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Oral-History:Arthur P. Stern (2009)

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In this interview, Stern talks about his life as an IEEE member and as an active volunteer in the organization. He goes into great detail about the merger of IRE and AIEE, his time spent on the Board of Directors, and his term as President of IEEE. In the beginning of the interview, Stern gives a summary of his life during WWII and his impressions upon arriving in the US.  
 
In this interview, Stern talks about his life as an IEEE member and as an active volunteer in the organization. He goes into great detail about the merger of IRE and AIEE, his time spent on the Board of Directors, and his term as President of IEEE. In the beginning of the interview, Stern gives a summary of his life during WWII and his impressions upon arriving in the US.  
  
For more biographical information on Arthur P. Stern, see his biography http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Arthur_P._Stern.  
+
For a discussion of Stern's professional career as an engineer and an engineering executive, see [[Oral-History:Arthur Stern (1993)|Arthur Stern Oral History (1993.)]]
  
For more information on Stern's life and involvement in IEEE, see also Stern's obituary in ''The Institute'', http://theinstitute.ieee.org/people/obituaries/ieee-mourns-loss-of-1975-president-arthur-stern.  
+
For biographical information on Arthur P. Stern,[http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Arthur_P._Stern see his biography].  
  
An earlier oral history was conducted in 1993 on Arthur P. Stern by the IEEE History Center. In the 1993 oral history, Stern solely talks about his career as an electrical engineer and his experience in the field. http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Oral-History:Arthur_Stern_(1993)
+
For additional  information on Stern's life and involvement in IEEE, see [http://theinstitute.ieee.org/people/obituaries/ieee-mourns-loss-of-1975-president-arthur-stern  Stern's obituary in  "The Institute''.]
  
 
==About the Interview==
 
==About the Interview==
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===Becoming IEEE===
 
===Becoming IEEE===
  
"Stern:'''
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'''Stern:'''
  
 
Even though they may not have fitted completely. It required a certain amount of management capability and a lot of work to get them together. There was also another thing, and that was that IRE was strictly technical. AIEE had an element of non-technical in it which was called Professional. It was an important contribution to take that little thing and do something with that. IRE was international. AIEE was American. In establishing IEEE USA we did use AIEE, at least to some extent. Don't forget we were looking for ways of how to use the AIEE people.
 
Even though they may not have fitted completely. It required a certain amount of management capability and a lot of work to get them together. There was also another thing, and that was that IRE was strictly technical. AIEE had an element of non-technical in it which was called Professional. It was an important contribution to take that little thing and do something with that. IRE was international. AIEE was American. In establishing IEEE USA we did use AIEE, at least to some extent. Don't forget we were looking for ways of how to use the AIEE people.
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'''Stern:'''  
 
'''Stern:'''  
  
It was very difficult. And you know, we traveled to places together. The relationship was very difficult. This was a guy who was a successor to Donald Fink and before Eric Herz. There was a two- or three-year hiatus between Fink and Herz. It was a pretty bad situation.
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It was very difficult. And you know, we traveled to places together. The relationship was very difficult. This was a guy who was a successor to Donald Fink and before [[Eric Herz]]. There was a two- or three-year hiatus between Fink and Herz. It was a pretty bad situation.
  
 
'''Vardalas:'''  
 
'''Vardalas:'''  
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Okay. Well thank you so much. I appreciate it.
 
Okay. Well thank you so much. I appreciate it.
  
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Revision as of 13:19, 20 May 2014

Contents

About Arthur P. Stern

Arthur P. Stern was born in 1925 in Budapest, Hungary. He survived the Holocaust and became an electrical engineer in Switzerland. He came to the US and began working for GE in 1951, where he conducted seminal work in color television and transistor circuits. After leaving GE, Stern became Vice President of The Magnavox Company. He retired in 1991 as Vice Chairman of Magnavox and President of Magnavox Advanced Products and Systems Company.

Stern was quite influential in IRE and AIEE, both IEEE predecessors, eventually becoming IEEE President in 1975. He chaired several committees and conferences in IEEE. Stern was an IEEE Fellow and a recipient of the IEEE Centennial and Millennium Medals. Stern passed away on May 25, 2012.

In this interview, Stern talks about his life as an IEEE member and as an active volunteer in the organization. He goes into great detail about the merger of IRE and AIEE, his time spent on the Board of Directors, and his term as President of IEEE. In the beginning of the interview, Stern gives a summary of his life during WWII and his impressions upon arriving in the US.

For a discussion of Stern's professional career as an engineer and an engineering executive, see Arthur Stern Oral History (1993.)

For biographical information on Arthur P. Stern,see his biography.

For additional information on Stern's life and involvement in IEEE, see Stern's obituary in "The Institute.

About the Interview

ARTHUR P. STERN: An Interview Conducted by John Vardalas for the IEEE History Center, 7 January 2009

Interview # 483 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Arthur P. Stern, an oral history conducted in 2009 by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Arthur P. Stern
INTERVIEWER: John Vardalas
DATE: 7 January 2009
PLACE: Arthur Stern's home

Background and Education

Vardalas:

Arthur, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. As we discussed earlier, this interview is going to focus on your life as an IEEE member and as an active volunteer. Before we do that I'd like to get some background about you. We have already interviewed you on your career as a professional engineer in your corporate world. Would you summarize family background and education up to your university training?

Stern:

I was born in Budapest, Hungary and lived most of my young life there. We made a lot of trips on vacation, and I spent over a year in Switzerland. I come from an Orthodox Jewish family, meaning an observant Jewish family. That was very important in my upbringing because I went to the type of schools that were compatible with that. I went to the elementary and middle school of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest. I later went to a rabbinic seminary. That was not intended to develop me into a rabbi, but it was part of the religious education of Orthodox Jews. I also did my equivalent of high school or gymnasium studies.

I was born in 1925 and in 1943 I was 18 years old and was accepted at Budapest University. That was very difficult at the time because Jews were not admitted. There were very few of us. All of us were the children of very rich and influential individuals. My dad was involved in many businesses. Out of my dad's activities the family was, to put it very mildly, very well-to-do. He was heading a variety of enterprises mostly centered around the trade and manufacture of textiles and lumber.

Hungary was very strongly anti-Semitic, so in my early youth I had to deal with all kinds of problems, as did most Jewish children at the time. Things became critical on March 19th, 1944 when the Germans marched in and took over. Shortly thereafter we had to wear a Jewish star and there were deportations to destruction camps where the majority of Hungarian Jews were killed. We were luckier. We were deported on June 30th, 1944 to the concentration camp Bergen Belsen in Germany. It was not a killing camp. There is a big story behind it into which I won't go. In December of 1944 we were transported from the camp to Switzerland, so we were liberated.

At the end of 1944 I found myself in Switzerland. Incidentally, before the war started from mid-1938 through about September 1939, until after the war started, I was in a boarding school in Switzerland. My parents, together with other leaders of the Jewish community in Budapest, decided that Switzerland was a very dangerous country to in which to reside. Therefore at the end of September, about three or four weeks after the war broke out, a group of young people from Budapest returned from Switzerland to the supposedly safe Hungary. This was a misjudgment on the part of the parents of these young people, to put it mildly.

Vardalas:

How old were you when you returned to Switzerland in '44?

Stern:

I was 19. I got to Switzerland and stayed in a refugee camp, where incidentally I was the secretary of the Commanding Officer – because I was the only one who spoke fluent French among the 1300-odd prisoners or refugees. In April 1945 I was admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique University de Lausanne, the polytechnic school of the University of Lausanne. Today it's called the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. I started my studies of technology there. In Budapest I was studying law.

Vardalas:

Yes. I was going to ask you about that.

Stern:

I studied law for the short time that elapsed between my admission to the university and the German occupation. It was less than a year. However when we arrived in Switzerland it didn't make any sense to continue to study law, which is a very national kind of discipline. Therefore I switched to engineering.

Working as an Electronics Engineer

Vardalas:

Why? Was there anything in your background that led you to choose that as a field?

Stern:

No. There was nothing in my background, but I was in the camp with my Uncle Jonas, and he took me out for a walk – I think it was sometime in early 1945 – and said, "Arthur, there is no point in your continuing in law. We'll never go back to Hungary, because Hungary is going to be all communist after the war. You better get a profession that's international." I decided I wanted to become an architect. That sounded very attractive, and actually I was admitted to the School of Architecture of the university, but after three days I found that my ability to draw was somewhat lacking. On my first day they asked me to make a drawing of an historic building in Athens. The building is somewhere around the Acropolis. I didn't feel I could do that, so I switched over to engineering. I first went to this mechanical-electrical engineering and then I specialized in electrical engineering and ultimately in electronics engineering.

I actually I did two years officially in Lausanne, but it took me just a little bit over a year to do that. I switched from Lausanne to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. They would not admit me in 1945 but in late '46 they changed their minds because they saw some of my examination results which were satisfactory. I graduated from Swiss Poly in Zurich in 1948. I went to work, starting in early 1949, at a small firm that specialized in those days on essentially fluorescent lamps, custom-made fluorescent lamps and associated gas-discharge technology and gas-discharge products.

Vardalas:

This is in Switzerland?

Stern:

Yes. I stayed there for about a year and a half. Then in late 1949 or 1950 I switched to the Institute of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and became an instructor in electrical engineering and started work on my Ph.D. thesis. Then I got a phone call from my dad in January of 1951. He said, "Arthur, we finally got our immigration visa to the United States. We have to show up within four months or lose the right to go." I said, "What immigration visa to the United States?" He said, "Don't you remember that we applied for an immigration visa to the U.S. in early 1945 just after we came to Switzerland?" We were on the Hungarian quota, which was a very bad quota, so it took the Americans six years to give us a visa. I said, "Well Dad, I don't want to go. I'm in the middle of my Ph.D. thesis and I will have a good career here. After I get my Ph.D. I become a private docent," which is the equivalent of an assistant professor. My dad said, "Well, I'll pay for it. Come anyway." I went to my boss, Professor M.G. Strut, a well-known guy. He wrote several of the very basic books about electronics in the '40s. He was a former Director General of the Philips Research Laboratories in Holland.

I told him, "I'm going to the U.S. for a visit. I won't stay there. I'll come back," so he gave a whole bunch of letters of recommendation to his friends in the U.S. to use if I needed them. And on March 19th –the anniversary of the German occupation of Budapest – in 1951 my parents and I arrived in New York. We went to a hotel and I bought the Sunday newspaper. I had never seen anything like that before. It weighed a ton. Such a thing didn't exist in Europe.

Coming to the US

Vardalas:

Do you mean The New York Times?

Stern:

Yes. It was a very impressive thing. I remember I lied down on my bed and was reading parts of it. Suddenly I came across an ad saying that the National Convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers would be held that week from Tuesday to Thursday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. That impressed me quite a bit. Not so much the Institute of Radio Engineers, about which I knew but not very much, but the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, about which I had read a lot, and I wanted to see it. Therefore on Tuesday or on Wednesday I went to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It must have been the 21st or 22nd of March, 1951. There was a big billboard of ads of all kinds of American electronics companies looking for engineers. While I wasn't really interested in that, I thought it would be an interesting experience to see what's available. It was the middle of the Korean War, and engineers were suddenly in short supply. I selected the company that I was least ignorant about. That was General Electric. I knew but otherwise very little. I went to their suite. I have forgotten which floor it was, but it was some impossibly high floor. It was on the 45th or 56th floor – floor levels that we didn't have in Switzerland or anywhere in Europe at the time. All these American skyscrapers.

This is a true story. I went to the GE suite, and in front of the suite is a desk with a secretary. And she said, "What can I do for you?" I said, "I am interested in seeing what kind of jobs are available." She said, "Let me take your data," and she says, "Your last name?" I said, "What's that?" I had spoken English since the age of six, but the term "last name" was unfamiliar to me. She explained and I said, "It's Stern. You mean my family name." Then she said, "What's your first name?" I said, "What is that?" She explained and I said, "Oh. That's Arthur. You mean my Christian name." Then she said, "What's your middle initial?" I didn't know what that was, so she explained and I said, "Put down P."

Vardalas:

What did it mean?

Stern:

I didn't know what I meant, but she said that everybody had a middle initial so I had to have one. I was 25 years old and very adaptable at the time. Therefore I put down P. Incidentally five years later when I became an American citizen that P. became Paul and I became Arthur P. Stern for the rest of my life. When my dad saw my American citizenship papers with Arthur Paul Stern in it, he said, in a disgusted way, "The name your parents wasn't good enough, was it?"

Vardalas:

Is Paul considered a reasonable Jewish name to have?

Stern:

No, it's as good as anything else. I had an uncle named Paul. I just invented it on the spot.

Vardalas:

Then you took the job at GE?

Stern:

No, that wasn't quite the situation. I was interviewed by GE and they invited me to Syracuse to be interviewed. I said, "Well, that costs a lot of money." They said, "No, it doesn't cost you anything. We'll pay for it." I said, "Well, but I'm really working in gas dischargers. That's closer to what your people in Cleveland do," so they invited me to Cleveland too. Then they invited me to Pittsburgh where they also had an operation. I got to see quite a bit of the country at GE's expense. I really wasn't interested in moving at that time, but I went to a number of interviews.

I also visited some of the people to whom Professor Strut gave me introductions. Those were interesting experiences. I visited some universities. I visited the representatives of the University of California System in New York who took my bio and so forth. After a while I got an offer to go to UCLA and get a Ph.D. there. They gave me a scholarship fellowship to go there. However I guess the most impressive experience I had and which influenced me most was a visit I had with a letter of introduction from my boss to a very famous guy. It was Vladimir Zworykin.

Vardalas:

Oh, Zworykin.

Stern:

Vladimir Zworykin at RCA Research Laboratories. I had a nice letter to introduction to him from Professor Strut, and he spent a couple of hours with me and showed me around at the RCA Research Lab. Then we had lunch. At the end of the lunch he said, "Mr. Stern, what a pleasure to meet you," blah-blah-blah, "If you are interested in a position at the RCA Research Labs I can probably help you with that." I said, "No, I'm going back to Switzerland. I intend to live there, but I appreciate the offer." I still remember his facial expression, the body language, when he looked at me then, and he said, "You are going back to Switzerland but there is nothing going on in Switzerland. Everything is going on in this country." That impressed me a great deal. I thought a great deal about it and then I talked to some other people, and gradually the words of Dr. Zworykin did sink in. I stayed about six weeks in this country and at the end of the six weeks I decided that I would come back. I had to go back to Zurich to finish my contract. My contract was over on August 31, 1951. I went back and told Professor Strut that I was leaving, he was less than pleased, but he was a very adaptable person. He said, "Okay. I'm going to have a friend over in the U.S.," and he used the friendship for many years thereafter for correspondence and a contact and so on.

Working at GE

Vardalas:

And where did you finally work?

Stern:

I decided to go with GE.

Vardalas:

You didn't go to RCA.

Stern:

No, I went to GE. Today I realize that was a mistake. I should have accepted the UCLA scholarship.

Vardalas:

Ah.

Stern:

That would have enabled me to finish my Ph.D. and all that. The scholarship was I think for $3000 a year, if I recall correctly, or maybe it was $2500. I don't know.

Vardalas:

Did you want to be an academic?

Stern:

No, I didn't want to be an academic. I wanted to get married, because I had been dating a lady in Switzerland for quite some time. This was 1951, so we were only together for three years. We met in early 1948. I wanted to get married, and the scholarship would not provide for that. I wanted to make money to be able to get married, so I accepted the job at GE for $4500 a year. My weekly paycheck after taxes was $86.26.

And then I arrived at GE, and at GE there was it was sort of an odd situation because I went through various interviews at various companies in the U.S. before accepting the GE offer. Most of them knew nothing about what a degree from Zurich really meant. I interviewed at DuMont Laboratories for instance.

Vardalas:

Yes.

Stern:

They were in the business of making cathode ray tubes, plus some other things. And in the interview the guy who interviewed me, who was fairly high up in the engineering department, asked me, "Mr. Stern, I know very little about the European education. Did you have trigonometry?" I said, "Yes, I had trigonometry at the age of 15 in the gymnasium. I couldn't have gotten out of the gymnasium without it." I told him I thought they might even have differential and integral calculus at the gymnasium but he wouldn't believe it. That isn't done in high school. It's a long story. Anyway, I was with GE.

When I arrived at GE they didn't quite know what to do with me. There was another graduate from Zurich there. A gentleman named Henry Samuel. He was in a supervisory position and he was eight years older than I. In other words, he was a graduate of Zurich from 1940 or 1941, something like that. He had the supervisory position in the Electronics Lab, which was the R&D lab of GE Syracuse. He recommended that I be assigned to the color television activity that was just being developed. There was what was called the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC). The NTSC tried to make up their minds as to what standards to adopt for color television. There was our standard, which was backed by GE, RCA and a number of other companies versus the CBS system. The two systems were completely different. The CBS system used a rotating disc to create color. Of course NTSC is the system we still have and will have until February 2009.

Vardalas:

Yes, right.

Stern:

Then it's going to be changed. I worked on the NTSC color television system, and my colleague Steve Altes [spelling?] and I invented the first single-gun tube.

Vardalas:

Oh. Is there a patent for that?

Stern:

Yes. That was in 1952, and that kind of put me in a reasonably favored position.

Vardalas:

You had been there about a year when you invented the single-gun tube.

Stern:

Yes.

Joining the IRE

Vardalas:

How long into your career in GE did you first discover the IRE?

Stern:

As soon as I joined GE. At that time the culture in GE was such that if you wanted to get anywhere in engineering you joined the IRE.

Vardalas:

Oh really?

Stern:

Yes. Therefore I joined the IRE in 1951, shortly after my arrival. Also at that time in GE our Division Manager, the Vice president and General Manager of the Electronics Division, our big boss, was a former president of IRE. Names are problem for me now.

Vardalas:

It was expected of you to join the IRE.

Stern:

It was expected. The company covered all expenses having to do with IRE membership except the membership fee. We had to pay the membership fee ourselves.

Vardalas:

Right.

Stern:

Trips we took to IRE conferences and so on were paid for by GE. Let me look up his name - - W. R. G Baker. He encouraged everyone to participate.

Vardalas:

How did you value the IRE about being a member for a few years?

Stern:

I really felt it was an essential part of my being an engineer. I also had something to contribute to IRE/IEEE. My membership in IRE and subsequently the IEEE and participation in IEEE did contribute a great deal to my career.

Working on the Transistor Radio

Stern:

I joined GE in late August '51 and was in color television for a year. Then in September '52 I went back to Europe to get married. A few weeks later I got back to GE. Then in December 1952 a very funny thing occurred. I went to the cafeteria to have lunch and sat down at the table. My boss’s boss came to my table and said, "Arthur, can I join you for lunch?" I said, "Of course." My boss was I. C. (Irving) Abrahams. We got into a discussion and after a while he said, "I'm sorry I have to leave." He had a meeting or whatever. He got up and turned to go off. Then he turned back and said, "Oh, Arthur. I forgot to ask you. Is there anything that you feel we ought to do in research and development that we are not doing?"

Vardalas:

Wow.

Stern:

I was floored. My boss's boss was asking me such an unexpected question. I didn't know what the hell to say, but I blurted out, "I think it's high time to develop a transistor radio," and he thanked me and left. A couple of days later I got a phone call from the office of our General Manager, Dr. Lloyd Devore, who asked me and my boss to come up for a meeting. I had never seen the Lloyd Devore except from far away up to that time. I mean, he was my boss's boss's boss. No reason was given why he asked me to go, but Irv Abrahams and I went up to his office. There was his boss and Devore. Lloyd Devore looked at me and said, "Arthur, I understand that you feel it's time to develop a transistor radio." I was taken aback, because that was a comment I had made very casually. Then he said, "Well, you are the Project Engineer. Now why don't you go back to your office, find a way of telling me how much it will cost, when you are going to have it, how many people you need, and get going."

Vardalas:

My.

Stern:

If I recall correctly, that was in January of 1953 or possibly December of 1952. I selected a group of people. One was Jack Raper, a young engineer who was what we called in GE a test engineer. A test engineer was somebody who joined GE just out of school. They got three-month assignments for a year and a half I think. They had six three-month assignments all over the company so they could get familiar with what was happening. I also selected Charlie Aldridge and another couple of technicians, and they started working on the transistor radio. By September 1953 we had the transistor radio and I suddenly was famous. It was all over the press.

Vardalas:

Was the transistor radio presented at a convention?

Stern:

It was presented at the 1954 convention.

Vardalas:

And you presented at the IRE.

Stern:

Yes. Then it was reproduced all over the world. Suddenly I became famous. It was a success.

Vardalas:

A big event in your life.

Stern:

Yes.

Involvement in the International Solid-State Circuits Conference

Vardalas:

I want to stay on the IRE/IEEE theme. You first got involved as a volunteer actively in 1970. About nineteen years had elapsed.

Stern:

I joined in 1951. And then as soon as we had the transistor radio I became very strongly involved at IEEE.

Vardalas:

In what way?

Stern:

There were really two things, two major paths. One path was what is still today the International Solid-State Circuits Conference. And the first Transistor Circuits Conference. You see, the International Solid-State Circuits Conference was given the name International Solid-State Circuits Conference in 1960 when I was chair of the conference.

Vardalas:

What was it named before that?

Stern:

The original name was Transistor Circuits Conference. Solid state was only transistors. It changed to solid state when complicated solid-state devices became available. The first Transistor Circuits Conference took place in 1954. Sometime between '56-'58 we changed the name to Solid-State Circuits Conference and in 1960 we changed it to International Solid-State Circuits Conference. This is because by 1960 we had people involved from all over the world. I was very strongly involved in creating the Solid-State Circuits Conference.

The first Transistor Circuits Conference took place in February 1954. I was among the creators of that conference. An interesting story is that many years later I was asked, "How was the first Transistor Circuits Conference?" I said, "I didn't attend it." I couldn't find out why I didn't attend it even though I was among the initiators. The first I actually attended was the one held in 1955. I called people because I had to put together the history of the Solid-State Circuits Conference for its 20th Anniversary. I called various people who were involved and asked them, "Why didn't I attend the first conference?" No one could answer the question. They all said, "We thought you attended."

Vardalas:

Did you get it figured out?

Stern:

Then I was sitting at breakfast with Edith and said, "I'm trying to figure out why I didn't attend that first conference. I don't know why." Edith said, "When did the first conference take place?" I said, "It was in February 1954." She said, "That was the conference to which I didn't let you go because our son Daniel was just born and I wanted you around."

Vardalas:

You didn't remember that?

Stern:

No. I didn't remember.

Vardalas:

You played an active role in organizing these conferences even though you didn't attend some of them.

Stern:

Yes. Now, in answer to your question, I had two major roads for about a decade in IEEE. One was what is called today the International Solid-State Circuits Conference where I was one of the founders, then I became secretary, then I became a member of the program committee, then chairman of the program committee and then the chairman of the conference. That was a fairly heavy activity.

Vardalas:

Yes, yes.

Involvement in the Transistor Circuit/Solid-State Circuit Subcommittee of the IRE

Stern:

That was starting in 1954. The other path was subcommittee 4.1 of the IRE.

Vardalas:

What was that?

Stern:

Subcommittee 4.1 was called the Transistor Circuit Subcommittee, then it was called Solid-State Circuit Subcommittee. It was a very interesting group. It was the leaders of solid-state circuits from all around the country. Representation was limited to a member and a – I don't know what they called it – a substitute member. That is, two of them could attend the meetings but only one could vote.

Vardalas:

An alternate.

Stern:

Yes, I forgot the exact rules. The rules said that if somebody was Chairman then the second guy could take the spot. Anyway, at one point I became Chairman.

Vardalas:

What was the purpose of this committee?

Stern:

The committee was simply to exchange information of what was happening in solid state. The committee was one of the most effective committees I have ever participated with at any time. We did not observe any such thing that as company secrets. We violated company secrets right and left. We were interested in advancing the state of the art. There were twelve or thirteen of us, representing GE, Bell Telephone Laboratories, RCA, Westinghouse and some of the upcoming companies like Texas Instruments, which really became important as a result of their activities.

Vardalas:

Were there any people from government labs there?

Stern:

There were some government representatives. We had monthly meetings. We got together and spoke freely about everything that was going on in our companies. That contributed tremendously to the progress of the state of the art.

Vardalas:

Interesting.

Stern:

And it was all done in the name IRE. IRE was our cover.

Vardalas:

Right.

Stern:

It certainly was the most creative group to which I ever belonged. The Solid-State Circuits Conference was an emanation of that group. There as a strong relationship between the two.

Vardalas:

They fed off each other.

Stern:

Yes.

Vardalas:

What you're saying about this committee intrigues me. You said it was a cover for you to freely exchange ideas back and forth. Did your respective senior managers know what you were doing?

Stern:

No. Had they known what was going on, they would have interfered.

Vardalas:

How did you justify membership in this committee? What was the official reason for this committee?

Stern:

The ostensible reason for our getting together frequently was to develop standards. You see, at that time all IRE committees were standards committees by definition.

Vardalas:

I see.

Stern:

The separation between standards and other things that happened later did not exist at that time, and there was no Standards Board at that time in IRE.

Vardalas:

Of course to set standards you have to exchange technological information.

Stern:

Right. That was the pretext.

Vardalas:

Was there any problem with defense and confidentiality?

Stern:

Yes, occasionally. That was observed. However that wasn't too much of a problem. It became a problem later in the late '50s when integrated electronics became an effective subject.

It was people like Jim Early and Jack Morton from Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL). Jack Morton was the Vice President of Bell Labs, but he spoke very freely about what was going on. I have forgotten the names of all the others. I wrote up the history of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference for the 40th Conference Anniversary.

Vardalas:

Was that committee mentioned in there?

Stern:

Oh yes, it's widely mentioned.

Vardalas:

Good. I'll see how to get a copy of that later.

Stern:

On page 9 it gives you all the names.

Vardalas:

That's interesting that it was a very effective mechanism for the diffusion of ideas.

Stern:

Yes, it was.

Vardalas:

Do you think this happened in all the other committees too? Or was there something peculiar about your working on a new area that was fast emerging?

Stern:

I think that in the Electron Devices Committee similar things took place. I was a member of that but I did not have a leadership position in that. At that time we still tried to differentiate between devices and circuits. And so I was very active and became a leader of the circuits part. The devices part was another committee.

Impact of Transistor Radio on Career

Vardalas:

These were two main areas in which you were initially involved with IRE?

Stern:

Yes. Of course it also had to do with my function at GE. The transistor radio had a tremendous impact on my career. That started a chain of promotions in GE. I stayed with GE for ten years and that continued until I left in '61. As my career changed my IEEE involvement changed. With GE I was first an R&D engineer, and then I became Project Engineer of the Transistor Radio, and thereafter I became what they called Unit Supervisor of the Transistor Circuits Unit. They put me in charge of all of that. After that my title changed to Manager Advanced Circuits. I was in charge of that in 1955-56 I believe. Then in '57 or '58 I was advanced to Manager of the Electronic Devices and Applications Laboratory. That was my final position at GE.

Vardalas:

In 1963 or '64 when the merger happened, did you have any views about the merger at the time or was it something that didn't really interest you at all?

Stern:

My industrial career and my IEEE activities were closely related to one another. I left GE in 1951 [sic; 1961]. I left GE because I was manager of the Electronic Devices and Applications Laboratory which reported directly to the Manager of the Electronics Laboratory. I really didn't want to stay in R&D. I wanted to get into engineering of products. There was a problem with that. I had gotten up too high in the R&D structure of GE. I was paid too much to be accepted into the Product Department on a lower level.

The only thing I could have done in the Product Department would have been managing engineering. Departments in GE at that time were business units. The typical size of a department was $50 or $100 million in those days. I did not have the experience that qualified me to be Engineering Manager. I would have had to take a step back. I had all kinds of offers, but always on lower levels or what was called the subsection levels.

Then came the Martin Company, which became Martin-Marietta and today is Lockheed-Martin. They discovered me from somewhere and offered me the job of Director of Engineering of their Electronics Division. Whereas at GE I as Laboratory Manager I supervised somewhere on the order of 150 people, at Martin-Marietta the Electronics Engineering Department had 1,099 employees at the time. That was big advancement for me. Actually they offered me the position in 1960 and I sat on the offer for over a year. As a matter of fact, I went to a psychiatrist because I was 35 years old and had sleeping problems. The psychiatrist in Syracuse asked me, "Is there any particular problem that you have? Is there something that bothers you? Is there some decision that you have to make?" I told him about the job offer and he said, "Well look. Make up your mind whether you are accepting this offer or not and then you'll be able to sleep." And he was right. [laughter] In 1961 I accepted the job at Martin-Marietta, which of course gave me a much broader set of responsibilities than I had at GE. Transistors and solid state became secondary.

My responsibility came to be in antisubmarine warfare systems, command control systems and those sort of things. Therefore my IEEE activities changed.

Becoming Chairman of the Circuits and Systems Society

Vardalas:

What did you start doing then? Do you recall?

Stern:

Yes. I still tried to hang on for quite a while. Of course my function in the Solid-State Circuits Conference had to end because I had all the jobs that they had to offer. In '62 or '63 I had to get out of that. And Subcommittee 4.1 ceased to exist. I started becoming very active in the Circuits and Systems Society. That was one of my major activities all through the '60s.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Stern:

I became Associate Editor and Editor and finally the Chairman of the Society. That was my major involvement.

Vardalas:

I didn't realize that.

Stern:

That was very much in accordance with my job. I mean, there was obviously a direct relationship between the job and what I did in IRE.

Vardalas:

Right.

Stern:

Then in 1966 I went from Martin-Marietta to Magnavox. I became Vice President and General Manager of the Research Laboratories and later Vice President and General Manager of a Division. That coincided pretty much with my getting onto the corporate level in IRE.

Vardalas:

Well let me ask you a question. You wanted to get out of R&D and go into engineering and then you wound up going back and becoming the Vice President of R&D.

Stern:

It was much broader. The word is the same but the content was very different. What I did in GE was very basic R&D. Magnavox R&D was a system-oriented R&D. You use the same word but in a very different sense.

Vardalas:

I'd like to focus on some of the corporate activities you did in IEEE and discuss the various Committees and Boards on which you served.

Stern:

In gross terms, it was first the Solid-State Subcommittee 4.1 and the Solid-State Conference. Incidentally, I was also active in the AIEE at the time.

Vardalas:

Were you?

Stern:

I was Chair of their Circuits Committee. I was on both sides.

Vardalas:

You had your foot in each camp.

Stern:

Yes, and then when I left GE and joined the Martin company it went on a somewhat higher level.

Vardalas:

Right.

Stern:

Both in IRE and in IEEE. I was the invited Guest Editor of the Integrated Electronics Issue of the Proceedings in December 1964 I think. It was just after IEEE was established.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Stern:

By that time I was already with Martin-Marietta.

Merging IRE and AIEE

Vardalas:

How did you perceive the merger of the two groups, IRE and AIEE, at the time?

Stern:

I was active in both but really my heart was more in IRE. In AIEE, we the electronics people were a highly encouraged and very well treated minority. This is because the leadership of AIEE, recognized that electronics was a thing of the future. But the culture was fundamentally a power culture.

You know, it isn't easy to change a culture, even if people really make an honest effort. AIEE was really wooing people like me. They wanted people from the electronics industry and people who have achieved a certain degree of reputation in electronics, but it just wasn't the same. I always viewed my IRE activities and functions as being creative functions, taking the state of the art ahead. The AIEE was more like a teaching function – teaching other people who didn't know very much about this.

Vardalas:

When the two merged you did them both simultaneously?

Stern:

Yes. Then the merger resolved it. Of course there were lots of problems.

Vardalas:

What were the problems?

Stern:

The two concepts were very difficult to put together. That was part of what I did in the '60s. A very important guy in that respect was Jim Mulligan. Jim Mulligan and I became friends within the framework of the Solid-State Circuits Conference. We cooperated with each other and all that. I guess I was very strongly wedded to the Solid-State Circuits Conference, so I stayed with it for a very long time. He left that area and went into corporate activities, and particularly the new IEEE. Then he dragged me after him. He clearly was the leader. Not I.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim Mulligan. It was a very interesting switch in leadership. In the solid-state circuits area I was more of a leader than he. He was sort of the follower. It was an interesting switch. Then when both of us changed out of that he became the leader and he became President much earlier than I. He had a tremendous influence in terms of attracting me. After I left the transistor field I went into the Circuits and Systems activity and had all kinds of functions and then became Chairman of that.

However I did not go into the broader range of IEEE activities, whereas he instantly went into those. Then of course problems arose because the two cultures were very difficult to merge.

Vardalas:

Can you elaborate?

Stern:

For example the function of the Societies, which were called Professional Groups in IRE. AIEE didn't have anything like that.

Vardalas:

Oh, they didn't? Okay.

Stern:

This also had a great deal of effect on the scientific and technical expertise of the people. The expertise really was not lying in the corporate management; it was lying in the Professional Groups. IRE, which was little compared to AIEE historically, had a number of Professional Groups and each Professional Group had a magazine, which is extremely important – what we call the Transactions.

There were all these IRE Transactions, but there were no AIEE Transactions. There was no such variety of publications. It had its advantages and disadvantages. Inside IRE you had all these kingdoms. You know? It had a positive aspect because it meant specialization in depth and keeping up with the state of the art. In order to be able to keep up the state of the art you have to specialize. You can't be an expert everything.

Of course it also meant competition. It meant political antagonism between some of the Societies. You know, bad always is connected with good and vice versa. I do not mean this in a nasty way, but AIEE was sort of a formless big thing that was not subdivided. And as a result of that it had some advantages. It didn't have some of the politics that went on between the different Societies. We had to put these two cultures together and it was very difficult, because it became very clear in a short time – and Jim Mulligan and I had many conversations about this – that all of AIEE was really just one Professional Group. It was one out of thirty. Yet they were thinking of themselves as being the Founders of Electrical Engineering. And they were the founders.

Vardalas:

Electrical, but not all the others.

Stern:

They were the founders, but they got stuck there. And this little nothing that came from a radio. Incidentally, that was a major accomplishment of a few people, including particularly Walter Baker. He was my Vice President, whom I saw rarely. He barely knew me, he was so high up. However, he recognized that this specialization was needed. He and a couple of other guys introduced the first Professional Groups in IRE.

Vardalas:

I see.

Stern:

Professional Groups meant publications. Each Professional Group has its publication. Very soon you found there were not only the Proceedings. The Proceedings were prestigious and were the best known, but the real work was done at the Transactions level.

Once I reached the top of the Circuits and Systems Society, when I became Chair of that, I was looking around for work to do and there was my friend Jim Mulligan. He said, "Well, why don't you come into the leadership of the whole thing?" I went into the National IRE thing, which was more general. There were several big problems that had to be resolved. The really major problem was how to really get AIEE and IRE married. I mean really married and not just having done it legally and officially. The legal merger was in 1963 or '64. They were legally one, but they didn't function as one, because they had very different traditions. Of course there was this real problem that when you looked at it very carefully there was this big merger of equals but they were not really equal because one of the equals had twenty-odd Societies, Professional Groups with their own magazines, and the other equal had only one.

Vardalas:

As a naïve outside question, if they were so different then why was the marriage proposed? Who wanted the marriage more?

Stern:

I think the marriage was necessary because IRE was on its way to simply erasing the AIEE. I think that the people who were willing to talk honestly saw that IRE was the explosive coming organization and AIEE was on its way down. The only way of saving the AIEE was a merger.

Vardalas:

I see.

Stern:

Even though the membership of AIEE was bigger than the membership of IRE at the time. It was just like I explained about myself. I was Chairing on an AIEE committee, but there was no real original work going on in that committee. It was a teaching function. Whereas the IRE committee, every month that we met something new came up. Then of course the problem was, fundamentally what AIEE was became the IEEE Power Engineering Society.

This is what really happened. The Power Engineering people had a hard time swallowing it. They used to be everything in their Society, and they suddenly became one out of thirty Societies. They needed to be kept reasonably happy, and we had to make sure that the bits and pieces of AIEE which did not fit into Power Engineering were properly accommodated in the other areas. That was one of the big jobs.

The gimmick we used to implement that was to say, "Professional Group, you cannot become a Society until you do this and this and this and this." A Professional Group sounds good, but a Society was better than that. A Professional Group had a Chair. A Society had a President. All of this is important from the point of view of the people. Suddenly there were twenty-odd Professional Groups faced with the opportunity of becoming Societies. It reality it was only a change of name. However in order to do that they had to accept certain basic ground rules and operate along certain lines and accept certain budgetary limitations and accept ways of circumscribing their activities so that they don't overlap too much with other activities.

Vardalas:

Were they willing to do this?

Stern:

It was very difficult, but yes. It was very difficult. It was a quite a process. It was started shortly after the merger. In the beginning after the merger nobody gave a lot of thought to anything. They had to merge the finances and decide where headquarters should be and all that kind of stuff. The big administrative things. Then starting around 1967-68 the organization became a real problem. That's when a bunch of people like Jim Mulligan, myself, and a couple of other people got into the picture. These people were brought in. I think Jim Mulligan had a major function. If I look at the Past Presidents around that time, I hardly knew the others. Jim Mulligan made a full-time job out of the Presidency. That was not the case before. It just had not been done that way.

Vardalas:

How many were pulled in from the IRE group to do this? What this an equal balance of people who—?

Stern:

No, it was not equal. It was clearly an IRE-dominated situation.

Vardalas:

And yet trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the AIEE members.

Stern:

That's right. Trying to be sensitive, but fully realizing that there were twenty-five or twenty-seven publications on this side and there were three on this side.

Then Jim put me up, had me nominated for a member of the Board representing a group of these Societies or Professional Groups.

Vardalas:

Do you know what it was called?

Stern:

I've forgotten. I know that Circuits and Systems was part of it.

Vardalas:

Not the Technical Activities Board?

Stern:

The Technical Activities Board was created at that time. Anyway, Jim Mulligan had me nominated. I ran for the election and lost the election. A professor whose name I have forgotten won the election.

Vardalas:

How did you feel about losing the election?

Stern:

I never won an election in my life. I mean, this was one of several elections I had lost. Whenever I ran against anybody else I always lost.

Vardalas:

Except for the Presidency.

Stern:

That's not so. The Presidency was the same thing. I didn't have anybody who ran against me.

Vardalas:

Oh.

Stern:

I will come to that.

Vardalas:

Yes, sure.

The Board of Directors and the "Three Rebels"

Stern:

Anyway, that was later. That was '75. I don't know what Mulligan did, but I was co-opted, I was appointed directly as a member of the Board. I've forgotten how it was done.

Vardalas:

You mean the Board of Directors?

Stern:

Yes. By that time of course there were the "Three Rebels."

Vardalas:

Tell me about these Three Rebels.

Stern:

John J. Guarrera, Arthur P. Stern and—

Vardalas:

And the person who succeeded you.

Stern:

Joe (Joseph K.) Dillard. We were the Three Rebels.

Vardalas:

Who made up this name? Who created this name?

Stern:

I don't know. We suddenly became known as such. Then each of us became President. John Guarrera in '74, I was in '75 and Joe Dillard in '76.

Vardalas:

Why were you called rebels?

Stern:

Well, we really were not rebels. Jim Mulligan did not consider us rebels. Jim Mulligan considered us allies. We were rebels against the old system. We made sure that those Professional Groups accepted the discipline that was required in order to become Societies. We worked with each of them separately and together. We put together what now is a monster TAB. However at that time that was a highly desirable thing. And we worked on getting the AIEE people to accept this change. We did not want them to think they were all being pushed into one Society. We wanted them to see that their technical specializations were accepted and augmented other Societies. We worked a lot with the active people. Forget about the people who were just members and were not active. The people who were active in AIEE had to be given functions in this unified thing.

Becoming IEEE

Stern:

Even though they may not have fitted completely. It required a certain amount of management capability and a lot of work to get them together. There was also another thing, and that was that IRE was strictly technical. AIEE had an element of non-technical in it which was called Professional. It was an important contribution to take that little thing and do something with that. IRE was international. AIEE was American. In establishing IEEE USA we did use AIEE, at least to some extent. Don't forget we were looking for ways of how to use the AIEE people.

Vardalas:

Tell me more about this non-technical aspect. I am told that you are responsible for getting an amendment for changing things in that regard.

Stern:

Yes. Basically it was to look for the status and the influence of engineering people in American society for IEEE to cooperate with the government. It was to take a position on certain national legislations and to take an interest in the financial well-being of the engineering community without becoming a union.

Vardalas:

It was like a lobby group then.

Stern:

To some extent, yes. It was never formalized with those terms, but yes. Okay? That then led to IEEE USA, which was a new concept. People said, "Why do we need this?" Much of that came from AIEE. The AIEE people were better prepared for this sort of thing than the IRE people. I am not trying to give you something that's absolutely true. I'm sure if I gave this as a lecture somebody could get up and say, "No. A and B and C and D and so forth from IRE were interested in doing that sort of a thing." True. However, AIEE had more people like this, because they were an American Society. The AIEE did not have sections in Europe or anywhere else.

Vardalas:

And they were more suited for professional interests than the more technically oriented IRE?

Stern:

That's right. Yes. They were more suited for working with people in Washington. For people in the IRE the attitude was, "Washington for IRE? What's Washington?"

Vardalas:

Really? Let me ask you a question. Do you mean that IRE didn't play a role in influencing legislation on radio and so forth before this time?

Stern:

No. Although they did have an effect through the Standards System.

Vardalas:

Right.

Stern:

Through the Standards System IRE was very strong.

Vardalas:

In terms of general regulatory regulations?

Stern:

No. No. However certain regulatory organizations would take into account very heavily IRE standards. Standards were very important.

Vardalas:

Yes, yes.

Stern:

Standards did connect them to society at large, because standards are no longer in the area of invention and innovation.

Vardalas:

I was also told that there was an international split – correct me if I'm wrong – in the perception that IEEE should go to the more non-technical. Did the Europeans tend to resist this more than American members? Or did the Europeans feel that IEEE should stay technical and leave this other stuff out? Can you recall?

Stern:

Well, I would not put it that way. The Europeans had absolutely no interest at that time in what was going on in Washington. They were interested in what was going on in Bonn, which was the capital of West Germany at the time, and in Paris and in Madrid. They could not care less about Washington.

Vardalas:

What about IEEE's lobby group as an effective force in those capitals?

Stern:

They did that through their national Societies.

Vardalas:

Ah.

Stern:

They had their national Societies. This was really the IEEE problem. When IEEE became a unit out of AIEE plus IRE, to be only international would leave us without a national representation. The French had their French Society, the Germans had theirs, the Swiss had theirs and so forth.

Vardalas:

I see.

Stern:

The European Societies could do whatever they needed to do with their governments through their national Societies, but the unified IEEE did not have a national Society. Therefore IEEE USA became the equivalent rather than splitting the organization into an international group and a national group. That would essentially have gotten us back to the AIEE/IEEE split. Nobody wanted to split it up again. We had to find a way to do it inside this newly unified thing. That led to IEEE USA.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see. Okay. You were a member of the Board then from 1972? Were these some of the issues that they—?

Stern:

I think I went to the Board directly after my having been Chair of the Circuits and Systems Society. That is when Jim Mulligan said, "You are now free."

Vardalas:

It says here you became a member on the Board on December 1st, 1971.

Stern:

It could be. I don't remember it in that much detail. I think I was Chairman of the Circuits and Systems Society 1968-69. Then I ran to become a member of the Board in 1970 and lost, and then in '71 I was somehow put on the Board.

Vardalas:

Do you remember how the Board functioned in those early years? Did it function in ways that are very different than today or recently?

Stern:

I don't know how it functions today.

Vardalas:

Or differently from the last you saw?

Stern:

Well, we had to learn. Everybody had to learn. It was a learning process of what does the Board do, what does the Board not do. We had real problems from the beginning with the Computer Society. The Computer Society was a problem from moment one.

Problems with the Computer Society

Vardalas:

Would you say the Computer Society becoming part of IEEE parallels the AIEE/IRE cultures coming together?

Stern:

No. No, not at all. The Computer Society was a Professional Group of IRE, and was a fast-growing one. At some point it became so fast-growing that they felt they really were worth more in their own right and they wanted to be independent.

They desired independence and wanted to disregard the general IRE rules and do things their own way. I would say their desire for independence had been incubating for a long time, but after the merger of the two Societies the computer group felt encouraged to ask for more and more independence. At one point that led to their actually considering leaving the IEEE.

Vardalas:

Is there something specific about the culture of the Computer Science Group or was it something else?

Stern:

I think it was probably something that is maybe to be expected. If an element of an organization grows much faster than all the others and suddenly reaches a size which is such that it is clearly bigger than anything else then the group will have one of two tendencies: either to run the whole thing or to become independent. And then mistakes were made. I think giving them two seats on the Board instead of one was a mistake.

Vardalas:

A prominent member of the Computer Society said to me very recently, "We don't consider ourselves engineers." Do you think that's part of a culture that maybe led to some of this, that they never saw themselves as part of an engineering community?

Stern:

I don't know. I can well understand that somebody would say that, but I don't think that was the root of the problem.

There's one time they wanted to become independent and take their money and leave IEEE. They learned, much to their surprise and distress, that they could not leave the IEEE with their money. If they were leaving they were leaving without a penny.

Vardalas:

Oh.

Stern:

This is because the money was IEEE money. A Society is not a legal entity. If a Society wants to become a legal entity by leaving IEEE it better provide for its own finances. This incidentally was done by the Navigation Society. The Navigation Society considered starting out as a Society of IEEE and then decided no.

Vardalas:

Oh really? I didn't know this.

Stern:

It is called the Institute of Navigation.

Vardalas:

Oh really?

Stern:

Yes. They decided at the beginning they didn't want to be part of IEEE. I mean, they were new in formation, but many of their members were members of IEEE and they could have established a new Society. They said no, they wanted to go on their own. They didn't take any money along, which is what the computer people tried to do.

Challenges Faced by Board of Directors

Vardalas:

You were on the Board of Directors for six years, from the end of '71 to the end of '77. What were some of the big challenges that the Board faced during that period? I guess some of these we just discussed were some of them.

Stern:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Do you remember any others?

Stern:

The basic organization of the Institute, particularly the Professional Groups versus Societies, the establishment of IEEE USA, then of course the regrouping of the other activities like separating out the standards from what used to be IRE committees and putting them into a standards organization.

Vardalas:

Was that a good move? When was that done?

Stern:

I think it made sense. You know, if you go back to the '30s, '40s and '50s, when a technical organization is small, it cannot avoid getting involved with standards. It's just a natural part of the process. For instance if you have a committee on transistors. Okay? You have to standardize the names. What is the emitter and that sort of thing. And then sooner or later you have to get into numbers. That's natural at the beginning, but once an organization becomes very big you have all these committees, and it has the Professional Groups or Societies. We had Subcommittee 4.1, the Transistor Circuits Subcommittee. They were talking about everything under the sun that was going on and they were setting standards, but most of the time they were not doing standards. They were just informing each other what was going on and figuring out more could be done. Okay? Well, all this was done under the aegis of a committee which had a standards charter, but 80 to 90 percent of their activities had nothing to do with standards. This really should have been done in a Society.

However there was no Society for transistors. The Solid-State Society [unintelligible word] was part of our activities in the '60s when we put that together. First the Solid-State Circuits journal, then the Solid-State Circuits Society with great resistance. Circuits and Systems was very strongly against it.

Vardalas:

Oh really.

Stern:

The culture of Circuits Transistor was not that type of culture. I know it because I had all the positions in it that one could have. Circuits and Systems was not really a device-oriented culture. It was a mathematics-oriented culture.

Vardalas:

Oh. Okay.

Stern:

Things like filters, the sharp cut of filters, much more that sort of a thing. If necessary they did open up their Transactions a bit because they wanted to keep us. Every two or three years an issue could be issued by the Solid-State Circuits people. The nice thing about the IRE culture and later on the IEEE culture was that if a group wanted to be independent they were told, "Go ahead and have your own journal."

Vardalas:

It's like a federation.

Stern:

Yes. And I think it was very creative and it worked very well.

Vardalas:

All right. Was there much consensus on the Board on all these issues or was it something that was contested?

Stern:

Except for the Computer Science Society thing, which was a constant pain in the ass, I do not recall anything on which members of the Board could not get together. Yes, there was a difference between the technical people and the regional people, but I think that on the whole that was healthy. Generally speaking, they respected each other. The Technical Activities Board (TAB) people as opposed to the Regional Activities Board (RAB) people. They recognized that there was a need for a local organization and for a national organization and so forth.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Stern:

It never came to a crisis. And vice versa. Also, you see, it was an opportunity for people. The people who were more technically oriented went into TAB type activities. The people who were more generalist and management oriented went into a RAB type activity. That worked out reasonably well. You could say almost without even looking at the person that if somebody was in the RAB he was no good technically; if somebody was in TAB, he was no good at management.

Vardalas:

Did the seeds of a RAB exist in AIEE or was it IRE?

Stern:

The AIEE had something like that, but it wasn't as—

Vardalas:

It was a new creation then?

Stern:

Actually I would say that when it comes to the regional activity AIEE was probably more developed than IRE. I think that the RAB concept came more from AIEE than from IRE, whereas the TAB concept came much more from IRE than from AIEE.

Vardalas:

I want to pursue this further, but I think we are going to need another session to finish.

Stern:

I'll be delighted.

Becoming President of IEEE

Vardalas:

Let me ask you very briefly to just skim over the Presidency for a second just to keep going in it. I'm curious. Why did you decide or why does anyone decide to run for President? Why did you decide to accept this position?

Stern:

I did not really decide. I think that the Three Rebels became a major force in the Institute. And it became sort of a – I don't know.

Vardalas:

Your turn next?

Stern:

Yes. At the time the Board was very much aware of the Three Rebels. Also, we had a big advantage in that we represented very different parts of society and yet we were always together.

Vardalas:

What three parts of society did you represent?

Stern:

John Guarrera was a very outspoken, very dedicated, what you would call, left-wing liberal. He had a long-term association with a Democratic Congressman in the San Fernando Valley whose campaign manager he had been and so forth. He was identified with that. He was very strongly in favor of professional activities in the IEEE almost to the point of wanting to make it a union. John Guarrera as a professional had an awe of history. He ran his own small company which went broke. He did not belong to big industry. Joe Dillard was a leading manager of Westinghouse. Dillard was a very important industrial guy who was very right-wing in his outlook.

Joe Dillard was very strongly management oriented and big company oriented. I was a combination of the two, and in many cases I just held them together. I was a leftie on the one hand but I had a fairly high corporate position, and I had no problem talking to either of them.

I remember one occasion in which we had a meeting at the Lexington Hotel in New York. The three of us were preparing for a Board meeting. When the subject of IEEE USA and what it should do came up, we spent all evening up to midnight at the Lexington Hotel. I have been to that hotel since that time and it's a different name now. It's a corner building on 3rd Avenue. Anyway, it started out as a complete split and I was in the middle. At one point I told John, "Look. No way are we going to make this into a union." He thought about it and then he said, "Okay. All right." Then we went unified to the Board. We probably were the three most active members of the Board at the time. Active in terms of spending personal time and in terms of preparing for Board meetings. We always had a meeting before the Board meeting in order to develop a position.

Vardalas:

It sounds like it was a very natural thing for you to run for President or to put your name up for President.

Stern:

Well I didn't even have to do that. It just happened.

Vardalas:

Oh really?

Stern:

I think that the rest of the Board pretty much accepted the leadership of the Three Rebels.

Vardalas:

Did you start out with a set of objectives? Did you have something you wanted to get done when you finally said "I'm going to do this"?

Stern:

Yes. Yes.

Vardalas:

What was on your agenda?

Stern:

All the things that we discussed.

Vardalas:

Oh. All that was still ongoing.

Stern:

Yes. You know, to firmly anchor the Society system, to get all the Professional Groups to accept the discipline and become Societies and give up their previous independence, relative independence. In IEEE the formulation of what is professional and what is U.S.

Vardalas:

It's interesting. This is over ten years after the organization was created, and this was still—

Stern:

Oh, it went on, and it wasn't finished with us. It went on. You see IEEE USA was a concept that was generated in the early '70s and I think it was implemented when I was President, but the name was different. It was somehow different. It was not called IEEE USA. It think it was called U.S. Professional Activities Committee or something. I have forgotten. You'll probably have to look it up.

It took a long time for those things to be accepted. The situation with the AIEE was very difficult. Of course the AIEE had the better regional structure, and accepting that was kind of a compensation for their technical activities essentially becoming a Society among thirty.

I remember that. I personally had a resentment against these regional guys who knew nothing. By that I mean they knew nothing technical. They were not technical people. You know, even though I was a manager I had a very strong prejudice in favor of the technical and my real respect went toward the technical. People are complicated.

Vardalas:

Do any names come to you as people who came from AIEE who were allies to you and worked with your closely to make this happen?

Stern:

One was Joe Dillard.

Vardalas:

Oh, of course. Yes, yes.

Stern:

That was very important. He did not come the electronics part of Westinghouse. He came from the power part of Westinghouse. And that was very important.

Vardalas:

During your term as President, what was your relationship with the Board? How would you characterize it?

Stern:

It was very smooth. I recall a few instances of when I had problems with the Board. First of all, you see the Board was the Board, but what really counted was the Executive Committee, and in the Executive Committee, since there were three Presidents following each other for much of the time all three of us were on the Executive Committee. That had a great deal of sway, because the three of us made sure that no matter how rebellious we were against some old practice that we were together. And we always made of that sure ahead of the meeting. In the Executive Committee that gave us three votes with which to begin.

That was actually necessary at the time, when a President was President for only a year. There was no President-elect.

Vardalas:

Oh, there as none? Okay.

Stern:

No. We were Presidents, then we were Junior Past Presidents and then we were Senior Past Presidents.

Vardalas:

Oh, that's how they went.

Stern:

Yes. Actually only the Junior Past President was on the Executive Committee. The Senior Past President stayed on the Board and was not on the Executive Committee. The fact that you have a President-Elect makes the Presidency a two-year deal. That is two years of heavy influence. That was not the case at the time. As Past President one remained on the Committee but was not automatically viewed as the leader. One year was just not enough. The present system is much superior.

Vardalas:

How did you see your role internationally? How did you see yourself in terms of going out to the grassroots, if I can use that expression?

Stern:

I traveled a tremendous amount and I neglected my job completely.

Balancing the Presidency and a Career

Vardalas:

I was going to ask you. Next I was going to ask you how it impacted your job. How did you balance the two?

Stern:

It was an interesting thing. Magnavox was acquired by Philips in 1974. The acquisition occurred in the fall at the time when I was already nominated to be President. Since there was no opposition I knew that I would be elected. I was nominated in March or April and was elected in October or November, something like that. In the meantime Magnavox was acquired by Philips. Shortly thereafter I went to see the President of North American Philips in New York. He was a wonderful guy.

Vardalas:

This was the President of U.S. Philips?

Stern:

Yes. I said to him, "I have been running for President of the IEEE Institute with the permission of the Magnavox Board. I don't know how you relate to it. I am nominated and the election is underway. I would like you to know that if I am elected then I will spend most of my time on IEEE next year. This may be unacceptable you. When the chips are down my job is more important than IEEE, so I will resign if you want." He looked at me and said, "Arthur, it's a great honor for us to have the President of IEEE as our employee. You do whatever you want to do. I will support you," and he did.

The other side of it is, I was at the time a Vice President reporting to the President of Magnavox who in turn reported to the President of North American Philips. The President of Magnavox at the time was a fellow named Jack [unintelligible name; sounds like Shry]. Jack Shry told me at the end of my tenure – I think it was in early 1976 – "Well, Arthur, to make the accounts will cost us about $12 million, but then again, you make much more than that for us, so we'll forgive you."

Vardalas:

What consequences did being president of IEEE have on your employment?

Stern:

It really didn't. The company did not take any specific steps. They let me neglect the job. As a result of that they got into problems in some projects, and particularly in the strong problem with GPS.

Vardalas:

Is this because you weren't there?

Stern:

I wasn't there. We had serious organizational problems, and I wasn't there to really understand the problem. By the time I got to it we were in a heavy overrun condition. We had a cost-plus contract that could not be easily canceled. The overrun was very heavy. The government representatives become very resentful in such situations because they have been put into a difficult situation because you are spending their money. It didn't cost Magnavox that much money, but it cost the government. Our software organization was improperly organized. Frankly, it caused a year's delay until I got around to dealing with it. It cost the company some money, but not so much. It cost the government quite a bit of money – and it cost quite a bit in terms of the relationship between us and the government for future work. It was something that I think would not have happened if I had been there all the time. The problem really was that I had an organization that I ran very much personally and I had not been there.

Vardalas:

Oh. I see.

Stern:

The next levels of management were not trained or organized to take any action, and there I was running all over the world. It did cause some problems. After a few years it was corrected. It took years to correct some things.

Reflections on Term as President of IEEE

Vardalas:

How did you feel after your year was over as President? Did you feel you had accomplished all you wanted to do? How did you feel at the end of it about what you had achieved?

Stern:

I felt good about some things; I didn't feel good about some other things. I felt good about what we did with IEEE USA and the professional work and the Society [unintelligible word(s)]. I think that those things went well. There was an objective however that I tried to achieve but did not.

Vardalas:

What was that?

Stern:

That was to establish closer relationships with the managements of the electronics industry.

Vardalas:

Oh. The electronics industry.

Stern:

Yes. I had hoped to get a better understanding and acceptance of IEEE by the electronics industry. By the time that I became President that attitude that existed in GE, which in the '50s was "whatever you do for IRE is good and we'll pay for it," had changed.

Vardalas:

Why was that? Why do you think that happened?

Stern:

It's difficult to say. Maybe it was due to a tougher economic environment. There were heavy layoffs in the industry in 1971-72. Or maybe the advent of small companies and the reduction of the importance of the big companies.

In a company like GE it was natural for somebody like W.R.G. Baker to say, "Anything you do for IRE is good and we'll pay for it." In the small company– even though they may have been very creative and successful –they expected their engineers to work day and night. They did not want them to travel to New York for committee meetings. This became particularly pronounced in the '80s and '90s but was already happening in the '70s. The "generally benevolent management" attitude just wasn't there anymore. To be honest, I think also the fact that we established IEEE USA with some political and economic objectives got a very bad reaction from some of the managements.

Vardalas:

Managements in the electronics industry?

Stern:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Do you recall anything specific or anecdotal?

Stern:

I recall a meeting I had at IBM. They questioned me for a long time. "Why do you do this? How will this affect us? Will this not lead to a union?" That sort of a thing. I went to see some industry person in Texas. I have forgotten who it was. I was very heavily attacked. The electronics industry did not understand. People asked me, "You yourself have a major organization. How can you do things like that?" It most cases it was misunderstandings, because we never wanted to establish an engineering union out of IEEE. However, from the outside to some people it looked like that and they were overly worried.

Vardalas:

Did you feel that you did a good job in assuaging them?

Stern:

No, I don't think so. I did not succeed in that, and I did not succeed in establishing a really good relationship. Neither did my successors for quite a few years, even though my direct successor was Joe Dillard, who was a member of top management of a big company like Westinghouse. Somehow the industrial people looked upon us as traitors.

Vardalas:

Really?

Stern:

Yes. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but they saw us as socialists.

Vardalas:

It goes back to this idea of trying to do non-technical things.

Stern:

Yes.

Vardalas:

That thought you should not be dabbling in that.

Stern:

Right. The would ask, "Why would you have a position on whether engineers from overseas should be imported or should not be imported?" You know, that was just the time when they started importing engineers, particularly software people.

Vardalas:

Right, right.

Stern:

They would say, "You should have nothing to do with that. That's none of your business."

Vardalas:

How did they feel you going to Congress and speaking on behalf of the whole industry?

Stern:

They were very disturbed by any of that. I testified before Congress a couple of times and industry was very disturbed. "It's none of the business of the IEEE."

Vardalas:

Even when it concerned the industry itself and like promoted the industry?

Stern:

No. They would say, "We can speak for the industry. You don't have to. You should talk about technical matters."

Vardalas:

How long did that attitude last? Or was it ever resolved?

Stern:

No, it was never resolved. I remember the man from Motorola but cannot remember his name. He had been a very good friend of mine. He became a strong antagonist. He was Senior Vice President of Motorola who left Motorola and established a new company. He was a Vice President of IEEE at one time. He was very upset with me. It ruined our friendship. "It's none of your business. Now don't do any of that." You know, "All you are supposed to do is encourage the publication of technical papers."

Vardalas:

That must have been very frustrating.

Stern:

Yes, it was difficult. It was difficult. It was not just an attack. It was as if I were a traitor to my class – since I was a member of top management myself. "How can somebody like you?"

Vardalas:

You of all people.

Stern:

Yes.

Vardalas:

When you became President how did you see your relationship with the staff of IEEE and the CEO. Was it an issue? How did you see the relationship of the professional staff at IEEE?

Stern:

It was very difficult, because you see I had an Executive Director who was a former General. I have forgotten his name. [Judd Schulke] I'm sure you can determine his name from the records. He was General Manager and Executive Director of IEEE for maybe two or three years.

Vardalas:

He was a former military man?

Stern:

Yes. He was a retired General and he never understood what it was all about. One of the activities that with which I had to interfere was when he felt that the IEEE personnel, particularly the higher ups, should show up in uniforms. He actually designed a uniform.

Vardalas:

Really?

Stern:

For people to show up at meetings. I objected to that. Our relationship was very tenuous. He was fired by Joe Dillard the year after I was President. Joe just couldn't take him. I remember Joe called a special meeting at IEEE headquarters, I was the Junior Past President and John Guarrera was President and the Three Rebels got together. Joe said, "Look. I don't know how you can put up with that guy. I want to fire him. I want you to support me." And we decided to support him in that. Joe just couldn't take him.

Vardalas:

That must have made it difficult to get things done during your tenure.

Stern:

It was very difficult. And you know, we traveled to places together. The relationship was very difficult. This was a guy who was a successor to Donald Fink and before Eric Herz. There was a two- or three-year hiatus between Fink and Herz. It was a pretty bad situation.

Vardalas:

Based on your experience with this gentleman and others, what kind of person is the right kind of person to be a Executive Director in a professional association like the IEEE?

Stern:

Donald Fink was very successful. He had the job for a long time. And Eric Herz was very successful. Incidentally the last one also last, didn't work out, and the previous one didn't work out.

Vardalas:

That's why I'm asking the question.

Stern:

The IEEE history is that the President is the CEO and a lot of people who don't have that kind of disposition don't understand that. Eric Herz understood it and was actually quite happy with it. It requires of course adaptation to a sequence of Presidents, many of whom are very different from each other.

Vardalas:

Right.

Stern:

Eric Herz knew how to do it, so he had the job for twenty or twenty-five years, whatever it was. Many others can't do that. There is an anomaly in a situation where somebody who is elected for one year should be given the authority to put his stamp on the whole organization. There was an improvement with the President Elect which makes it a two-year cycle, but it isn't easy for professional administrators to accept.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see what you're saying.

Stern:

It's a difficult thing. Now on the other hand, what should you do? Make it a five-year cycle? That wouldn't work either. Now that it’s a two-year cycle it is better than it was.

Reflection on International Aspect of IEEE

Vardalas:

During your involvement with IEEE both while you were working and after you retired, how did you understand the whole imperative to globalize? What does this IEEE being a truly international organization mean to you? What discussions were evolving about this? How did it emerge?

Stern:

The discussions were happening all the time, and I think it will go on forever. It is a problem that cannot be resolved. The fact of the matter is that IEEE is a both a U.S. organization and an international organization. That fact will cause problems and it will cause problems in other countries. You have to look at it from the points of view other countries. For example Germany has their own national Society, VDE. To them it's acceptable because they have their own national Society which does all the things that pertain to national elements – whether it has to do with the status or pay of engineers in Germany or whether it has to do with legislation in Germany that impacts on engineers. They look upon IEEE as being a purely technical thing. "Oh yeah, it is an international Society and it's a great honor to be a member. They have the leading publications in our profession and it is wonderful to be able to write in there" and so forth.

From the U.S. point of view it is a more complicated situation because we do not have a national Society. However we do have IEEE USA which is the national part of the Society, that is resented by quite a few people internationally. From time to time there are – and it will be come over and over again – demands that IEEE USA be a separate Society and that IEEE should not have anything to do with it. I think that is just part of the situation. Incidentally, the idea of many people was – and still is – is that IEEE is an international Society. To some extent that is true. Yet I think it has been overdone, because the fact of the matter is that from the point of view of the British, Germans and French it is a great honor to belong to IEEE but it is an American Society. They will never look upon it as a truly international Society.

Vardalas:

Do you think this will be true even if the membership shifts and becomes dominated by people in other countries?

Stern:

We are getting close to that. Almost half the membership is overseas. IEEE is paying a great price for that. Many young engineers in the U.S. do not join anymore.

Vardalas:

Is that related to this?

Stern:

Yes, I think so.

Vardalas:

In what way would you say?

Stern:

I think that many young engineers look upon IEEE as being too much involved with foreign activities and that they would prefer to see a Society which represents their interests and speaks up for them in a stronger way.

Vardalas:

Oh, interesting.

Stern:

That is what I think. That is my impression.

Vardalas:

That is the role of IEEE USA.

Stern:

I think that membership in IEEE is something more visible than IEEE USA. They learn about IEEE USA later.

Vardalas:

Ah. Okay.

Stern:

Also, and I am not sure what term to use, but it makes it unwieldy. If you have a Board of Directors meeting in Beijing, as they had one last year or two years ago, the expenses associated with that are very high. The fact that some of the key management positions are held by people who live and act far away from headquarters certainly must cause some inefficiency. One expects that the major functional managers or leaders would have instant access to employees and professional counterparts.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Stern:

You may say, "That is not a problem because you can do all kinds of things on TV and using the telephone." However the fact of the matter is that I could walk over to one of my manager's offices without any problem in less than a minute. It was an important part of my management style.

Vardalas:

It's not as easy with an international organization like IEEE now.

Stern:

No. The fact is that there is such a thing as a geographic distance, and the fact is that geographic distance implies a degree of separation whether you like it or not. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to a crisis situation where one has to act immediately. Then it is particularly difficult.

Vardalas:

Right.

Vardalas:

Do you think that membership in IEEE is as essential to success in one's career as it used to be?

Stern:

No, not anymore. I don't think so. There is a big difference. I do not think that is good or bad. When I joined GE in the '50s I was expected to be a member of IRE – if for no other reason than because W.R.G. Baker, the top guy, was a former President highly dedicated to that. That is not the case today.

Reflection on Company Membership in IEEE

Vardalas:

Is there any relationship between how companies now view membership in IEEE for the employees related to changes in the management structure of companies today versus then? Are engineers as dominant now in management structure as they were then? This may be a naïve question. Could that change how upper management perceives things?

Stern:

Engineers are strong and have strong positions in the management structure of many companies, but I think IEEE membership is not expected now. Let me tell you a little story. In my last years at Magnavox my title was President of Magnavox Advance Products and Systems Company. That was the high-tech subsidiary of Magnavox. Jim Litton worked for me when I was with Martin and then when I went to Magnavox he joined me. We were together for thirty years. Jim Litton was my Vice President of Engineering and then after a while he the job of Vice President and General Manager of our Navigation Division. He had GPS and various GPS predecessors.

The rule at Magnavox while I was there was that engineers must be members of IEEE, and everybody was an engineer. Jim and I are friends. When I retired in 1991 Jim didn't get along with my successor and went into business for himself. He established a GPS company and became very successful, without going into details. Jim called me up six or eight months ago and asked. "Arthur, can you recommend me for membership in the IEEE?" I said, "Jim, what do you mean can I recommend you? You were a member weren't you?" He said, "After you left I dropped it." The thing that I realized, to my great surprise, was that after Arthur Stern left some of the key people left IEEE.

Vardalas:

Interesting.

Stern:

It couldn't have happened while I was there.

Vardalas:

You were the “Mr. Baker” then.

Stern:

That's right. I had not realized that. It actually happened, even with somebody as close to me as Jim. We see each other five or six times a year for dinner. We have a close relationship. Jim joined me in 1961 at Martin-Marietta, so we have known each other for 47 years or so now.

Standards and IEEE

Vardalas:

Let me ask you another question about membership in IEEE. It would seem to me that any organization that is involved in engineering or product development would want to have some involvement in standards. You would think it would be in their self-interest to have a hand in standards.

Stern:

It depends. Some organizations may be highly technical but they are not involved in standards.

Vardalas:

With a new evolving standard it seems they would want to have a say in it. Is that not really a good reason to stay part of an organization?

Stern:

For some organizations it may be a good reason, but I don't think it is generally.

Vardalas:

And it is not the same situation of exchanging ideas anymore with committees where you meet get creative.

Stern:

No. It is very different now.

Vardalas:

Arthur, it's been lovely chatting with you. As you pointed out, we need to let some time elapse so we can think this a few weeks or something and then supplement this at the next opportunity. I am sure things will come to you again and I will think of things and we can kind of wrap it up with a second interview.

Stern:

I'll be delighted to do that. Sure. Just let me know ahead of time.

Vardalas:

Of course, of course. Yes.

Stern:

You know, I'm not that busy. I'm fairly busy, but mostly when I go out of town.

Vardalas:

Okay. Well thank you so much. I appreciate it.