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Oral-History:George Wilcox

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PCB is a problem because when you filter transformer oil to take out particulate matter, you don't discriminate between what kind of transformer, whether it's oil or intertine. So in the long run all the transformers have PCB in it.
 
PCB is a problem because when you filter transformer oil to take out particulate matter, you don't discriminate between what kind of transformer, whether it's oil or intertine. So in the long run all the transformers have PCB in it.
  
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Revision as of 17:35, 12 May 2014

Contents

About George Wilcox

George Wilcox was born and grew up in New York City, graduating from high school at fifteen. He got a summer job with New York Edison Electric Company and continued to work for them while attending the Brooklyn Polytechnical Institute part-time. He gained experience working with AC networks and high-voltage cable, and received his electrical engineering degree from Brooklyn Poly in 1939. Wilcox went to work for the Westinghouse Company in 1941, at their South Philadelphia Works, where he equipped electrical plants for wartime production. He then transferred to Westinghouse International in New York City and worked on international projects to fight the Axis powers during World War II. In 1950 Wilcox took over the Westinghouse International's Special Projects Operation, and he became the international company's Executive Vice President in 1953. In 1955 he became the president and CEO of Westinghouse's Canadian company. Wilcox was promoted to Executive Vice-President of Westinghouse as a whole in 1963. He retired in 1975 and did troubleshooting for Westinghouse gas turbine problems. Wilcox is a member of IEEE.

The interview spans Wilcox's life from childhood to retirement, focusing on his career with Westinghouse. Wilcox discusses his work with switchgear and motors, and how this resulted in his working for Westinghouse International and eventually becoming Executive Vice President of the entire Westinghouse Company. Wilcox describes how Westinghouse research was organized, how the company made innovations in development and customer service, and how managers must deal with both technical and personnel issues. He assesses the General Electric Company as well as Westinghouse research priorities during his career. Wilcox examines the declining number of IEEE members in the electrical industry and speculates about what this might mean for the profession and for the IEEE. The interview closes with Wilcox's recollections of dangerous power field experiments and design projects.

About the Interview

GEORGE WILCOX: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, And Robert Lawrence, Westinghouse (retired), December 9, 1993

Interview #182 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:

George Wilcox, an oral history conducted in 1993 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, And Robert Lawrence, Westinghouse (retired).

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: George Wilcox

INTERVIEWERS: William Aspray and Robert Lawrence

PLACE:

DATE: December 9, 1993

Family and Early Life

Aspray:

Could you begin by telling me about your family and your early life?

Wilcox:

First, as a sort of capsule, this is December 1993. I started in the electrical business in July of 1930. So that makes it, by rapid calculation, 63 years. Mother and father were both born in Ireland. Father was a stationary engineer, and all of his working life before retirement he spent with the Borden Company, the milk people. I have two brothers and myself, that made three. Mother and Father's earnest plea was: get an education, get an education, get an education. That wasn't too hard to do because having been born in New York, and I grew up in New York, we had one of the finest school systems in the country. We had good facilities. We had excellent teachers. In fact, New York was a magnet for teachers because of their relatively high pay scales. I went through school fairly quickly and graduated from high school at age 15. Obviously I fooled a fair number of people along the way. [Laughter]

Aspray:

Which high school do you go to?

Wilcox:

Richmond Hill High School.

Aspray:

Is that in Brooklyn?

Wilcox:

No, Queens. We lived in Queens from 1925 on.

New York Edison Electric Company

Wilcox:

The question was what would I do come fall? I had enrolled at Brooklyn Poly day school. But a friend of the family who worked for New York Edison said, "If you're looking for a job for the summer, I think I can get you one." Fine. So I reported to see my new boss on July 2, 1930, and he was the oldest man I'd ever seen, [Laughter] 63. I was 15, he was 63 and not in good health. But he had a very important job in New York Edison, and that was a superintendent of transmission distribution. I was his third-grade clerk who answered phone calls, relayed them to him no matter where he might be, and as time went on did a fair amount of statistical work — lamps, circuit breakers, and you name it. Anything where records were kept, he wanted them analyzed. I was exposed to that. This was the Depression, the depths of the Depression. Our family had no problems because Dad brought in an income. I figured that it might be better for me not to go to day school in the fall and instead go at night at Poly. I postponed entering for a year so that I entered Poly in September 1931, in the evening program. I finished in June of 1939. Big year.

In that time my work with New York Edison changed and varied. After about three years as an inside telephone person for the superintendent, I asked that I be transferred out into the field where I could do some physical work. They obliged. I went out as a wireman's helper. The main part of the job was carrying a 65-pound bag [Chuckling] full of tools. The mechanic's bag weighed only 35 pounds. [Chuckling] A wireman is a man who runs wires into houses or buildings or businesses. The size of a cable could vary from No. 12, No. 10, to 4/0. I had a fair exposure to what makes the nitty gritty of a power company work from the standpoint of a consumer: meters and things like that. Then they needed people in the network area. Up until 1932 New York Edison served Manhattan from 134th Street south to the Battery with D.C., and north and in the Bronx with A.C. Then the United Electric Light & Power Company came onto the scene, and A.C. became the standard for the whole city. So that the changeover, which was a tremendous job, took place, I believe, between the years of the late twenties until the middle thirties. With this change and the characteristics of the supply, we got into A.C. networks, and I was enlisted in that. We serviced the transformers, some of which were submersible, and their network protectors. You're familiar with what they are?

Aspray:

Yes, I am.

Wilcox:

Some of them were installed in buildings, in vaults. Incidentally, with this went a fair amount of exposure to engineering and relay setting. As you know, the minute current flows backs into the transformer, the network protector opens up and stays open until things are right for it to go back on again. The relays had to be checked every year, at a minimum. I was exposed not only to the elements and to the problem of keeping these things tight (because there were about 60 bolts around one of these doors), but also to staying alive and not walking into an open manhole. [Chuckling] I've seen more manholes than most people you'll ever see. Then I moved on from network maintenance to high-voltage cable. The company was experiencing a fair amount of problems, in failures of splices. They wanted to know why. So they set up a school, and I became a splicing instructor. We had, perhaps, a dozen people — one of us was present around the clock when any high-voltage joint was being made. We were there to assure that the rules were followed. I believe there was a change for the better, but it's one of those things that's statistical and took several years to find out.

From there I graduated to the very high voltage underground. That was 132 kV. In my time that was the highest voltage underground that I knew of. That involved a fair amount of work with oil, maintenance of reservoirs, tracking down leaks. When we determined there was a leak somewhere, the question was, how could you localize it? There was no failure, just a leakage of oil. So someone — and I believe it was a European, but I'm not sure — decided that the way to do it was to freeze the cable and make a plug in the central channel. We were able to do that, and of course then supervise the splicing of the 132 kV joint. I graduated in 1939, and spent a lot of time working around the clock, three shifts. Submarine installations, things like that.

Education at Brooklyn Polytechnic

Aspray:

Before you go on, maybe I should ask you some questions about your education. How was it you chose to go to Brooklyn Poly?

Wilcox:

It was close, and it was the best school that I knew of that close.

Aspray:

So you were already determined to go into an engineering discipline?

Wilcox:

Yes.

Aspray:

Did you know that was going to be electrical at the time?

Wilcox:

That's an interesting question. I enrolled as an aeronautical engineer. When I went to New York Edison and told them this, they said, "That isn't going to help us." [Laughter] After I'd recognized that aeronautical wasn't going to be that good, I changed to mechanical and spent, I guess, half my time — half the eight years — doing mechanical engineering, for which I'm thankful because I took all my thermo[dynamics] as a mechanical rather than an electrical engineer. Then I switched to electrical and graduated in electrical.

Aspray:

How did you find the courses with regard to your work? Was there a nice dovetailing of them? Did they have any relevance to what you were doing at work?

Wilcox:

Yeah. In the laboratory I was perhaps more competent to hook up motors and transformers than the average guy who was in my class, because they didn't have any hands-on experience. The engineering regimen made sense to me. I didn't argue with what I found.

Aspray:

What about the other way around, though? Did the formal education have any value to what you were doing in the workplace, your day job?

Wilcox:

I suppose the answer has to be yes. [Laughter] Let's put it this way: It helped. When some of these men with whom I worked found out that I was going to college, I got a lot of requests: "Hey, George! I'm taking a course over in such-and-such a place. Could you help me?" And I was able to help my fellow workers from time to time. I got a fair number of assignments from management, and I was on sort of a training course.

Lawrence:

Is this like a co-op program in a way, George?

Wilcox:

No co-op.

Lawrence:

I couldn't tell whether you were going to school and working all of the period.

Wilcox:

No.

Lawrence:

You were working and going to school?

Wilcox:

Working all day, going to school at night.

Lawrence:

But they were simultaneous.

Wilcox:

Simultaneous, right. I would get assignments because of the fact that my bosses knew what I was doing: to determine an easy way to find out whether the paper insulation on a high-voltage cable was permissibly good for it to be used again or to throw it away was one interesting question. I was minding my own business one day, and a superintendent came out, underground. He said, "Hey, George! You know all about modulus of elasticity and that sort of thing?" I said, "I've heard about it, yeah." He said, "Well, I want you to determine the size of a manila rope you would have to have if a cable reel slipped off a truck, and it was snugged by these two manila ropes." That sounded like a pretty simple question. [Chuckling] My only problem was I couldn't find a modulus of elasticity of a rope. [Laughter] I told Ernst Weber about this, I remember. I finally found it. I went to the public library. The rope had to be tremendous, though. About 4 inches in diameter in order to serve as a safety device you tie one onto the reel and one onto the truck. But to make a broad, general statement, I would say that I appreciated my education because I saw where it fitted in to many of the things that I encountered every day in the week.

Lawrence:

Were you anxious to get out of school and out into work more?

Wilcox:

No. School was no problem.

Lawrence:

Did you want to utilize more of what you did in school, but still get out and work?

Wilcox:

No. I may shock you a little bit to say that I didn't set goals the way lots of people say they do. I always had the feeling that if you did your job and did it well and excelled at it, you would progress. Maybe that's wrong. But that's the way I operated. I found that this occurred to me quite often in my lifetime.

Lawrence:

Carried on, in other words?

Wilcox:

Yeah.

Lawrence:

Even later on you didn't set goals?

Wilcox:

I couldn't say yes completely on that one, but in general, you are controlled more by things outside your control than you can do yourself.

Lawrence:

That's true.

Wilcox:

And if you don't recognize that, you're going to be a very unhappy guy.

Lawrence:

That's important.

Wilcox:

For instance, it would be no good for me to want to be a great lawyer having studied engineering. [Chuckling] When you'd have to take three steps back and then barge into something that you had no background in. Therefore, setting goals can be very dangerous. Not that I avoided it, but I just didn't feel that I had any great concern if I did what I knew well.

Aspray:

In a way, that's a goal.

Wilcox:

Yeah. The desire to excel or to be high up in a team of whatever group you're working with.

Move to Westinghouse and Pittsburgh

Aspray:

When the war came, how did that affect Consolidated Edison? I'm trying to get you back to the war years. What kinds of changes did it make in the everyday business of Consolidated Edison?

Wilcox:

None.

Aspray:

None?

Wilcox:

None that I know of. I'll bring you up to that. In 1939 I graduated, got married, and continued my work in the high-voltage end of things. Until 1941. Along the line in my cable work, we ran into electrolysis, which, as you know, is a no-no — lead-covered cables. We had a man who was the dean of all electrolysis experts by the name of Gorman. He sat at a desk close to mine up in the engineering department. By this time my title was Cable Engineer. A man from Westinghouse, by the name of Windelkin had a very good friend and also a radio ham, a man by the name of Thomas who was the head of our engineering department. He came to me one day and said, "Look, I have a request from a good friend of mine. Westinghouse is having real trouble with underground cables." We didn't sell them, we were just talking about them in our plants. "I just wanted to know whether you'd be interested in making a move to Pittsburgh?"

Of course the salary was going to be much more. It wasn't very high in New York. I was interviewed and accepted, and came out here. Pearl Harbor occurred between the time that I agreed to take the job and the day I reported, which was February 2, 1942. I got here Monday morning. Tuesday morning I was down in South Philadelphia Works, where they were having a great deal of trouble with cable failures. It didn't take too long to analyze the situation, realize what was occurring. I made recommendations as to what should be done. I was asked how long will it be before it fails? And I said, "Well, from now to six months, but six months at the outside." It failed in six weeks. So by that time I had a reputation of knowing all about things. Which wasn't true. They had the same problems in East Pittsburgh. I know that plant from top to bottom, every manhole in it.

Lawrence:

Is that right? [Chuckling]

Wilcox:

Just like South Philadelphia. In addition to that, of course, I was hired into the construction department, which, in effect, did the works engineering for the various divisions — business units — if you want to call them that now. In addition to that, we were equipping an awful lot of plants for wartime production: Installation of motor generator sets, transformers. One of my jobs in Philadelphia was to relight the plant so you could see. When I went there, the lighting was 1 footcandle. Most every machine had its own individual little lights. I had to specify the transformers, wiring, and all sort of stuff. I got fairly involved in switchgear for the various new operations, so that by this time the electrolysis thing was no longer my main concern. Number one, we had isolated the problems and knew what to do to solve them.

Second, I was more in demand because of the requirements of the war effort. In 1943 — Bob Lawrence may remember this period — everything was procured on a priority basis: triple-A, quadruple-A. I had to go out and fight with our production people in East Pittsburgh to make sure that what I wanted for the construction department I got. I don't think I remember all the names of the people with whom I dealt. In fact I don't remember very many of them. Luke somebody. But anyway, I was engaged one day in a sort of debate — not an argument — as to whether my job was higher in priority than another man's, whom I found out later was an international procurement man. He lost. I got the order. The next thing, you know, they wanted to know who that guy was that stole it away from them. [Chuckling] They asked me to go down to New York to be interviewed for a job as a switchgear specialist. Which I did.

Transfer to Westinghouse Electric International

Lawrence:

That was New York International?

Wilcox:

Right. Westinghouse Electric International. Right.

Aspray:

They had their headquarters in New York?

Wilcox:

In New York at 40 Wall Street. One of the thing they needed most was to help the Russians acquire machinery and electrical equipment for their effort in combating Hitler. There was a purchasing mission in Washington, also a branch in New York, for the Russians, which had very close contact with GE, Westinghouse, Allis-Chalmers, and others to see what they could get and how fast they could get it. I spent a fair amount of time on that. A fair amount of time on other international projects, many of them of high priority as far as the United States was concerned. This sounds like a hodgepodge, but it makes a little bit of sense. I was in constant contact with people in headquarters in East Pittsburgh, and some in Newark, New Jersey, who were switchgear builders. If I had any questions, I would go back to them. I guess I attracted their interest because the head of the Newark manufacturing and repair operation in Hillside recommended me for a new job to set up a shop in Brooklyn to take care of the New York area because Westinghouse had not made a very strong appearance there.

So a building of 80,000 square feet was leased, and I was assigned the job of running it. That was at age 31. I got recruits from all parts of the corporation. A fellow by the name of Bill Axen. Lloyd Bitzer. He used to be the paymaster at East Pittsburgh. His son. My head of manufacturing was an ex-submariner by the name of Eddie Walper, and he could make do with the minimum. We had a fair complement of equipment. We had big brakes and shears. We had lathes, boring mills, all of the things necessary either to make switchgear or to repair motors. When I'm talking about motors, some of the motors would stand as high as this room and were used in traction equipment. We were capable of taking them down to the bare bones, making commutators. I had a fairly nice exposure to that. Also to the fact that we had been under-capitalized by some great minds in Pittsburgh, and it was hand-to-mouth for [Chuckling] quite a while until we got it profitable.

Lawrence:

You must have had people there that knew what to do about the engineering and stuff like that?

Wilcox:

Yeah. Bill Axen was the engineer. But he knew nothing about motors. I wasn't called on that often, but I can remember one specific thing. We got a winch motor in from a Swedish vessel, 9 phase. I'd never heard of a 9-phase anything. When it came time to reconnect it, I had to get out there with my voltmeter and checked it out. Everything came out well. Whereupon the repair people thought that was great. How the hell you could find anything on a 9-phase. But, you know, back to fundamentals, and it wasn't that difficult if you sat down and figured. Somebody else did it. That went on from 1946 to 1950.

Executive Vice-President and Special Projects

Wilcox:

In 1950 the international company and I agreed that I should come back to run their Special Projects Operation. In 1952 I was made vice president and sales manager, and in 1953 I was made executive vice president of the international company.

Aspray:

What is Special Projects?

Wilcox:

Special Projects were anything that was not just the sale of equipment. If we sold a power plant, a hydro plant for example, we would be responsible for everything: engineering, procurement of the turbines, supply of the generators, switchgears, transformers, and that sort of thing. We would accept an order on that basis, which was unusual. This never happened in the United States. We just didn't do that in the United States. But overseas many of these people didn't have the know-how. We weren't competent to do the whole job either, but we would get a consulting engineer to work with us. I think I was one of the first people who got a consulting engineer to bid a firm price for his part in an overall project.

Aspray:

Rather than cost plus?

Wilcox:

Yes. Well, cost plus could kill you because I had no control over the cost plus. Therefore I couldn't sell something on a cost-plus basis. I had to sell it on a price basis. But it worked out well. We had some very fine results.

Aspray:

Did you find that the environment was very different in other countries, or from country to country, as you put together one of these special projects? Was there something special about Brazil or about Europe?

Lawrence:

It might be well to interject here. What was International then? It wasn't Japan, I don't think, and places like that, in the Far East. It was probably what? South America?

Wilcox:

I would say that our main efforts were directed at South America, Central America and the Caribbean. First of all, I had a little advantage there because in school I had studied three languages: Latin, French, and Spanish. While I am no Voltaire in French or Cisneros in Spanish, I could read and converse — falteringly perhaps — in two languages. It made it easier because there weren't that many people who could at that time. Languages hadn't taken over.

People relationships do not vary because of country. When it comes to doing business with a man that doesn't speak your language at all, it's very difficult, and you depend on translators. The thing that a company like Westinghouse had to sell was its sincerity in assuring the customer that what he thought he was buying, he was going to get. It is not a business in which you take a buck and get out of there and don't go back again. You're there for the duration. No matter what your guarantee says on the product, it had better work. And if it doesn't work, you make it work. And that Bob knows to be our credo for a long time. The utilities, I think, are a prime example. You can walk away from a utility and say that your responsibility has been discharged, but you won't go back again. Therefore I think it behooves anybody in the electrical business and power business, or heavy industrials, to recognize that when you quote a job, you're there with it until it is working satisfactorily. Am I saying anything wrong?

Lawrence:

No, but I just can't help but react to how things have changed. That philosophy, which existed and you've said was a credo is nobody even hears about it anymore. It's get a fast buck and get out, walk away. There's an awful lot of that kind of attitude today.

Wilcox:

Well, let's put it this way: This is the way I was brought up. And this is the way I conducted myself. If anybody under me attempted to change that approach, he was finished.

Lawrence:

That was our philosophy at Westinghouse as long as I can remember. And then when it changed, it was.... I see that today, and I can't believe it. People walk away from things like that.

Wilcox:

Let me give you an example, and it has nothing to do with me. Well, it has in a way. When I worked for the New York Edison Company, and later for Con Ed (that was in 1933 I think), you never put a customer out of service. If you had to do a service job in a building that made it necessary for you to cut off the power, before you did that, you ran shunts from the next building, no matter how far, tied them in so the customer had service, and then did your work, reconnected. Today, you just cut power off. If you dropped a customer, your job was on the line. Perhaps things have changed to a point where you can't criticize people today. But the power business used to pride themselves on continuity. They don't today.

Lawrence:

They always had the reputation of the most reliable power systems in the world. Incidentally, the 500 kV, which I know you were involved in when the electric power had failures in transformers, this philosophy was carried out then. I knew you had your hand in that. I remember that.

Wilcox:

In 1953 I was made Executive Vice President of the International Company and served in that capacity for two years. But before I go on, let me tell you what the International Company did. Westinghouse had a great reputation for its engineering and research capabilities. Bob would be much better than I to tell you the great researchers and mathematicians and physicists that have collaborated in this. One man's name is Schleppian, a man who worked on the deionization arcs, things like that. Fortescue, who came up with the symmetrical components idea. So Westinghouse had a fine name abroad for its engineering and research capabilities. You never knew what was coming next. So the International Company had several major businesses. One was the sale of equipment abroad, and that equipment could be divided into two classes. Number one, industrial (utility) and consumer. We sold refrigerators, we sold brown goods, white goods, so-called. We sold motors, generators, transformers on the other side. That was the equipment sale part of it. The second was licensing. We licensed many people over the world. One of our very strong licensees was Mitsubishi in Japan.

Siemens-Schuckert. That was the heavy end of the business. Siemens & Halske was the light end of the business. They later combined. Then we had Schneider in France. We had Gimonges, we had ASEA in Sweden. We had English Electric in England. We had elevator companies, scores of them, around the world. One of the things that was our birthright, so to speak, in the international business was the licensing of our patents and know-how. That gave us a great exposure — and gave me personally a great exposure — to a lot of things where no equipment sale was involved. But nevertheless there was a continuing relationship between Westinghouse and these licensees. One of our licensees was Canadian Westinghouse. In 1955 they needed a president, and I was approached as to whether or not I'd take that job. I was delighted to do it. That was October of 1955. I spent the next five and a half years, until January of 1961, as President and CEO of the Canadian company.

Aspray:

Before you go on to that, what were your duties, especially your final duties while you were in the International Company?

Wilcox:

Everything I've told you.

Lawrence:

Were you responsible for licensing in international?

Wilcox:

It came under me, yes. I was the Executive Vice President.

Lawrence:

My question really is, was international responsible for that, even though the divisions had the resources? I've forgotten how that worked.

Wilcox:

I understand your question. The International Company was the conduit through which the know-how, patents, were made available to people in the foreign countries who wanted it. We actively promoted the International Company.

Lawrence:

I think that changed later on, the importance of that.

Wilcox:

Oh, yes.

Aspray:

When a licensing agreement was signed, it was signed with you, not with one of the divisions of the parent company-

Wilcox:

That's right. But the Westinghouse International Company was a wholly-owned sub of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. And when they dealt with the International Company, they felt they were dealing with the parent company. In order to demonstrate how nice this was for the licensee, the international company would bring these people to Pittsburgh to see the various heads of the divisions with whom they dealt. This is where you ran into them all the time.

Lawrence:

We used to train some of those guys.

Wilcox:

Yes, they would send people over here to be trained.

Lawrence:

Up to a year sometimes.

Wilcox:

It was a very interesting and a profitable end of the business to be able to sell the idea that you can't afford not to have Westinghouse as your licensor.

Lawrence:

Why did International get that responsibility? Because of the contacts?

Wilcox:

Yes. Because of the feeling that —

Lawrence:

It was something you could sell?

Wilcox:

Yes. Because of the fact that the International people were constantly in touch with many, many countries of the world.

Lawrence:

So it was the contacts really.

Wilcox:

Yes. Okay.

Lawrence:

Because the resource was still back in the divisions.

Wilcox:

No question. International had no engineering, no research of its own.

Lawrence:

You were the front guys.

Wilcox:

We were the catalyst.

Aspray:

What was the size of the International operation compared to the size of the company's business as a whole?

Wilcox:

I wish I could give you a factual answer, and I should be able, but I can't. I would guess that the total International in those days — this is just sale of equipment now and no licensing involved — was 10 or 12 percent. Something like that.

Canadian Electrical Industry and Consumption

Wilcox:

The reason I mentioned the licensing was to lead up to the Canadian job. Because we had constant intercourse with the people from Canada, who were not only a subsidiary but also a licensee. When I was asked to go up there in 1955, I had been exposed to some Canadian customers in the International Company; I also knew their top management pretty well. I had a very interesting stint of a little over five years. That would take a whole morning to tell you about. But one of the things that I found in Canada, talking about the consumer-good side of the business, was the fact that the dealership or the distributorship relationship between distributors and dealers and the company appeared to be much stronger than I found it in the United States. Perhaps it was because it was a much smaller market. They have about 10 percent of the population of the United States, about 27 million today compared to our 260 or 270.

There was fierce loyalty on the parts of the distributors and dealers, which I didn't see down here too much. Customer relationships in the utility business, I'd say, were very similar to what they'd be down here. George Westinghouse put in the first waterwheel generators at Niagara. Canadian GE was also present up there, but we had a fair share of all the generator business, and Canada is a great place for hydro, as you know. We had a working relationship with Allis-Chalmers to build their water turbines, which disappeared in later years. We built almost everything that Westinghouse Electric Corporation in the United States built because of the tariff problem. They were built in Canada because there were no tariffs.

Lawrence:

That was at Hamilton, wasn't it?

Wilcox:

Hamilton.

Lawrence:

That's where you were?

Wilcox:

That was headquarters.

Lawrence:

Yes. It was almost like a little East Pittsburgh.

Wilcox:

Yes.

Lawrence:

Consumer goods were also built there.

Wilcox:

Yes, but that was in a different plant.

Lawrence:

But it was still in Hamilton.

Wilcox:

We had very good results with our white goods. While the people down here were complaining, we would consistently have a good share of the market, and it was profitable. Whether or not that had to do with tariffs or whether it had to do with the dealer/distributor relationship, I tell you that I don't know. It's hard to say. But in any event, we continued to grow with Canada. We introduced some new products. I brought in the gas turbine to Canada. I brought in steam turbines. I don't know today what they're doing in this area, but I know definitely, they are still building gas turbines.

Lawrence:

I think any gas turbines we make would be up there now, I believe.

Wilcox:

Is that right?

Lawrence:

I think so.

Wilcox:

That was a long, interesting learning curve. Many a night I spent down there until two, three, or four o'clock in the morning watching a test run.

Lawrence:

As President?

Wilcox:

As President. Sure. Because I was the one who suggested we bring it up from the States. If they were having problems, I wasn't one to walk away, I couldn't.

Lawrence:

Two things strike me. One is, you kept your hands-on feel for a long time.

Wilcox:

Oh, yes.

Lawrence:

The other thing strikes me is your mindset on policy of you've got to make it work for the customer.

Wilcox:

Right. What the hell? There was never any other.

Lawrence:

I think those two things are significant. I think it was felt down through the company.

Wilcox:

Yes. It helps if the top guy shows that he's interested. To give you an example domestically, that happened many, many years later. We had a customer, Don Kennedy, Oklahoma Gas & Electric. He was a devoted customer. We weren't his only supplier, but he gave a fair share of his business to us. We ran into a problem with some 33-inch blades on a big turbine. A 33-inch blade is a big piece of work. It's that long, and it's heavy. They would decide to start to chatter and vibrate and fall apart. It wasn't a catastrophic failure, but it sure as hell wasn't pleasant. The minute I heard this, I got on an airplane. I was now Executive Vice President of the corporation. I went out there and told him that we felt badly about his problem. And I said, "Can I go out and see this?" "What do you want to do that for?" "That's the reason I came out."

The temperature was about 110. There were two or three men knocking the blades out of the spindle, which involved a 10- or 12-pound sledge hammer and four or five bangs before you sheared the pin off that held it in place. The reason I tell you that story is not to heap any praise on myself. But there was a job which we were almost certain to lose because of the fact that these 33-inch blades had failed. I was delighted one morning when somebody came in and said, "George, guess what? We got the order, despite the fact that the blades failed." We had solved the problem by that time. The customer is a human being, and if you can put yourself in his spot, you can go along way toward resolving any problems you have. You've had this problem all your life, right?

Transfer to Westinghouse Canada

Aspray:

I wanted to ask a question about your move from International to Canada Westinghouse. Why was this an attractive move for you to make personally?

Wilcox:

Oh, hell! That's easy. To go from Executive Vice President of a fairly small subsidiary of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation to President and CEO of a much larger subsidiary.

Aspray:

I didn't realize that it was larger.

Wilcox:

Oh, yes.

Aspray:

I see.

Wilcox:

Plus the fact I was 40 years old. And an opportunity like this, I thought, didn't come more than four or five times in a lifetime. [Laughter] So I took it. I had a very understanding wife, three children by that time, and I think that everyone concerned benefitted from the fact that I made the move to Hamilton. It caused some dislocation. Our older girl, who was at preparatory school in Long Island, had to change schools, and had to drive from Great Neck, which is on Long Island, out to Locust Valley. Her mother, to make sure everything was okay, used to motor constantly between Hamilton and New York. So much so that the state police pulled her over one day, and said, "Lady, why do you go down here so often for?" [Laughter] The two kids, when we moved up there, George would be eight, and Holly would have been 12 or 13. Went through the public schools. That was unheard of, too. Of course you're going to put them in private schools. I said, "No, we live here. This is the neighborhood. They're going to the same schools as the other kids." I think that it was good for both of them. Then later Holly came back to the States to go to preparatory school. When George came back in 1961, he went to Shadyside [Academy] to make sure that there was no real glitch in the transfer.

Lawrence:

How many children do you have, George?

Wilcox:

Three. Two girls and a boy.

Lawrence:

Any of them engineers?

Wilcox:

George is a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, and he's a neurophysiologist. He's one of the more competent computer people I know.

Relevance of Engineering Training in Electrical Businesses

Lawrence:

How did you feel about getting away from engineering and going to Canadian Westinghouse?

Wilcox:

Well, I don't think I got away from engineering.

Lawrence:

That's an interesting comment. You were President and CEO.

Wilcox:

Yes.

Lawrence:

You said you were down on the floor watching machines, so you didn't get away. But still you had a lot of new problems that were not the same engineering training.

Wilcox:

I don't think it is vital that a president and CEO be an engineer. But you're surely a helluva lot more comfortable than if you aren't.

Lawrence:

Yes. I thought so. It's a comfort. It's more than comfort. It's an ability or a skill that you had.

Wilcox:

An ability to evaluate?

Lawrence:

Yes.

Wilcox:

Oh, of course.

Aspray:

Make choices, make decisions.

Wilcox:

All the time.

Lawrence:

Right. You say it was more comfortable to have that training, but it's more than that.

Wilcox:

No, no, no.

Lawrence:

You could personally evaluate.

Wilcox:

Let me explain something to you. It's pretty tough when you have a CEO who has no engineering background for you to engage him in an intelligent conversation.

Lawrence:

All right. Exactly. I would think so.

Wilcox:

This doesn't say that the man can't make a good decision, depending upon his analysis of you and the other people who have input. But to me, it would have been very much more difficult for me had I been President and CEO of Westinghouse Canada if I weren't an engineer. From that time on your subordinates, the people who report to you, recognize that you have the tickets. Therefore, they are not going to try to pull your leg. They are going to level with you. When I was in that job, I was called upon quite often to listen to arguments in favor or against a project or a system. If I didn't know, I would say so; and if I did know, I would try to reason with the people to see whether or not there was some hole in their argument, and usually there was. But I was never a long distance from the engineering aspect of the business.

Aspray:

Was that true of other people at the same time who held senior management positions within Westinghouse?

Wilcox:

It varied. The CEO's of Westinghouse — some have been lawyers, some have been business types, some engineers. I refuse to analyze each one of them.

Aspray:

I wasn't going to ask something so impolitic.

Lawrence:

You were vice chairman when you retired, weren't you?

Wilcox:

Yes.

Lawrence:

Did some of this same philosophy and things carry over into the vice chairmanship as it did into the CEO position at Westinghouse?

Wilcox:

Sure. I'll just say this. If you're going to be in a business which depends to a large extent on engineering research and development, it is much better for the individual, in my case, to have had a background in engineering and hands-on manufacturing and repair than not to have had.

Lawrence:

George, let me ask you this question. This is may be coming close to the impolitic, but I know you well enough, so you can just say you don't want to answer. But can you talk a little bit about your feeling in the executive position where you have this engineering background, and you're looking at the people giving you information, and you're able to do some evaluating of your own, and compare that to positions where you were looking up to the guy who might have been Vernon Lohr or Jessup or whoever. One was a techy and one was not.

Wilcox:

Yes.

Lawrence:

How do you respond to that in terms of your feelings with your engineering background? Not looking down to get the decision information, but looking up and providing the decision information. Do you understand my question?

Wilcox:

Yes. I understand it very well. First of all, if you're a member of a corporate top-management team, I believe that one of your duties is the promotion of the welfare of that organization. It is not given to many of us to choose our bosses. It's usually the other way around. If I feel — or if I felt — that a man should not be confused with things that he might not understand, I would approach him a little differently than if the man had an engineering background. It takes longer, it is sometimes frustrating, but in my book the top guy is entitled to every opportunity you can give him to learn what you're trying to sell. So therefore, it makes some difference in your approach, but if you're looking for the benefit or for the well-being or for the continued growth of the corporation, you're going to go out of your way to make sure that your boss knows what the hell you want and described in terms that he can understand.

Aspray:

But did you find, for example, when your boss happened to be somebody who came from a legal or sales background, that they wanted to know this kind of detailed technical information?

Wilcox:

Sure.

Aspray:

You told them anyway?

Wilcox:

Oh, sure.

Lawrence:

But even though they might say they don't really have the ability to understand because they don't have a technical background. But I think you partly answered that by saying it was more difficult.

Anti-Trust Suits Against Westinghouse

Wilcox:

Yeah. It was more difficult. In 1961 Westinghouse had been going through a very difficult time with the antitrust cases. Mark Cressup was then chairman or president — I forget which. He was running the company. He asked me whether I'd come back to the corporation as assistant to the president to undertake a job which might be fruitless, but nevertheless he thought necessary. That was to visit every one of the utilities which, it had been alleged, had been damaged by the antitrust operations. To visit them and to ask them not to sue Westinghouse. I had a lawyer at my disposal. His name was Ben Chute. I had an airplane and I spent six months touching each one of the 48 states, visiting 134 customers, sometimes in a group, or often as not, singly. Laying out what had happened, the fact that there had been no damage caused to them, which was true. And asking if they would defer or cancel their plans to sue? This was their right, of course. I got to see an awful lot of utility people, and always the top man, which was good for me. I don't know how good it was for them. Their legal staff was also in attendance. This included Puerto Rico. I remember that quite well because it was a commonwealth even though it wasn't one of the 48 states. A lot of time with the REA's out west — the Rural Electrification Administration. This was an outfit created in the time of Roosevelt?

Aspray:

New Deal legislation.

Wilcox:

It was not for the generation of electrical energy.

Lawrence:

Not at that time, but it could be later on. It was just a distribution network then, rural distribution.

Wilcox:

That would be what? Sub-transmission voltages?

Lawrence:

Well, it was really a distribution, low distribution voltages, 4 kV or 13 kV.

Wilcox:

No 13 kV.

Lawrence:

Well, not to start. But later it became that.

Wilcox:

In any event, I guess I did the job well enough so that I was then named deputy executive vice president of the corporation.

Aspray:

Incidentally, how many of them did sue?

Wilcox:

All of them except one. [Chuckling]

Aspray:

Okay.

Lawrence:

That was the fruitless part of it. [Chuckling]

Wilcox:

Mark's feeling was to just give it your best shot.

Aspray:

Absolutely.

Wilcox:

We had a good presentation — I thought it was good. But on the other hand, every one of those people is under the control of a PUC or some like body, and the PUC would say: Why didn't you sue?

Lawrence:

Yeah. Because that was a significant break in, I guess you'd say, the close relationship between manufacturer and user. Suddenly that broke down with the antitrust, and the people said, "We can't afford not to sue." So that relationship was changed.

Wilcox:

I don't think it hurt our appreciation of the customer's position.

Lawrence:

No, it hurt the relationship in terms of being able to do business. You have another guy looking over your shoulder saying, "Why don't you recover money?" Simple as that. It couldn't help but go that way.

Executive Vice-President of Westinghouse and Retirement

Wilcox:

I was made deputy executive vice president in 1962. In 1963 Mark Cressup died. Don Burnam took over as president. I was made executive vice president, but there were two of us. One of us was in charge of utility, defense, and special electronics — specialty electronics. The other executive vice president was in charge of consumer goods, maybe broadcasting. He came to us from the furnace manufacturer, Luxor. His name was Ron Campbell. I had responsibility for half the company, the other executive vice president half of the company. I served in that capacity from 1963 until 1969, when we had a reorganization, and I was given the title of Vice Chairman, Corporate Affairs. That was a kind of a switch because I had responsibility for law, finance, personnel, the Canadian company, the international company. So it was of course sort of line and staff job.

Lawrence:

You had research, too, didn't you?

Wilcox:

No, not research. Marshall Evans had that. That brings us down to the present time. I retired. They had an interesting exercise. I won't go any farther than that. In 1975 the board and the chairman felt that the top executives should step down at 60 years of age. Which, as you know, is not unusual. They do it in IBM, do it in Xerox, I think. So in 1975 I stepped down from that job to a title called Officer Director, and I served on the board of directors for five years until 1980. Then in 1980 I retired from the board. But I still have an office, as you see.

Aspray:

Do you still do work for the company?

Wilcox:

Very, very little. Well, let me put it this way: Between 1975 and 1980, I was a troubleshooter for gas turbine problems, and we had lots of them. I traveled a fair amount abroad in trying to patch those relations up. Also I was involved in the attempt to procure uranium at a time when we didn't have any. I did some traveling on that score. Of course I attended the board meetings regularly. But then I was out completely, and I've done very little for the corporation. That is not surprising because when a new group takes over, the thing they don't want is input from people who have no power to say anything and don't know what the hell they're talking about. [Laughter]

Aspray:

As your position as vice chairman for corporate affairs and, in fact, any of these senior administrative positions you've held, suggest, there's not only the technical knowledge that you need to do the job well, but ability to handle financial matters, sales matters, and organizational matters. How do you feel that you gained this training over time, and did you feel that you needed formal education to do this?

Wilcox:

Oh, that's easy. I can't say that I wouldn't have been delighted to go to a business school. I did, for a while. I went to Columbia's 13-week bumping course. But when you run an operation for a corporation like Westinghouse, you are very quickly introduced to the profit-and-loss statement. The balance sheet, cash flow, all these things become second nature. That doesn't make me an accountant by any means.

Aspray:

Right.

Experience in Legal Matters

Wilcox:

Plus the fact that if you're involved with the issuance of equity or debt, which occurs from time to time no matter how large or small the operation, you have an appreciation for what's going on. I had the chief financial officer reporting to me in my job as vice chairman, corporate affairs. I had the top general counsel reporting to me from the law department. I had the vice president of what they call human resources now (personnel) reporting to me. There were others, as I pointed out. But you might say, you talked earlier about being comfortable with being an engineer in an engineering outfit. What the hell were you doing having lawyers reporting to you?

Aspray:

Right. Exactly.

Wilcox:

I anticipated that. Not completely. I am not completely devoid of background in the law. Not that I had any formal training nor do I even hint at having any capability in the law. Except that in my time in Westinghouse, I have been closely allied with the legal department. Let's first go back to what I told you about the international company. The licensing operation took a fair amount of legal documentation. Also in those days, we were very much aware of the fact that antitrust laws can be easily violated or broken unless you know what you're doing. As a result, I was constantly in touch with our lawyers. My exposure to the lawyers in the antitrust case, of course, was long and arduous. Plus, I think I have a leaning toward the law, if I had been given any opportunity to be a lawyer.

But on the other hand, I think as a vice chairman of corporate affairs, you have to have faith in the man who heads up the operation under you. You have to listen carefully and make judgments, if necessary, based on what he tells you and on what you try to find out by questioning. Or hear from other people. I was not uncomfortable in any of these jobs. The one with the least comfort, perhaps, might have been finance, but not by much. Personnel. I've been dealing with personnel for some time. Or had been. In fact, going back to the Windsor operation in Brooklyn, I hired every one of the 300 employees personally. I had help in the documentation of their entrance and so forth. I've handled unions, was a union member myself at one time. I detested every minute I was in it and threatened to quit. [Chuckling] This was an NRA town; you wouldn't remember that. We were forced to join a union. I went to my boss and said, "I don't want any part of it. I want to quit." [Chuckling] He kindly said, "Go back to your desk and quit bitching." [Laughter]

Of course in the Canadian operation which reported to me and in the International, I was quite at home. Also, if you're going to run an operation, you'd better have the best man you can find for that job. It's no good trying to carry somebody. In general, the people who rise up through the ranks of any organization are good people. You're not talking about getting some substandard person. If you get somebody who will not cooperate and will not work with you, that's a different situation.

Aspray:

But they are talented people.

Wilcox:

Yeah.

Aspray:

There's been enough screening by the time they move this far.

Wilcox:

That's right.

Experience in Management Positions

Lawrence:

At some point I guess that you let go of what I'll call it detailed engineering to go on to more responsible and more decision-making jobs. Is that a correct assessment? Do I get the right feeling? Because I guess I feel you have to let go of some of engineering.

Wilcox:

Yes. Just by force of circumstance you have to. It isn't a calculated withdrawal.

Aspray:

One day you decide you'll stop being an engineer and become a manager. It's not that.

Wilcox:

It's like I'd say enforced.

Lawrence:

That's interesting, because I'm not sure whether I think it is enforced. I think there's something that lets you go on to more responsible positions. But as you say, you didn't think about it. It wasn't something that you said, "Well, I'm going to drop this, and I'm going to go on." Because you said earlier you didn't have goals in that sense. Maybe someone else realized that this was talent that should be utilized differently. But you had to let go of the details.

Wilcox:

I don't know whether I understand the question.

Lawrence:

How do you feel about the point at which you did let go of details and went on?

Wilcox:

I've been accused by my cohorts and superiors and inferiors — or subordinates — of still wanting to engineer things. I've criticized your friends in nuclear [Chuckling] for their complete plumber's nightmare.

Lawrence:

You didn't let go.

Wilcox:

But again, I don't want you to overestimate my contribution to the engineering in the beginning, although I was involved slightly, somewhat. On the other hand, I have never given up my real interest and curiosity for whether are we doing it the best way and whether we can do it some better way. I guess that won't change.

Lawrence:

Let me just tell you a very quick story. One day we were in the research, and you were there helping evaluate things one time. I know I was reporting to John Simpson, and I had been given the job of trying to assess whether projects were good or bad. My contribution was a book that the guys produced with red sheets and blue sheets. The red sheets were the projects that were falling behind and not doing any good, and the blue sheets were the ones that did some good. We came out with a booklet with too many red sheets and that must have changed something. The point is that one of the projects was an electric toilet. I can't remember the specific question you asked, but there was no answer to it if it was not going to get rid of the shit. [Laughter] That project got killed. But I always remembered that. George knows the right questions to ask when a project ought to be killed. [Laughter] So that's your fine Italian hand. I think you've probably forgotten that incident.

Wilcox:

Again, I don't know to what extent engineering has been involved. You as an outsider, could tell better than I.

Lawrence:

To me it's subjective because, as I say, I think the discipline comes down through.

Wilcox:

Well, that may be.

Lawrence:

I've asked the question about non-techy versus techy as CEO's. But I think you answered that very well a while back about the frustration level a person has in explaining something to a non-tech man. I had a lot of confusion in my career whether I was a marketing person or an engineering person. I guess I ended up a pretty good combination of both. But to whom I reported seemed to have some significance, especially about how I carried out my mission. I felt that this was true not only when I had people reporting to me, but to whom I reported. That's why, I guess, I carry this thought that I think that as I saw you going up through, I've always felt you still had a really good handle on engineering and what it was about and the discipline if it.

Wilcox:

Yes, I think I knew that.

Lawrence:

Yet I knew that you really have a great capability for making good decisions. I think the evaluation that you put into it was important. These are my words, but I'm trying to get them to come out as his words. But you have to ask him. That is how it looked to me. Maybe you want to comment on that some more?

Wilcox:

My reaction is that I studied engineering because I was with an engineering firm, a utility firm. It appealed to me because I was reasonably competent in the basics: math, physics. Things moved along. In those days you can't imagine how primitive the electrical industry was. In my short lifetime — long lifetime in the electrical business — direct current was an important service or product of the New York Edison Company, started by Thomas Edison back on Pearl Street in New York. You generated A.C., and you made D.C. somehow. You could use a motor generator and synchronous converter, or a mercury arc rectifier, and then the single-tank mercury arc rectifier. Then on the horizon came the diode, little sparkplug, as compared with the big thing before. I think that I have an appreciation, having seen that, of the giant strides we've made in electrical engineering and equipment manufacture in that period of time. It used to be that Westinghouse was the number one manufacturer of rectifiers. We had the major share of the market. But those, looking back, were impossible. They backfired, [Chuckling] they arced over, they did everything they shouldn't do.

I'm coming around to your question: To what extent does engineering influence my career? I would say without an engineering background, I would not have been put on the paths that I was probably because I would not have been comfortable in those situations. Yet you come down to the time when I was made vice chairman, corporate affairs, and say, "what the hell does he know about being a staff man?" Over the years I had derived enough knowledge or appreciation of the problems to be able to function quite adequately in those areas, I think. [Laughter]

Comparison between Westinghouse and General Electric

Aspray:

Although you've had challengers from outside the United States, and you've had competition from companies such as Allis-Chalmers, really it was Westinghouse and General Electric over heads competing in so many of these markets. Do you want to tell me about General Electric and your views on them? Views about the two companies? Give me some perspective on the two?

Wilcox:

I would say that GE is a well-managed company. [Laughter] We met them abroad in my time, and I can only talk about my time. They were good competitors. I think they were not as competent as we were in some areas of relaying and switching. They were originally, of course, a D.C. company, and they had some catching up to do. But they caught up quite well in later years. They were, as you point out, almost always the adversary in any competition for a foreign job.

Aspray:

Or in the United States as well.

Wilcox:

I'm talking about my own experience.

Aspray:

Oh, right. I understand.

Wilcox:

In this country, of course, [Chuckling] it's also true.

Aspray:

You've spoken to differences in strengths between the two companies in terms of technical areas. What about their style of doing business? Was there some difference in those?

Wilcox:

I would say that the conventional wisdom is — and it may be true — that GE was a more commercially oriented company than Westinghouse. I've mentioned earlier — and this is perhaps one of the things I should have said and didn't — when I was a young man working in the office of the superintendent of transmission distribution, Westinghouse had a man by the name of Roy Kine. He had a son who worked in the engineering department of Con Ed. One of the things that struck me about this man was his great knowledge of the overall Westinghouse, and his ability to translate this in discussions with my boss as to where Westinghouse could be helpful, what Westinghouse had under consideration, what was coming up next year. He was a first-class salesman. Absolutely unaffected, wouldn't worry. If you threw him out of the office, he'd come back just the same way the next time. He commanded the respect of everybody.

One of the things that struck me was our great strength in relaying. It was because our engineers and our mathematicians and our scientists had recognized the fact that the laws of electricity hold to a much greater extent than do the laws of thermodynamics or anything else. You can predict what will occur, and you can invent a what-if situation and find out what's going to happen. Then you can design your equipment knowing what's going to happen, even though it hasn't happened yet. Like our ability to interrupt circuits where the rate of rise of voltage occurs is what determines whether or not you can operate it. To imagine opening a circuit breaker — and you've seen circuit breakers, great big lumps of metal — in a half cycle, which we did. I've always had a tremendous respect, because I was exposed to it. GE had some things that were fine, I'm sure. I'm not denigrating anything that they've done. But I had a great respect and a great appreciation for what our people at East Pittsburgh and a lot of other research labs were able to do. Of course I was exposed to these people. I'd get to see them not too infrequently. We had one man Gordon Jones, who was the expert on ignitron rectifiers. I took him down to meet the head of the rectifier department of the Soviet government, Soviet Procurement Commission, whose name was Trapevan, which being translated from Russian means "poison ivy." I'll never forget the meeting between these two men. Jones was an acknowledged expert in rectification. Trapevan hung on every word. Here's a Ph.D. professor from Moscow. Later on he said, "That's the best discussion I've ever had about rectifiers." Here's a man 55, 60 years of age.

Licensing Trends

Lawrence:

What do you think happened that the licensing almost took a complete reversal from where we used to license to Siemens and Mitsubishi? Now it's almost the other way around. We lost, you know. Do you agree that we've lost that, and it is almost the other way around?

Wilcox:

This may answer your question. I think I said earlier a licensee is interested in obtaining a license. As long as he feels 1) that you have a product superior to anything he has, 2) you have the patents to cover it, and 3) you have the know-how to make it. That's number one; that your continued research and development promises to be as fruitful in the future as it was in the past. That says the whole thing.

Lawrence:

Well, we must have lost that ability.

Wilcox:

I would say that based on results, what you say is true. Yes.

Lawrence:

That would be more a symptom of things that we can't control than it is a specific thing relating to the company.

Wilcox:

You can't go out of a business and be a licensor. You have nothing to license. You have no product, you have no patents, you have no know-how. All of that goes. Sure as hell if you're not doing any research, there's no promise in the future. So when you dissolve — when you sell — a business, get out of it, transfer it to somebody else, you are no longer a credible licensor.

Lawrence:

I wonder why this happens.

Wilcox:

Now you're getting into an area that I would prefer not to discuss.

Organization of Westinghouse Research & Development

Aspray:

Let me ask a rather different question. Can you tell me about the philosophy, or at least the principles you had, within Westinghouse for organizing research? Where did you locate it in the company? How did you transmit knowledge from that group to other groups that were in production or manufacturing or service groups? Just how was research organized in Westinghouse?

Wilcox:

This goes back long before my time. But I would say that Westinghouse — and I've told you of the high regard I had for our people and what they were able to develop — devoted a fair amount of its substance to research. Research is a slippery word. You have pure research, which appears to have absolutely not a damn thing to do with your business. And you have applied research, and you have development. In the R&D segment in most corporations, they continually try to pump it up so that it appears that they're spending a large amount of money in R&D, whereas actually a lot of it is just straight development: What sort of grease should we have for such-and-such a drive? That always choked me; I never bought that. Research costs money.

I believe that research had been one of the strengths of Westinghouse. As time goes on, and people are looked to produce more profit from their enterprise, the charge against them for research becomes less tolerable. This results, in the long run, in a diminution of the amount of money available for research, however you define research. Remember that. As a result — and I don't know the breakdown of figures today — your research and development department, or R&D, or scientific center, or whatever you want to call it, is forced to go out to get contract work in order to maintain its staff of engineers, scientists, technicians. I believe that this is a problem in most large corporations. I am sorry to see a decrease in the amount of money spent on pure research because it hurts when you have to pay for it, but it has brought us untold benefits from the standpoint of product, profits, and everything else.

Aspray:

Do you think that the contract work that's done by these R&D organizations is of less value to the company overall?

Wilcox:

By definition, it would have to be.

Aspray:

Because it's not proprietary, or because the objectives are not...

Wilcox:

I think the chances that some of the spin-off from that research and development will be helpful to Westinghouse is a real one. But I don't believe it will be sufficiently large, across the board, to make that much difference.

Lawrence:

Don't you change your objectives, too? Because you're really starting to keep people occupied and paying for their time, and so the direction becomes different.

Wilcox:

It's what the government —

Aspray:

...the granting agencies are interested in rather than what your priorities are.

Lawrence:

Yes. But it's an afford-level problem, basically.

Wilcox:

Yes.

Aspray:

But what about the organization of research? I know that in many large engineering-oriented companies there has been a great deal of change over the last 30 years in the way that research was organized, and that it is tinkered with all the time, whether you centralize it, or whether you put it in your divisions, how you communicate between those centralized groups and the divisional groups, and so forth.

Wilcox:

Again, this comes back to the definition of R&D, right? Now, let's leave the R out, and let's look at the D.

Aspray:

Fine.

Wilcox:

The division manager, the business unit manager, whatever you want to call him, has continuing problems in making his product better. Some of them don't warrant the attention of some high-blown scientist at Churchill. But he has some very competent guys on his own staff in Ho-Ho-Kus or in Des Moines or in somewhere else. And he will do development on his own, or under his direction. That has been so forever. I can remember one small item. Somebody came up with the idea that we could make a switchboard for a steam power plant and have all of the control valves for each of the items on the same board. At Windsor we did that. Made a mock-up, and it worked. Not my idea, but it was something that was attractive, and I said, "Let's go ahead and do it." It's been expanded a hundred times since that time. There's a case of where the development was something we knew we had a particular problem we had to solve, and we went that route.

From that time on other people said, "Hey, that's an ideal way for a small generating complex to operate." It used to be that your steam was in one part of the plant, your air was in another. I would say that Westinghouse was no different than other companies in that the divisions did a great deal of development work. When it came to research, that was something that a) perhaps they didn't have the equipment, b) they didn't have the personnel (maybe the other way around, the personnel). If I were talking circuit interruptions back in 1930, I wouldn't permit Beaver to do the research on the arc extinguishment. That would be one place I'd go because of the knowledge and the capabilities of the people at Churchill. I think that research is a great thing to brag about, but unless you're willing to put your money where your mouth is, it's not going to pay off to the extent that it has in the past.

Lawrence:

Can you say how an executive now makes a decision as to the percent of whatever to put into research and development?

Wilcox:

Say that again.

Lawrence:

Can you offer an opinion about how the executive level of corporations decide whether it's 5 percent or 2 percent? Does it become arbitrary? Or is it a really well-informed decision with technical input?

Wilcox:

I had this responsibility in the Canadian company, and I was also partly responsible for it here. I think you live in a fool's paradise if you think you can terminate your research and development.

Lawrence:

So it can't be zero. You can start with that. Okay.

Wilcox:

So that's not acceptable. If you listen to your research manager, he wants 20 percent. [Laughter] You sit down and review with him the things that he's doing. We had access to the Westinghouse research in Canada. If it looked like something that was going into an area where they were much more competent in the States, I would suggest that we do it there. For example, I was fortunate enough to have in my engineering department in Canada quite a few Great Britain-trained thermodynamicists — in my opinion, as good or better than the ones that we could find in Philadelphia. Maybe I was wrong.

When there was a question about something like that, I favored going with our people. That would be more development than research. But it would be in the area of R&D. I would say that it worked out very well. That doesn't mean that every project we tried was a success. But on balance, even today, I think that their turbine people — both steam and gas — have achieved a high level of capability, not only in manufacturing, but in design, or modifications to design.

Aspray:

Since development is done in the division for its own interest, what is the movement from development to manufacturing engineering? Do you move staff with these projects? Or are they physically located in the same place so that those kinds of issues can be resolved by just a conversation? How does that happen?

Wilcox:

This might be an old-fashioned idea, but I think that a division manager is charged with seeing that his operation operates profitably, provides a good product, service, and everything else. Also, he is a member of a larger team, the corporation. If, in his opinion, the developments that have gone forward under him would appear to provide some help to another division, he's duty-bound to say so. Not all of them do. On the other hand, quite often it's possible, sitting at the top, to see this even though the division manager didn't know. It is then for the top to guy to say, "Hey, what you're doing there is exactly what's bothering Joe, let's get them together." I can give you one example of that: I was in charge of defense for six, seven years, and one of the things that you do in defense is provide radar equipment for airborne fighters and bombers.

The one thing that comes at a high price is space. The United States procurement people, the Pentagon, would say: "Look, we want you to provide us a black box, and it has to do this, this, and this. It can only weigh x pounds, and it has to fit in 25 cubic inches." The guys at Baltimore got to be magnificent at packaging. I don't mean tinsel. I noticed that our relay people were having problems when relays reported to me. So I asked our Baltimore people to invite the relay people down to take a look at what they were doing, and that definitely resulted in smaller packaging, which has an advantage in the electrical business. That's just one example. I would say that it comes both ways. If you've got a division manager who's pretty puffed up about how well he's doing, and he goes to a division managers' meeting and talks about it, which he will do, the people in the audience are sitting and listening think: Hey, that's something I could do. It also depends on whether you have an engineering vice president or a man in charge of research engineering to continually probe to determine where there are disciplines that are similar, one of which is answered in this division, and the other not yet.

Reduced Support of Industry for the IEEE

Lawrence:

I have a burning question, which I don't know if you want to or can answer. But, it comes up many times in IEEE meetings. There's a reduced support of industry, but certainly the power industry and the manufacturing industry for organizations like IEEE — a reduced support of the engineers. I guess I've accepted that as inevitable for reasons I'm not completely sure of.

Aspray:

So you mean volunteering to send them to meetings? Volunteering to pay their membership? Giving them time to work on projects —?

Lawrence:

Right. When I went to Westinghouse in the early days, Monteith issued a policy that said you have an obligation to belong to a professional society, you have an obligation to publish your materials and communicate it and share it, of course without revealing secrets. But that policy got lost someplace along the way. How does this strike you in today's times? I know you've been away from this for a while. But did you see this? But I know it does exist.

Wilcox:

When I was a young man, belonging to the AIEE was something every EE student did. In school, it was just something you did. Before school and after school. In Ernst Weber's time we went from the AIEE to the IEEE. Your question is, what's the reason for an apparent decline in the number of people taking part in IEEE?

Lawrence:

For example, in the last two or three elections, the IEEE president has come from the academic ranks.

Wilcox:

I've noticed that.

Lawrence:

The industry just doesn't support it, doesn't have time. I've been to a number of meetings over the years where they'll say, "we've got to get the CEO's out, we've got to get the CEO's out." And I keep saying, "Look, you've got to understand that CEO's are different today than they used to be. They've got different problems, they face different issues. They don't have time for it."

Wilcox:

They might not be an electrical engineer, either.

Lawrence:

They may not be an electrical engineer, right. Not even have an engineering background. So, when you think about CEO's coming to the meetings, forget it. That's all that's happened. They didn't show up. And the people seemed surprised that they didn't show up. I think that in IEEE we need to look at what we should do. Should we accept more of the academics and maybe lean on colleges to give support more? Because I think it's futile to keep going to industry and saying: "You're not supporting." I'm looking for kind of an insight on what IEEE should do.

Wilcox:

I would say this: That most companies would compensate you for your association dues. Right?

Lawrence:

Some do, some don't. It's becoming less common. Westinghouse doesn't.

Wilcox:

Well, in my time they did.

Lawrence:

It was a mixed bag when I was working.

Aspray:

But wouldn't they compensate you for time? Would they give in-kind support, though? Give you time off.

Wilcox:

Oh, sure.

Lawrence:

Yes. Today, ABB which has taken over some of the Westinghouse operations, is very chary about sending engineers to these meetings in the power field. I'm quite sure of that. I know there's a definite lack of support.

Academic vs. Industry Members of the IEEE

Wilcox:

The academic thing has worried me.

Lawrence:

Yes. I'm concerned about it.

Wilcox:

Not that I have anything against academics. God bless them.

Lawrence:

Maybe they're the guys that have got the time and the energy.

Wilcox:

But maybe they don't have the influence on the organization that you'd like to see them have.

Lawrence:

I worry that they maybe don't understand some of the things that we're facing. I'm not facing them now because I'm out of it. But I wonder if they really are up to speed with some of the things we're talking about, like the research and development, the afford money. Wait until you see the activity of IEEE. Is it a new organization? Well, even Hewlett Packard is, you know, they've been watching things more closely.

Aspray:

But the artifact of so much academic involvement is the increasing turn of the publications to very theoretically oriented things that are focused to a very small community of pure research and academic types of engineers. And the working engineers, some people believe, are not being addressed by the interests by the Transactions.

Lawrence:

Another symptom here is history. At one point Westinghouse would have supported history. In fact, at one point Westinghouse supported the B. G. Lamme Medal. They won't now because they don't have the money. It's an afford-level problem. But personally I've been trying to provide some funds to Bill's history operation because I think industry will not support history. They don't have enough interest in it.

Wilcox:

You know we could spend a whole night talking about this.

Lawrence:

It's a very interesting question. I've introduced it in IEEE a lot, and I think about it.

The Power Field

Wilcox:

Let me give you a couple of final words. First of all, let me give you my analysis of what I think my education should have been if it would have been better. Okay? First of all, it would not have been so heavily involved in power engineering. If I had my choice over again, I would go into communications. Not because I have any dislike of power. But communications, I think, calls upon a man — this is light current, now, as against heavy current — to be more competent in mathematics and fundamentals and physics. Now, I pick up the Spectrum, and one out of every ten articles I can understand. I wasn't an idiot when it came to communications. I got a passing grade.

We used to talk about vacuum tubes and things like that. But it appears to me that the world of light current, communications, is one in which more people can dabble without serious burns than in the power end of it. In the power end you need big equipment, you need untold amounts of gear to protect the individuals from what they're doing. There's a zero power factor generator in East Pittsburgh or something like that. I just wonder whether or not the fact that light current is so innocuous as far as its danger to human beings is concerned, that we're not getting more and more inept. In a college laboratory, you don't see anything more than a half horse-power motor. But you can see an array of anything you want in the solid-state physics on a student's desk. And is that the reason? I don't know.

Aspray:

Of course you see more dangerous chemicals. You see gallium arsenide and mercury and things like that that — Now, maybe there was that before, too.

Wilcox:

As works in the network equipment field, we were called upon quite often to take the cover off a transformer, change taps, or make repairs. One of the insulating mediums was intertine, and intertine is a PCB, but effective. We'd work in that stuff up to our armpits all day long. That wasn't the crowning glory. At night when it came time to clean up to go home — or go to school, whichever it was — we had five-gallon cans of carbon tetrachloride, and we'd bathe in that. [Laughter]

Lawrence:

That's worse. So I don't know whether it's very dangerous to handle gallium arsenide. [Laughter]

Aspray:

I don't know either.

Wilcox:

Any arsenide, I guess, is bad news.

Lawrence:

You know Don Siler. Remember Don Siler? He used to just absolutely floor these guys from the Environmental office. He'd take a shot of PCB and drink it. [Chuckling]

Wilcox:

No! He was a nut.

Lawrence:

I wouldn't go that far with it. [Laughter] I don't know how big a shot, but I know he did it.

Wilcox:

PCB is a problem because when you filter transformer oil to take out particulate matter, you don't discriminate between what kind of transformer, whether it's oil or intertine. So in the long run all the transformers have PCB in it.