The structure comprises a Zenith product sales room, a repair facility, and a general office. It was adapted from an old residence. First, a short reprise of what the distributors did before getting into what the Zenith dealers such as Barnes TV actually did.
The story of two of the Zenith distributors was told in Post 10. They are the J.A. Williams Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the George H. Lelightner Company of New Orleans, Louisiana. Walter Fisher answered the question as to what the Zenith Distributors did:
A Distributor is a wholesaling firm that buys products such as television sets, radio and stereo sets, and parts and accessories from Zenith. The Distributor then resells this merchandise to dealers, who in turn, sell to customers.
[Note: It is sad to write of what they did do, but they don't do anymore, for they all apparently went out of business when Zenith went bankrupt.]
Now let's tell the story of "a dealer who sells to customers"--Porter Barnes, proprietor, with his wife, Violet, of Barnes TV, located in Evansville, Indiana. It was a "mom and pop" operation, and a very successful one. It is the story of a small business man worth telling even after 40 years. The business philosophy of Porter Barnes is also worth thinking about and followed by all who have a small business, or who intend to go into business. This article offers some real good tips on management and other success attributes from the wisdom of Porter Barnes.
And . . . it is a bit of Zenith history worth remembering.
Porter Barnes got his start in 1952 installing antennas. His firm, Barnes TV, became the largest servicing dealer in Evansville. When I interviewed him, Porter Barnes was still installing antennas --after 22 years!
"Porter," I asked, " your business is successful, why don't you get yourself a swivel chair and sit back and give orders?"
Porter Barnes thought about that for a moment. He was driving a service van, one of the five his company owns.
"I couldn't stand being harnessed to a little stall someplace."
It was the slack season for servicing in Evansville. Service calls numbered about a dozen a day, down from the usual 30 or 40.
Barnes TV sold Zenith exclusively, but serviced all brands. It had been in business for 28 years, and at the time, had 10 employees. Eight of these were service technicians (Porter Barnes included himself in the count.) His wife, Violet, efficient and pretty, did the office work--answered three phones, took service orders, dispatched service vans over two-way radio, sold Zenith products, ordered products and parts, and kept the books. A business service was retained to help out with the accounting.
Evansville, Indiana is where Barnes TV did business. Evansville is located on a "great sweeping bend" of the Ohio River, 290 miles straight south of Chicago. The border of Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky meet nearby. In 1974-- when this article was written--city population was 190,000 with a metropolitan population of 290,000. The major industry was--and still is--manufacturing. The Zenith Distributor was the Monarch Equipment Company, located in nearby Louisville.
Porter Barnes stood six feet five inches tall, weighed 230 pounds (he'd like to lose 20!) He did all jobs: managed, installed, servicing. No swivel-chair sitting. In fact, he didn't sit much at all during his 52-hour week. The interview that follows was made on the fly--while driving in the van, in homes on service calls, and while installing antennas.
To point up the business skills of Porter Barnes, the business topics are noted in bold before each question posed by the interviewer.
The dual role of servicing: the service technician as a salesman--
ServiceWorld: If you sell only Zenith products, why do you service all brands?
Barnes: This is a rather unique thing with us really, because so many service only what they sell. The advantage is this: Suppose I make a service call and find out that they have a worn-out brand X. So they are a candidate for a brand-new Zenith set. Now I am in a good position to sell that customer rather than have them go down and buy Brand X or Y. Some days I get real hot and sell three or four.
The importance of proper maintenance--
SW: Who keeps the service area clean?
Barnes: Everybody in their own area. Right now, the last week in April, it's slack, and I can handle most of the outside calls. During this period, the others are back in the shop catching up--cleaning up, stocking their bench areas with parts, sweeping the carpet--all that good stuff. To me, a clean shop is a reasonably efficient shop. We keep the vans clean, too, because I think people notice this over a period of time.
The role of management--
SW: How much time do you spend in managing?
BARNES: That is not too much of a problem because the people I have working for me for the most part manage themselves. This has to be done for anything to run smooth because I would hate to have to be whipping somebody every time you wanted something done.
"nerve center" of Barns TV
How Barnes promotes his business--
SW: I assume you advertise. What type of advertising do you find most effective?
Barnes: The most successful thing for me is newspaper advertising, but you need to advertise on everything--radio and TV, and your name should appear on such things as bowling score sheets, and programs for church affairs. But even so, every once in a while, I find a service customer who says: "I didn't know you sell TV sets" right after he has brought one from someone else. This is most aggravating that some other guy has raked all the cream of the thing because the customer didn't know you sell TV sets. So to stop this, I advertise as much as I can.
SW: In your business career, what is the biggest mistake you ever made?
Barnes: When we started out, we got into a poor location and had to move. If we had a chosen a general area where we are now, we'd be a lot further ahead. I would say that, if someone is going into business, the money spent in choosing and developing the right location would be the best money they could spend. You want to be where the business is and where it is going to stay--not in some remote place that will never develop, or where people won't go.
About the need for personal support--
SW: Mrs. Barnes seems to be very active in the business.
Barnes: My wife is a very important factor in this business. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't have her job on a Christmas tree. She handles all those phones and the radio, takes orders, minds the counter, and keeps the books. She also orders all the parts, and that's a rough job when you service all brands. But what helps her is that she has a real terrific memory--I've got to work at stuff to remember it. A good part of any success I've had is due to my wife.
About expanding a business--
SW: Have you given any thought to expanding your business?
Barnes: I can see some good chances for opening branches in towns around here. But all that a small businessman has to offer really is himself. If you expand too much, it gets to be an impossible animal to work with, for there is no way you can spread yourself that thin. I think that if you can be happy with what you've got now, that's the important thing.
SW: You say you work 52 hours a week. What do you do for recreation--to "get away" from the job?
Barnes: I sleep only about five hours a night, so I spend a lot of time with my ham rig. I would like a GSO from anyone in the service business. (Business-centered again!) I'm on 20 meters, with both SSB and SSTV. My call letters are WOCKF. The transmitter is a Drake T4XC, with 2kW PEP. The antenna is a five-element beam on a 48-foot boom, up to 125 feet and rotatable.
Violet and Porter Barnes plan next day's
workload and for the future beyond.
End of the article. In retrospect--
Porter and Violet Barnes were in their early 50's in 1974 when this article was written. Little did they anticipate that Zenith would go bankrupt in 14 years, depriving their business of its primary products--radios and televisions. But based on Porter's record of business acumen, and with Violet's support, they would have adapted. They would have been in his middle sixties, and there is a record that Barnes TV had been sold. So they would have retired, but we can be sure Porter Barnes would not "go to some place and just sit!"
JOSEPH Wright, Chairman of the board and Chief Executive Officer of Zenith, said of Barnes TV: "The spirit and independence of Barnes TV is typical of the thousands of small businesses that sell and service Zenith products."
Let's pay quiet tribute to two people who represent America at its very best!
Porter Barnes: 1921-1995
Mary Violet Barnes: 1922-2008
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--and another tribute!
Time takes its inevitable toll--this time it is of Joseph Vincent Graziano of Arlington Heights: the "epitome" of a Zenith engineer!--
(This is the face of a man who, if you hadn't known him, you'd wish you had!)
Graziano's Zenith associates and long-time friends, Thomas Zato, Carl Campisi and Clarence Lee, were asked to describe the career and experience of Joseph Graziano for the Zenith Book. A summary of their accounts is provided in some detail to demonstrate the workings of Zenith engineers, and Zenith's typical relationships with its employees.
When LG acquired Zenith , Joe was retained by LG because of his experience with commercial product TVs. He became a member of the quality-based team, expert in hardware/audio and video, in failure analysis, and system software. He worked primarily on the Zenith/LG consumer and commercial products, and was able to make many software improvements. He continued in this activity until he left LG in 2012.
Josepth Graziano was always straightforward and honest. He was well-liked and respected by his co-workers and other associates. He was dedicated to Zenith, and later, to LG, and to whatever task he was assigned. His own family, and his Zenith family, will miss him.
Regarding those RIF's--reductions in force that Graziano experienced: by 1983, Zenith's financial position was becoming desperate, and would culminate in bankruptcy five years later. In all its history, Zenith had never laid off an engineer of Joseph Graziano's experience and caliber, but circumstances were forcing such steps. Why Zenith came to this sorry state is told in future posts of this blog, and will also be told in the forthcoming Zenith Book: "A Requiem for Zenith: "The Story of the Rise and Fall of a Great American Company, and the Lessons To Be Learned From its Fall."
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Now, here's a happy event to come--a major meeting of the--
Antique Radio Club of Illinois!
Come and join in the RadioFest fun! Two more days to attend!
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The first epitome of a manager is Eugene F. McDonald. He was the founder of Zenith in 1923, and was President and Chief Executive Officer until he had to step down in 1956 because of an illness that proved fatal a short time later.
McDonald was followed in the Zenith presidency by Sam Kaplan who was the epitome of an achiever in that he started his career with Zenith as an office boy. But sadly, he died early in his presidency. Joseph S.Wright followed in the presidency. Wright had joined Zenith to help in the Zenith's First War against the RCA-Sarnoff cartel, as has been described in Post 5. The period of Wright's presidency can be described as one of "golden years" because Zenith's success had reached its pinnacle, or Zenith! And sadly, Zenith's progress turned downhill from that high point on--from zenith to nadir.
From the left: Joseph Wright, Robert Adler, Edward Brown, and John Nevin.
(Commander McDonald is looking over their shoulders from his portrait.)
Wright considered he had served long enough as president It was decided that "new blood" was needed, so Gene Kinney was assigned to do a search. His search focused on John J. Nevin, who was widely known as one of the brightest young executives in America. He was offered the job of Vice-President of Marketing, and soon moved up to become the President and Chief Executive Officer. Nevin's career at Zenith lasted fr seven years, after which he left a dying Zenith to go on to the presidency of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
It is noted that none of these men were educated as technologists, especially in the subject of electronic engineering. Eugene F. McDonald, founder of and president Zenith Radio Corporation, had to leave school at the age of 14 and go to work to support his family, so his formal education was extremely limited. However, he was like Winston Churchill, who though not formally educated, was an avid learner. McDonald had a brilliant mind which he used to good effect all his life, and to the end. He also had an uncanny ability to predict the value of new developments. A prime example is his directive to immediately mass-produce 20,000 of the Space Command unit originated by Gene Polley, and carried to near-perfection by Robert Adler. Also, he had the backing of his earlier V.P. of Research, Dr. Ellet, who although he came from academia, had a very practical approach to research. After Dr. Ellet retired, McDonald was supported by the brilliance of Robert Adler.
Similarly, the executives who followed: Kaplan, Wright and Nevin, were technical lightweights. It didn't seem to matter with Kaplan and Wright, for Zenith was doing fabulously well under their direction. But later in his time at Zenith, Nevin was confronted with decisions that required technique expertise which could have been best resolved by a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs.
So, the question is posed: Should be top officer of a technically based company--one centered in electronics as Zenith was--be in charge of such a company such as a Zenith?
That critical question will be asked and addressed again later, when Zenith was faced with a crisis , the favorable resolution of which its very existence depended. And that crisis was based on several determinations about the viability of zenith developments--whether to cast them aside, or carry on with them. That question will be covered in a later Post.
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A manager of vital importance to Zenith was Philip J. Curtis, who became Vice-President of Legal. He was the epitome of a brilliant lawyer. He was the "point man" is Zenith's War against the two cartels created by David Sarnoff of RCA.
Phillip J. Curtis
After spending his career at Zenith fighting the two cartels, Curtis wrote a book about Zenith's struggles titled "The Fall of he U.S. Electronics Industry; An American Trade Tragedy." (Westport: Quorum Books. 1994.) Here is description of the subject of the book taken from the Curtis Foreword to the book--
This book tells the story of how one of America's most notorious industrialists helped prepare the Japanese for their first successful market capture attempt in the United States, and how one valiant American company fought this injustice for three full decades. The last battle of the legal war was lost by a heartbreaking 5-to4 Supreme court ruling in 1986 at the frantic urging of the Reagan Administration. Japan's new powerful political influence apparatus was seen for the first time in this struggle, and it significantly affected the outcome of this crucial case.
The Japanese would go on to capture the entire U.S. consumer electronics industry, using the methodology first seen in the great radio and television assault.
And just who was this "one of American's most notorious industrialists" cited by Curtis? It was David Sarnoff of RCA--Radio Corporation of America.No description of him will be given in this Zenith book, except to link Sarnoff to Wikipedia where the full story of Sarnoff's beginnings and his business career is told . Just click on Sarnoff (Note: When you click on Sarnoff, a blue imabe will appear which has the link in it. Just click on it) And if you want to learn even more about him, click on More Sarnoff. (Do the same for the previous address.)
(And it is noteworthy that in the descriptions of Sarnoff's career, there is no mention of his creation of the two cartels, one of which wiped out the entire American consumer electronics industry. But we will come to that.)
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Sidebar: To blow my own horn! I wrote a three-act play based on The Holocaust, which resulted in the immolation of six million Jews. The purpose of the play is to maintain awareness of The Holocaust, which seems to have been forgotten in many quarters. The play is about man, a gentile, who shelters Jews in his home despite the fact that if he is discovered he would be hanged, and the Jews shipped to death camps. To view the play, click on www.aballforgenia.blogspot.com There you will view the last act of the play, and with a foreword which also tells something about modest me, the author of this blog, and my daughter Alison, a co-author.
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Now let's go back to Zenith and John Nevin, and his career with Zenith.
When Nevin took command, prospects for Zenith looked excellent. The company was flourishing, and there was money in the bank--$156 million. The money had been saved by Hugh Robertson in preparation for a price war with Admiral Corporation, Zenith's long-time competitor--a war that never happened.
As is customary with new executives, the first step is to search out and remove any money-losing activities. Bob Adler's Research Department came to Nevin's immediate attention.
It is said that in a discussion with Bob on the value of research to a company, Nevin opined that you "could buy" any needed research and not have to spend money on a separate department for it.
(Note: This was a common opinion at the time. One executive was overheard to say [not a Zenith executive] "You can pour a lot of money down a hole marked 'research.'")
This did not auger well for the eventual existence of the Zenith research department, as will be seen in a later Post of this blog. But Adler's research department was allowed to exist, perhaps because of Adler's eminence in the world of science. However, Nevin did snuff out two research groups: Zenith Radio Research Corporation of California (ZRRC) , and a similar research group in England. He traveled to each and asked a salient question: "Can you survive without a subsidy from the major corporation." Their answer became obvious when they both disappeared.
The next to go on the block was the creation of Eugene Frank McDonald: Radio Station WEFM. The Commander loved classical music, and music without commercial interruptions. Employee Gene Polley, who knew the Commander in the early days, said the Commander used to call the WEFM station operator and complain about the programs. WEFM never earned a dime except for goodwill, but it promoted the acceptance and popularity of what became known as "FM radio" to the benefit of Zenith, and it also stimulated the sale of Zenith FM radios. But the station had to close, and the recordings of the station were given to station WXRT, another classical music station. WXRT also closed It was, however, a predecessor of Radio Station WFMT--Chicago's gem of a station known worldwide for its classical mustic programming. It is noted that WFMT is not self-supporting and survives largely by donations from its listeners. (The American public has a tin ear when it comes to listening to classical music, an assumption based on the fact that most all classical music stations have failed.)
Zenith's famous profit-sharing program came next to Nevin's attention. He learned that a factory worker had retired with $100,000 ($787,000 in today's money). He considered that windfall to be excessive, and reduced the profit-sharing plan to a range of 4 percent to 8 per cent, with the return based on Zenith's profitability. The return never exceeded 4 per cent
from that time on. But the return was still greater than other plans, and Zenith employees
were grateful for it.
Nevin brought Bob Bowen over from Ford to become the Vice-president of Marketing. He also appointed Karl Horn as Zenith's Chief Engineer, replacing and side-lining Nate Aram, who had had the Chief Engineer since the company's beginnings.
Somehow, there came about an assumption that a shortage of picture tubes would develop, and that Zenith should manufacture more of them. It was noted that the tube plant in Melrose Park was running to capacity. So it was decided that a picture tube manufacturing plant should be built in a empty factory owned by Ford Motor Company, a factory located in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. (... one with a dirty little secret, as we shall see.)
And so it was decreed and behold, it was done. Zenith bought Lansdale, and a picture tube manufacturing facility was built therein. Cost? Sixty five million--some of Hugh Robertson's savings.
The next post of this blog--Post 12, will tell The story of Lansdale, also known among some circles as The Lansdale debacle.
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The author of this blog, and the Zenith book to follow, acknowledges his many short-comings with regard to dates and other historical facts, and begs for correction to ensure that the book-to-come will be as perfect a possible. To comment, please follow the instructions at the bottom of this page , or, if you know my email address, please use that.
(Google advises me not to reveal my email address, but many of you know it already, so feel free to use it.)
And always. he struggles with this blog, with problems like causing captions to fall properly under their photos, etc. And (moan) he has no proof-reader, and as writers know, you can't proof your own stuff. However--