany, so I received a B.S.degree in engineering in September 1960. I had been working part time as an engineering aide with Space Technology Laboratories (STL) in Redondo Beach, several miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. I was promoted to member of the technical staff in June 1960.Father, who had never recovered his health, died in July. I went back to Washington for his burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

At STL I was involved in determining the performance of the propulsion systems of intercontinental ballistic missiles. It involved analyzing huge amounts of data from radar tracking systems and telemetry transmitted from test missiles in flight. I was bored stiff, but it was a prestigious place to work, the people were very congenial, the pay was good, and I married one of the beautiful secretaries, Carol Henderson, that same year. Our only child, Philip Eric, was born in August 1962. We settled down in the pleasant town of Redondo Beach.

Besides being bored with my job, I hated the smoggy, congested Los Angeles area. Luckily Redondo Beach had little smog, but the congestion was everywhere. In 1963 I discovered that Stanford Research Institute (SRI), a large military contractor at that time as well as a scientific research institute, was seeking someone with military experience and an engineering degree. SRI was located in Menlo Park, California, a mile from the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto. The Santa Clara Valley was famous for its cherry, apricot and pear orchards at that time, which was several years before the rapid buildup and its accompanying congestion. Alas, the orchards are now long gone, and the valley was unofficially renamed “Silicon Valley”.

I became an operations analyst in SRI’s Naval Warfare Research Center. Most of my work was with the Marine Corps, which needed to modernize its D-Day-type landing tactics and equipment. I was heavily involved with analyzing Marine operations and requirements for turbine-powered helicopters and hovercraft and advanced surface landing craft. It was great fun – I got to go on training exercises including amphibious landings and helicopter assaults. But I realized I would never become a Marine general when I grew up – nor did I want to – so I decided I would like to go into management consulting.

At that time Stanford University did not have an evening MBA program, but the University of Santa Clara, just a few miles from my home, offered a highly-regarded one. It took three years, but I finally received an MBA in September 1967. Those were the days before MBAs proliferated, but alas! I couldn’t qualify for a commercial/industrial management consulting job at SRI because I had no commercial experience.

Hawaiian Adventure and Misadventure

In 1968 I was offered a job with Pacific Technical Analysts Inc. (PTAI), a small Hawaiian company that did data processing for local companies as well as contract operations analysis and data processing under contract with the Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC). Besides Hawaii, PTAI had data processing centers in Saigon (Vietnam), Bangkok (Thailand), and Vientiane (Laos). I was initially assigned to CINCPAC, with the understanding that I could phase into the commercial operations in a year or so.

My CINCPAC work was very interesting. I got to visit Korea, where a senior South Korean officer gave me a personal tour of the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. I also had an assignment in Japan.

Mother died in October 1967 and was buried next to Father in Arlington National Cemetery. My brother Tommy died in mid-1968.

I became manager of PTAI’s Honolulu data center. It was located on the 14th floor of the Ala Moana building, at that time the tallest building in the Waikiki district. My corner office had a fantastic view toward the ocean and toward the airport. Almost every lunch hour I walked across the Ala Moana park and swam out to the reef and back. Two years later PTAI was acquired by Control Data Corporation, at that time a major computer company, which had just won a contract for developing an advanced command and control system for the U.S. Air force in Vietnam.

I made several trips to Vietnam and Thailand, plus one to Vientiane, Laos, for CDC/PTAI. I also managed our Asian operations while our area manager was off on honeymoon. Our Saigon facility was an ex-French three-storey fortified "villa" in downtown Saigon. Besides the area manager’s office, it housed living quarters for American employees who did not live elsewhere in the city. It had a “roof garden” where the staff would gather and drink beer in the evenings. I happened to be there at the time the Americans started to attack the North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, and I will never forget the steadily repeatedly "thump-pause-thump" and the flashes of the heavy artillery at the Cambodian border. It was surreal.

As CDC’s command and control system development effort neared completion, CDC decided to move the headquarters of its Western Pacific Division, of which PTAI had become a part, back to the mainland. The Honolulu data center provided a revenue stream for TSC, but we knew it was only a matter of time before CDC closed us down, so we bought the division from CDC and named the new company – very unimaginatively – The Systems Corporation (TSC). We completed development of a “turnkey” minicomputer-based system featuring on-line data entry with real-time editing which eliminated punched cards and minimized tape-to-tape sorting. It was successfully used in our data center. I made a trip to American Samoa and Western Samoa to try to sell them to the governments of American and Western Samoa but they decided to stay with IBM. No surprise there.

The president of TSC had even grander plans, derived from an obsession he had developed for ferrocement boats. TSC built a cavity mold for a 50-foot ferrocement boat “based on” a power boat design purchased from a well-known naval architect. The hull was duly completed and fitted out for sea. The launch, which had been enthusiastically publicized in the Hawaii media, was a fiasco. The boat was noticeably bow-heavy and unacceptably sluggish even though the experienced boat builder had precisely followed the architect’s plans. The boat builder investigated and discovered the design was not intended for a ferrocement-hulled boat at all. It quickly became a laughing-stock among Hawaiian boaters. I don’t know what finally became of it.

Another of the President’s plans was to take TSC public in a shares offering. This nearly caused a management revolt. I was named corporate treasurer to try to keep the money under control. Then I discovered that the president had made changes to some of the application document which we submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington. The changes were false, but my signature was on the original. I told him to remove my signature from the final application or I would notify the SEC. Obviously that was the end of my TSC career.

Luckily I had a standing invitation to re-join Stanford Research Institute (which had been formally renamed SRI International in my absence), which I quickly did. I resumed doing work for the Marines. I enjoyed the work and the camaraderie, but I still wanted to try my hand at international management consulting. That will be the subject of part 2.

Ed Means’ Autobiography, Part 2

Management Consulting

My early work as a management consultant involved accompanying experienced consultants on a variety of small projects. One was to evaluate a small company which had developed a computer for analyzing Fourier transforms. I had heard of Fourier transforms but had no clue for how they could be used. This company had applied them to analyses of the sounds generated by the propellers of submarines. These “signatures” are unique to each submarine class, and in some cases to individual submarines within a class. It is obvious that being able to distinguish friendly from unfriendly submarines is a significant advantage. The U.S. Navy had set up an undersea test range off the central California coast to record the signatures of U.S. and friendly country submarines. The control center was on Santa Cruz Island, which had a small landing strip usable only by small single-engine planes. It was an exciting flight and a very interesting project.

 

The largest project I worked on was in Italy, and my assignment to it was accidental. One day I got a phone call from my department manager who was on a marketing trip in Europe. He was in Amsterdam at the time and he said it was freezing, nasty weather there. International telephone connections were frequently very poor in those days, but through the background crackling I heard him say the client was SIT-Siemens. I said that would be great because I could still speak passable German learned in my Air Force days. He said no, this was the Italian associate of Siemens and its full name was Società Italiana Telecomunicazioni Siemens, the largest manufacturer of telecom equipment in Italy. It turned out later, after my manager returned to California, that he had not had my résumé with him and had thought I had a lot of telecom experience, which I didn’t. I had also never been in Italy. But he said I would have no problem since the project manager was very experienced in the telecom field.

 

The company later severed its Siemens connection and was renamed Italtel. It wanted to expand into the U.S. telecom market. I worked with them in Italy and the U.S. over a 3-4 year period and had wonderful times in Milan, Rome, and their plants at L’Aquila, Palermo (Sicily) and Catania (Sicily), where I spent a weekend at Taormina, one of the world’s beauty spots, and went to the top of nearby Mount Etna.

 

My second favorite project was commissioned by the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, which wanted me to evaluate the strategic growth plan of Océ-van der Grinten, a successful office copier manufacturer in Venlo, a charming town in Limburg in the southeast of the Netherlands. I worked with them periodically over a 2-3 year period. Océ subsequently became successful in the computer-aided design business and was acquired by a much larger company.

 

Some other memorable international projects: Scotland (Requirements for a microelectronics R&D centre, done for the old Scotttish Development Agency); England (Gestetner); Ireland (Carroll Industries); Germany (electrical components); Switzerland (microcircuit packaging);  Government of the Basque Country (computerization of machine tools); Indonesia (Bandung Institute of Technology), Japan (microelectronics); and telecommunications projects in Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Philippines, Sweden Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the U.S.A.

 

In 1983 I got an offer I couldn’t refuse to become president of a small electronics market research company. That and subsequent career developments will be the subject of Part 3.

Ed Means’ Autobiography, Part 3

Management, Banking and more

International management consulting at SRI was slowing down in the early 1980s because of increasing competition from major accounting firms which were diversifying into the field and undercutting our prices. When I got an attractive offer to become president of Gnostic Concepts, a 65-person electronic components market research firm, I decided to accept it. It had been acquired by DRI, a much larger market research company in Boston. DRI was having difficulty managing Gnostic from that distance. Although still marginally profitable, Gnostic was steadily declining. Then the giant publishing company McGraw-Hill bought DRI and asked me to present a detailed business plan to senior management in New York for making Gnostic profitable. The plan called for substantial investment and I had little hope for it, so I was not surprised when a McG-Hill VP came out to California and told me they had decided to close Gnostic down. He said I had made a valiant effort and much to my surprise presented me with a quite substantial cheque and McG-Hill’s best wishes.

Coincidentally I had been approached by the Bank of America – then the largest US Bank – about a possible job in their Capital Markets Group at Headquarters in San Francisco. So within two weeks of leaving Gnostic in early 1984, I found myself a Vice President, Project Finance (Telecommunications) in the CMG. I had a small private office on the 45th floor of the tallest building in San Francisco with an unobstructed 160-degree view from the Golden Gate Bridge to the financial district. The job was a lot of fun for two years, but then the Bank’s investments in Latin American loans, California farmlands, and the growth of Dallas, Texas all went sour at once, and BofA lost $2 billion in 1986. Obviously the handwriting was on the wall for me.

SRI International was still hanging onto some consulting work, so I went back to SRI to work on a large project for Peter Kiewit Sons, a very large construction company which, among other things, had built the huge Columbia River Dam. They were working on installing a fiber optic communications network system in the network of railway tunnels under downtown Chicago. The tunnels had been built in the 1930s so that coal could be delivered to the basement boiler rooms of the office buildings and new skyscrapers there. Chicago Fiber Optics, the company that commissioned Kiewit’s work, went bankrupt and Kiewit became its owner. Kiewit was cash-rich at the time and commissioned SRI to recommend whether it should invest it in Chicago Fiber Optics or other opportunities. We recommended that Kiewit should invest it in the expansion of CFO because of the growth potential of new fiber optics networks in North America. Kiewit did that, renamed CFO Metropolitan Fiber Systems, and invested in its expansion. MFS became a rousing success. It was eventually bought by Worldcom at a huge profit to Kiewit.

During MFS’s expansion SRI decided to exit the management consulting business. I went into business for myself as MacKenzie & Means. With SRI’s and MFS’s blessings and a farewell gift of my Apple computer and a filing cabinet, I took over the small remainder of the MFS contract. I should add I was the only person at MacKenzie & Means – MacKenzie was my mother’s maiden name. I worked in the San Francisco Bay area, Washington DC and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and the ‘showbiz’ and ‘ragtrade’ (clothing) areas of New York City. I also did some work in Sweden for Swedish Telecom to complete SRI’s expiring contract there.

I also looked for a permanent job in the rapidly-expanding Silicon Valley electronics companies. They were hiring lots of young graduates, but alas, I was already in my 50s, which the Silicon Valley companies regarded as being ‘over the hill’.

Ed Means’ Autobiography, Part 4

CableData et seq.

In 1993, at age 57, I joined CableData in Rancho Cordova (suburban Sacramento) as a business development manager. CableData was then the leading supplier of customer management and billing systems and services to cable television operators in the United States and several other countries. Competition was beginning to be permitted in the water, electric and gas distribution markets, and CableData was eager to expand by providing customer management and billing systems and services to the new entrants.

My principal achievement at CableData was managing its $10-million acquisition of Custima, a small but well-established English company that supplied customer management and billing systems and services to water companies in the UK and Asia, as well as to a small water company in the United States.

My business plan for Custima required funding for “Americanizing” its systems. CableData executives dragged their feet on the funding and seemed to lose interest in further acquisitions. Even worse, they were underfunding CableData’s cable television software development just as competitors were introducing updated systems for the cable television market. The reason, it soon became obvious, was that CableData had secretly agreed to be acquired by a much larger company which provided billing services to medical institutions. CableData’s management wanted to show high profits in order to maximize its acquisition price.

CableData was duly acquired by DST Systems, a very large medical billing company. CableData was renamed DST Innovis. DST Systems made the serious error of taking little further interest in its new subsidiary for nearly two years. DST finally took notice when DST Innovis lost two multimillion dollar contracts, but by then the damage had been done. DST Innovis went into a rapid decline and by 2001 was less than half its former size. Custima was sold back to the original owners for far less than CableData had paid for it.

I expected to be laid off at any time, but the company had foolishly laid off its vendor relations manager and soon was having trouble with its vendors of computer equipment and infrastructure software. I was hastily shoved into the breach.

When I joined CableData, I set myself the goal of staying ten years and retiring in April 1993 at age 67. Somehow or other I made it. DST Systems eventually sold off what remained of DST Innovis.

Because my computer had crashed in 2009, I can’t remember the year I established contact with the Realm of Scotland (RoS) group, but I believe it was 2007. I had been reading the Scotsman internet edition since about 2001 and had read many excellent letters and reader comments from Dr James Wilkie, Pressgasse 21/8, A-1040 Vienna, so I contacted him. We corresponded by email and Jim invited me to join the newly established Scottish Democratic Alliance (SDA), which I did. (I left the SDA along with most founding members after a coup by outsiders in April 2013.) I was very active in posting comments to articles in the Scotsman and later the Herald and the internet Newsnet Scotland. I worked with Jim to produce the significant publication ‘Scotland’s National Borders’ in 2009. This has evolved into the much more comprehensive ‘The National Borders of Scotland – 13’ published 2 October 2013. (This is not an SDA document. It is published by Dr James Wilkie & Associates.)  It is available for free download at http://www.electricscotland.com/Independence/scotland_borders.htm.

On a personal note, In March 1998 I married Annemiek Storm, who was born in the Netherlands. I had several clients in the Netherlands when I was with SRI International, but I first met Annemiek in November 1996 in El Dorado Hills, California. After I retired, Annemiek and I had a home built on a pleasant 5–acre lot with a beautiful view about six miles southeast of Placerville, the El Dorado County seat. In 1849 a Scotsman named James Marshall discovered gold a few miles north of the town. Alas, it’s all gone now except for a few flakes turned up by amateur gold panners.

Annemiek had come to the United States in 1956 and had lived in El Dorado County for about 30 years. She is now phasing down from her days as a top national long term care insurance agent for Genworth (a spin-off of GE). I maintain her client records and mailing lists and assist with her increasing activities for the Alzheimer’s Association and several local charities. We visit relatives in Scotland and the Netherlands every year or two and always have a wonderful time.


Placerville, California, August 2013


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