Oral-History:Merrill Buckley


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About Merrill Buckley

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About the Interview

MERRILL BUCKLEY: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 6 March 2009

Interview #491for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

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, Rutgers - the State University, 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:
Merrill Buckley, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


INTERVIEWEE: Merrill Buckley
INTERVIEWER: Sheldon Hochheiser
DATE: 6 March 2009
PLACE: Philadelphia, PA

Hochheiser: It’s March 6th, 2009. I’m here at the University of Pennsylvania Faculty Department, Philadelphia with Merrill Buckley, past president of IEEE. Good afternoon, sir.
Buckley: Welcome to Philadelphia.
Hochheiser: Well, thank you. It’s always a pleasure to have the opportunity to come back.
Buckley: It’s a great town here.
Hochheiser: It’s lovely. I’ve always enjoyed it.
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: So, to begin with a little background. Where were you born?
Buckley: In Reading, PA, which is northwest of Philadelphia about 50 miles. Most of my relatives are still there. I came to Philadelphia when I was in the fourth grade, and went to school, high school in Philadelphia and college around here.
Hochheiser: What did your parents do?
Buckley: My dad was a tool and die maker. He was excellent with mechanical things including automobiles. In fact, I grew up with that.
Hochheiser: So you were very interested in--
Buckley: Mechanical things, oh Yes, we had a lot of good projects, and I probably would have—I started out to be a mechanical engineer.
Hochheiser: When you entered college?
Buckley: Yes, I went to high school. This was 1943. I was a junior at North Catholic High School here in Philadelphia, and they announced because of the war if your grades were pretty good you could graduate after three years. You had to take one or two courses so you could get some college in before you went into the service. So, I took advantage of that, and I was going to go to Drexel, and I ran into a friend of mine. He said I’m going out to Villanova. Why don’t you come along? So, I got out there, and it’s a beautiful campus. And they were desperate for students. All they had was Navy ROTC and they liked civilian students. So, Yes sure, we’ll take you, and I had mentioned I would like to be a mechanical engineer, but the first year, year and a half it’s all the same.
Hochheiser: Regardless what. So you went there into the engineering school?
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: And so you’re taking the introductory engineering curriculum, which is the same regardless.
Buckley: Yes, so I was there about a year and a half, and then my time came to go into the service. I was drafted, and I probably would have went into the Army. But I ran into a friend of mine who said, Merrill, why don’t you go down to the Navy recruiting office if you’re getting drafted, take this test that they give down there, and if you do well on that, you will go into the Navy. I said, fine, I will go down. And I did, and I passed the test. The day that I left for the service, which was from right around here there must have been 80 people. Two of us went into the Navy, and we went off to Great Lakes; that’s where our boot camp was. This program that we went into was called the Eddy Program, pretty well famous in electrical engineering.
Hochheiser: I’ve heard of it.
Buckley: A lot of people in the IEEE I’ve ran into who did that. In fact, that really increased the number of electrical engineers in this country. So, I went out there. We had only six weeks of boot camp. They wanted to get you into the training school so they could get you out into the field in radar. After leaving Great Lakes I went to Chicago for a while, and then down to Texas. The Texas facility was designed for airborne electronic technicians. So, I went to school there for about six or eight months. By that time the war had ended, and I would have to stay around, of course, until I was discharged. They asked me if I would like to be an instructor there for the rest of my time. I said Yes, Yes. I learned a lot there. This electronics seems to be pretty interesting stuff. So—so, I did stay around until I was finally discharged. I went back to Villanova, back into engineering. I told them I’m changing from mechanical to electrical engineer. Fine, fine. You go ahead and do it. So, I completed my time at Villanova and got my Bachelor’s Degree, and that led to getting a job. I went to work for the Naval Air Development Center, which is outside of Philadelphia.
Hochheiser: As a civilian?
Buckley: As a civilian, yes. Nice place to work, civil service, and since I had Navy and radar experience, they certainly wanted to get me on the payroll. So, I went there, and I stayed for about two years, which I enjoyed and learned an awful lot. I had the mission of testing, and developing airborne electronic equipment for the Navy. So, that fit in well with my career. After that I had opportunity to get a promotion by working for the Frankford Arsenal, which was also here in Philadelphia. And they were into technical and radar, and that sort of thing for tanks. And it seemed like an interesting job. So, I went there. I enjoyed it, but then finally I decided that I would go into private industry. So, RCA was looking for people, and I got a job with RCA over in New Jersey.
Hochheiser: Back up. Somewhere along those years when you were working for the Navy, you picked up a Master’s Degree?
Buckley: No, no, I got the Master’s Degree later.
Hochheiser: Right.
Buckley: I really obtained my Master’s Degree by part-time at Penn.
Hochheiser: At Penn, and was this while you were working?
Buckley: Yes, while I was working.
Hochheiser: While you were working for the Navy or while you were working for RCA?
Buckley: Both really.
Hochheiser: Ah.
Buckley: It took about five years or something like that.
Hochheiser: I imagine going part time it would take a while.
Buckley: Yes, I was married, and, Yes, we had some children. But that worked--
Hochheiser: What made you decide that you wanted to go on and get a graduate degree.
Buckley: I felt it’s a good idea while I had a chance. Penn’s a good school. It would help my career, so I did it part-time. Some of the courses I took actually at the Naval Air Development Center. One of the Penn instructors would come in and give the course. So, it worked out pretty good. It was also about this time I accepted a commission in the Naval Reserves. But then I went with RCA, and I really remained with RCA. Of course, GE bought out RCA later on, for the rest of my career, and I retired from GE.
Hochheiser: When did you retire?
Buckley: In 1990. This is two years before I was president of the IEEE, which worked out very well. But that whole career was in military and aerospace electronics, mostly radar, missile, and aerospace type of projects. RCA was very deep into that.
Hochheiser: Right.
Buckley: Initially, it was here in Cherry Hill, which is right across the river.
Doing work on some missile equipment, check out equipment, that sort of thing, and then I worked on the Atlas Program. The Atlas was the first intercontinental ballistic missile, really a clumsy thing when you look back at it. It’s a big tank filled up with fuel, and Convair was the primary contractor. But they were very anxious to get this thing completed. So, we picked up a contract over in Moorestown, New Jersey, to build launch control and weapon checkout equipment. We grew as a group, and finally it became too clumsy for Convair, which is down in San Diego. And we’re here in New Jersey so they decided to move the group to California. And of course I was with a group, and I had a certain number of people I was responsible for.
Hochheiser: By this time you had become a supervisor, correct?
Buckley: Yes, yes, I was a supervisor. Most of my career has been in project management or supervision.
Hochheiser: Rather than actually bench work?
Buckley: Yes, some systems work, never detail design—I didn’t do much of that. So, we moved to California, and, oh, that was an intense time. As I said, they were very anxious to complete this ballistic missile system, and we worked 70, 80 hours a week trying to finish this off and check it out and get it to the first installation, which was up the Coast in California. And what also contributed to the urgency was Eisenhower was president, and Khrushchev was coming over for a visit. This was back a long time ago. He was in ’62 or ’63 or something like that.
Hochheiser: Eisenhower was—Eisenhower was replaced by Kennedy in January ’61.
Buckley: Yes, in that time period.
Hochheiser: So, it would have been in the late fifties.
Buckley: Late fifties, yes, and he wanted to take Khrushchev on a train ride up the Coast and point to these ballistic missiles. So, that had everybody churning to get this thing set up. He didn’t fire the missile, of course.
Hochheiser: Right.
Buckley: So, that was a very intense time, learned a lot learned a lot about management. I had at one time I think 500 people who were working for me. Most—a lot of them were out in the field in installation. But we decided to come back, my wife, and I, and the children, come back to Pennsylvania and work at RCA in New Jersey again in Cherry Hill.
Hochheiser: How long were you in California?
Buckley: About two years, I guess, something like that.
Hochheiser: And then you came back here to Philadelphia?
Buckley: Yes. We did buy a house in California. We thought maybe we were going to stay. Fortunately, the housing market was very good so we sold it in a year and a half and made some money out of it. So, we came back. I was now back here in RCA, still working on defense projects, working in Cherry Hill, working on the Minuteman program, which is another ballistic missile system. RCA had the responsibility for the sensitive command network. This was a communication system that connected all the silos to the command center. Had to be hardened, security and all that sort of thing. We had a big project for that. And that was good training, and from then on in, I was involved with all kind of projects, ballistic missile early warning system, big radar system. We were in the radar business up to our ears. One of the largest radar systems every built. The Air Force, this was another urgency, the Air Force wanted to have a radar system in case Russia was firing missiles at us, ballistic missiles, they would know it. So, they really put us on a tough schedule. The antennas were about as big as a football field, and it was relatively low frequency. And they had a scheme for scanning across this beam, which positioned the beam scanned back and forth. A big project, so I worked on that for a number of years, and from then on successive government types of projects including the NASA Apollo Program (moon landing). Worked on the Talos missile system, and along came the Aegis system, a big contract for RCA. Aegis is the shield of the fleet. There must be on at least 50 ships now, destroyers and cruisers, light cruisers. And the key to that system was the radar system. So, you could scan without big antennas floating around. You could do it electronically and then tie in with that target designation capabilities and tracking of targets so you could shoot the targets down. And that was a long period. So, I won’t go on listing all the projects I was on but quite a few. It was interesting work, and I liked it, liked the people. And I—I’m glad that I stayed with RCA. GE decided to buy out RCA. This was about five years before I was scheduled to retire.
Hochheiser: Right, right. It was announced in ’85 and closed in ’86.
Buckley: Yes, and not much changed. They changed the sign at the top of the building and the stationary. And the checks—they changed the checks, but we just went on doing the same thing.
Hochheiser: Now, back up. When did you first join IEEE, and what led you to--
Buckley: Good question. I joined IEEE when I was at Villanova. The head of the Electrical Engineering Department called the students in.
Hochheiser: So this was after you came back from the Navy?
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: Okay.
Buckley: Somewhere in that time period.
Hochheiser: Okay.
Buckley: And the head of the electrical engineering department in addition to going over your curricula and all that, he really wanted you to get involved. This is your professional society. Join it.
Hochheiser: Now, which society? Was this AIEE or IRE?
Buckley: It was AIEE. Yes, IRE was in existence at that time. Yes, but I went to the AIEE, and I never really got too involved with that. I mean I paid my dues, and I read the Spectrum, and I use it for collecting information and so forth, but outside of that I didn’t. I had by that time five children. They were fairly close together, so my wife and I were involved with raising a family, and me running off to a lot of meetings was not a popular thing to do. So, I did that for a long time, and then as our children grew up, one day my wife got a call from some woman, and she said I—I’m from the IEEE Philadelphia section auxiliary. In those days the women would get together. They were I think upset before—the men were going off to meetings. So, they set up their own auxiliary, so this woman called and asked my wife if she would like to get involved. She said, oh I can’t, I’ve got five kids. This woman says I have seven. So, my wife said, okay, I’ll try. So, she started to go to these meetings. She said, gee, this is good. Why don’t you get involved with this IEEE? I said, okay, all right. It’s going to take a little bit of time, so I started with the Philadelphia section, and one of the chapters, the Systems, Man and Cybernetics chapter, and attended meetings. Then I took over the chapter and started scheduling meetings and that sort of thing.
Hochheiser: How did you get to be chapter leader, just by showing up?
Buckley: Yes. That was—in those days that was—if you showed up and you did good—I used to bring in some good speakers. I think that helped. So, I ran that for a while, and then I got an invitation to join the executive committee of the section. And in Philadelphia you go through the chairs we call it. You come in as secretary. Then you become treasurer. Then vice chair, and then you become the chair.
Hochheiser: Would this have been in the 1970s?
Buckley: Yes, in the late seventies. So I became the chairman. We had a lot of good meetings here, and when I became a section chairman, you go off to the regional meetings. We’re in region two here. At that time there were about 30 sections in region 2.
Hochheiser: And how large was the Philadelphia section back then?
Buckley I guess it was pretty much what it is today. I would guess about 5,000 people.
Hochheiser: And what sort of attendance would you get at the various meetings?
Buckley: It depends. We ran a lot of meetings. Each of the—not all the chapters, but a lot of the chapters would run, maybe get 20 people. If it was real interesting—something new in computers, you might get 50. I gravitated toward the engineering management society and that chapter. That was my choice. So, I stayed with that during all this time after that, running the management type of meetings.
Hochheiser: So, once you become section chair, then you start attending regional meetings?
Buckley: Yes, two or three a year, and that was getting more involved. And I liked it and met a lot of people from Pennsylvania. And we had a pretty good region. At the end of the time they were nominating people to become the region 2 director. That’s on the Board of Directors for the IEEE.
Hochheiser: So, this would have been a nomination from the region?
Buckley: Yes, you had to get nominated by the region to go on the ballot, and I was not nominated. I probably wasn’t around that long and all that. There were a lot of people there that had been around longer than I had. Gee, I was disappointed. Somebody said why don’t you run as a petition candidate. I said what’s that? Explained, you go out and get a lot of signatures. And if you get them and they’re accepted, you will—you will go on the ballot. And not too many people had ever run as a—for a director position, if any before I decided to do it. I’ll give it a try. The requirements at that time, it’s probably still true today, you had to come up with 1% signatures of the people in region two. We had about 30,000 about that time. So, I had to come up with 300 or 320, or something like that, signatures. However, they also said you can’t get them all from Philadelphia. You know, this is a big area to go out and get them. You have to have signatures from at least the majority of the sections. And which complicated it a little bit. You’ve got to get some from all of these different places in region two, Ohio, and Cleveland, and down in the—along the Coast here. And so I did. I got them. I got on the ballot, and I won the election. So, I then became the director of region two.
Hochheiser: How did you collect those signatures since you had to go all over?
Buckley: We could spend two hours on that subject, of which I think I am an expert. You have to get people to—I met people when I was the section representative to the region, a lot of people within the region, and I just sent them a form and said would you please collect some signatures for me? And of course in the Philadelphia section they have a lot of meetings. You can go there and collect the signatures. It really wasn’t too bad. So, I got them, and I was fortunate enough to win the election. And I became the region two director.
Hochheiser: Now, since this was a contested election, I assume there was some sort of campaigning you had to do.
Buckley: Not too much. No, you didn’t go around and talk at different sections at that time. No, you just hoped that you would win. And of course you had to give inputs that they put in the ballot booklet.
Hochheiser: Right.
Buckley: And the Philadelphia section certainly supported me, which of course was a big help.
Hochheiser: Right, because it’s a very large section.
Buckley: Very large section. So, I won the region two director, went off to the board, started going to the board meetings. And it was interesting. Meet a lot of nice people, interesting people. You’re contributing to the management of a very large organization, largest technical professional society in the world. And so I was the region two director for two years. That’s the term.
At the end of that time they were selecting candidates to go on the ballot of the IEEE for the vice president of RAB, which is over viewing all of the region directors, and they nominated me. So, Yes, they asked me if I would want to be a candidate. That was selected by the Board people. There was no member part.
Hochheiser: Right, that’s selected by the assembly.
Buckley: The assembly, you’re right. So, I happened to be selected. So, I became the vice president of RAB for two years.
Hochheiser: So, that gave you a period between the two of four years on the board.
Buckley: Yes, I’ve been on the board 11 years total, which may be a record, I don’t know.
Hochheiser: It’s a lot of years in any case.
Buckley: It’s a lot of years.
Hochheiser: Can you think of some of the issues facing the Board in the early eighties?
Buckley: Membership was pretty good. In fact, the membership when I was president, which was ’92, is almost as much as it is now. It was 350,000. That was pretty good although there was a tendency for less of the percentage of the members from the United States and more from region eight and so forth. Finances was an issue, meeting the budget, and one big issue at that time there were only eight divisions. The divisions are the groupings of the societies and TAB was unhappy because they were ten of the regions. So, we had a big harangue about that. They wanted two more directors.
Hochheiser: So, there would be as many representatives on the board from the societies as from the geographic areas.
Buckley: Right. So, that was very contentious. Since I was vice president of RAB, I had the position of trying to hold these guys off. So we did that, and the election was very close. In fact, the election was that we would stop it, they wouldn’t do it, and the TAB people were disappointed. Oh, well the TAB people were really upset, but then one of the region directors, region one, said he would like to reconsider. You can call a question back if somebody on the winning side says let’s review it again. So, we went through another machination, and finally since he changed his vote, they won, and then we had ten. I think it was probably a good thing, and that’s the way it is today, ten and ten.
Hochheiser: What about issues of professionalism, and other non-technical things—
Buckley: Oh, yes, I should mention that.
Yes, there was a big depression back in the seventies. A lot of people were out of work, and the IEEE individual members were very upset about this. And they wanted to know why IEEE was just doing technical things and not helping their careers. So, they pushed it to the board and got it on the ballot. The members voted on it, whether we would get more involved with professional activities. And it won.
Hochheiser: All right, so this was in the seventies?
Buckley: This was in the seventies, and we started up with the predecessor of IEEE, USA.
Hochheiser: Right, the—USAC.
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: And then the USAB.
Buckley: USAB, you’re right.
Hochheiser: Was that running, was that change kind of done by the early eighties, or was it still a contentious issue?
Buckley: Oh, I think even today it’s a contentious issue. Some people think we should not get involved with this. We are a technical society, but the majority, I’m sure still support the fact that we should get involved with this. It was one of my interests, too. I felt career aspects should be stressed more than they were in the IEEE.
Hochheiser: Now, I assume as regional director and then--
Buckley: Vice President.
Hochheiser: Vice President of RAB, you were on the USAB or USAC, whichever it was called at the time.
Buckley: There was a position called USAB, I guess it was, USAB. I was not on that at that time. There was—that was a separate position on the board.
Hochheiser: I guess the question is in this period what was the relationship between regions one through six, that is the U.S. regions and U.S. Activities Board.
Buckley: Well, U.S. Activities Board was separate, but it was composed mostly of the people from the United States in regions one through six.
Hochheiser: Right, but it was a separate hierarchy. But as being head of the region didn’t mean that you were--
Buckley: [interposing] No, I think we were on the—on the USAC Board.
Hochheiser: Okay.
Buckley: If you were a regional director, you were part of that board.
Hochheiser: Part of the board.
Buckley: Which brought us fairly close together.
Hochheiser: But were your attentions more focused on things on the IEEE board than on the U.S.?
Buckley: Yes, really both, anything that came up. It would usually surface if it was professional at USAC and the it would go up to the board. Full board, of course considered many things, money, where we going, where’s society are less and that sort of thing. So the interesting thing during my position as vice president of RAB was the centennial of the IEEE, which occurred the second year I was the director or the vice president. What are we going to do, 100 years old? Dick Gowen was president at that time. We have to come up with some way of celebrating—a centennial, this is 100 years. So, Dick asked each of the vice presidents, you should do something, come up with something during this time period, which is part of the celebration. Well, the technical people had all kinds of things that they thought they could do, but my RAB group we were talking about what we can do, and we came up with the idea of wouldn’t it be nice if we could get people [together] from all over the world in the IEEE. We never see them. We know they’re there. Let’s see if we can get them back during the centennial year to help us celebrate. So, we proposed that, and it was accepted. It was held in Boston. It was a big get together. Some of the Boston families volunteered to put these people up coming from all over the world, and they were very nice about it. So, that turned out to be a big success up in Boston, and this was the beginning of the Section Congress. That was the first. We didn’t call it that, but that was the first of the Section Congresses. After that was over, we put out a questionnaire about what did you think of this and all this and that. And it came back pretty strong—we ought to do this more often. Call us together, and we can interact. So that continues. In fact, that’s very strong. I was at the section Congress up in Quebec City last year, and they must have had 2,000 to 3,000 section people, a tremendous get together, and you meet people from all over the world. One of the—I think the smart things that IEEE continues to do. So, that was a big issue, and it worked out well.
Hochheiser: Any other issues you recall facing RAB during this?
BILL:: Membership. Always pushing for membership. I’m sure that the dues came up a few times. People—don’t increase the dues. We’ve got to increase the dues. That was—that seems to come up with every Board and every period, but it has gradually gone up pretty much with inflation, even today. Even today though I get a lot of comments [that] the IEEE dues are too high. They’re okay for all these technical people who go to conferences and write all these papers. But I’m a working engineer. I work. I use the technical information but that’s about it, and they think the dues are too high for that. My wife asked me why am I paying? Well, over the years it’s changed. It must be up about $150. Why am I paying $150 to stay in this IEEE when all you’re doing is reading this magazine when it comes in, The Spectrum. That’s been a problem. I think that’s still a problem to the IEEE, but the solution is you either cut the dues or you work out some way you can be a full member of the IEEE without paying as much because you’re not getting as much services or to increase the services. And that’s been talked over and over again. What services are we going to increase ? We’re going to increase education. We do have very good publications and transactions. We can’t do much there. USAB has been very good because now we have a pension program and we have all these financial programs. That’s been pretty good, but it’s still a problem. It may never be solved, but we—my frustration is that in this country, the United States, I would say that three out of four people who are qualified to be IEEE members are not IEEE members. I made a survey when I was in that job, and I don’t think it’s changed too much, but they’re not going to join based on this. My argument was why don’t we go the AARP route. They have millions of people. What do they charge them, $10 or year or something like that, and what do they get? A publication, but they join. Maybe that’s a dream that we can—we can’t charge dues that low, but at least give some break to the people who just want to be part of their professional society and not get involved with conferences all the time or what and go to meetings once in a while. But as I say we haven’t really solved that problem.
Hochheiser: Was RCA supportive of your volunteer work with IEEE?
Buckley: Good question. Yes, they were, the management where I worked, they felt that this was a good idea. They were supportive. They would let you do a little bit of—take a little bit of time during the working day to make copies of this or do that. You couldn’t over do it, but they were friendly. And here in Philadelphia we have a big awards banquet every year, and they would support that. They would reserve a table and bring in a lot of people. So, I would say yes. That’s changed in recent years, but when I was involved that was very good. Now it’s costing too much money. We can’t be competitive if we’re doing all this, but it’s our society. The members of the IEEE own it. This is our society, so—and we like support from industry. But we don’t want industry running the IEEE. This has come up a number of times over the years—should we have a corporate membership? And I’ve always talked against it because I don’t think it’s a good idea. Some vice president somewhere who is liable to want something done [will think] I’m going to get the IEEE to vote to lobby for us. I don’t think that would have been good. So, it remains a professional society that’s run by the members. One of the strongest things about the IEEE is our volunteer organization. The volunteers run the IEEE, and not many of the other professional societies, mechanicals, civils and chemicals do that. They have more staff, but we have maintained that over the years. We have very good staff people, but the volunteers really run it, and I would be reluctant to change that. That’s worked well.
Hochheiser: In 1987 you became executive vice president?
Buckley: Yes, I was elected—I was nominated by the board and I was elected to that position.
Hochheiser: Okay. So, it was this contested election?
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: Did the Board nominate two people, or were there petition candidates?
Buckley: There were no petition candidates. No, there were two of us nominated, and I won the election. But I was not nominated after that for president, which I was not very happy with. So, I decided I will go back to what I did in region two. I will run as a petition candidate for president. That was very rare. That had only been done I think two or three times before that. A fellow by the name of Leo Young ran ten years before and he won. And I had met Leo when he was here talking to our section. I figured, gee, this guy did it. Why can’t I do it?
Hochheiser: Okay, so the first time you ran was I guess in 1988 for president elect in 1989?
Buckley: Yes, that sounds about right.
Hochheiser: Okay.
Buckley: Collecting the signatures is not an easy task. You’ve got to—now you’re dealing with the whole country and the whole world. You’ve got to get enough signatures, although there wasn’t a requirement you get a certain percent from all different parts. You can get most of them from one area if you can do it, but you have to use people that you’ve met. You have to ask the sections to support you. You’ve got to do a lot of mailing. But I did collect enough signatures. I got on to the ballot, but I lost. Good, not good. So, the next year came around. I’ll try it again. I came pretty close. So, going through the same cycle, a lot of work and I lost again. So, I figured, gee, but I decided I’d try it one more time. And this was to be the president in 1992. The board put up three candidates, and there were two petition candidates, myself and a woman by the name of Martha Sloan. Martha was our first woman president. She became president after I did, but in that election there were five candidates and I won the election, not by a majority but I had the most votes. So, I became president.
Hochheiser: I don’t know if you recall, one of the strange things I noticed about the first time you ran with the IEEE having a different voting system called approval voting--
Buckley: Oh, Yes.
Hochheiser: Why—why that was done and was it abandoned?
Buckley: I think that part of it was there used to be a fellow by the name of Irwin Fierst who was a very clever guy. He liked to roll around in the IEEE, and he liked to run for office. And he wanted to become a petition candidate and run for president, just come right out of nowhere get enough signatures—and do that. He did it once, and he did pretty well. So, people got concerned. This guy is liable to come in from nowhere and he’s going to be president of the organization. So, somebody came up with the idea that we will change the voting system, that you could vote approval voting. So, you could vote for more than one person. You could vote for—if there were three, you could vote for one or two, and that they felt would help keep some outside person from winning. Very controversial for a long time, and eventually we did get rid of it. And I’m glad we did. It was confusing, and some people felt this is not fair. Not everybody has the same influence on the outcome of the election. So, we got rid of approval voting.
Hochheiser: What led you to decide that you wanted to be president of IEEE?
Buckley: I don’t know, ego I guess if you really get down to it.
But I had been a member all these years, and I’d been in all these different positions, and I thought, gee, I think I can be a good president, so I decided to try it, and I just continued. I probably wouldn’t have run for a fourth time, but I was fortunate enough to win. There were five people on the ballot, and I won.
Hochheiser: Were there particular issues that you wanted to address?
Buckley: Mostly professional activities. I’ve always been strong upon that, and I think that pensions and age discrimination, and that sort of thing are very important. I think they still are. We still have problems with this, and I think that was probably the primary reason. But all the other things we do a great job in our publications, in our conferences. We run at least 300 conferences a year. There’s no other organization of any kind in technology that runs that many. You can spend all your time just going from one conference to the next if you can afford it. So, we really did a great job. So that’s—it’s nice to be involved with something like that. IEEE is pretty well respected I think as an organization.
Hochheiser: What were the major issues you dealt with while you were president?
Buckley: Budget was a problem. We had some budget problems. We used to do a lot of haranguing about that. The corporate identity—we became a 401C I think it was during that time. I was president, and boy we had a big go around about that—whether we would or would not. In fact it was a tie vote in the board, and I was president. You don’t vote if you’re the president, and they said, Merrill, you’re going to have to vote. And I voted--
Hochheiser: Because there was a tie. There was a tie.
Buckley: Yes, Yes, so I broke the tie.
Hochheiser: Were there particularly, particular things—you mentioned that one of the things you were really interested in were professional activities.
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: Were there things you were able to accomplish in that direction while you were president?
Buckley: I think so. I think that the involvement was greater. I think I did—while I was in region two as a director, I started with the sections, and there are so many things involved that you spend more time in that. Let me put it that way. I spent more time in that because I thought that was important. Even today—you look at it today—my, we’re going to have a problem with engineering jobs. So—and our members want us to help them in professional activities. This pension thing now is a disaster. They’re getting rid of defined benefit pensions. People are really going to suffer for that, so that was a big interest of mine.
Hochheiser: How closely did you work with the IEEE staff while you were president?
Buckley: Very closely. I always have—I admire the IEEE staff. I work with a lot of good people. There’s a staff administrator for regional activities and staff people for finance and so forth of the IEEE, always very supportive. And as I say the volunteers basically run this, but the staff has to do the real work. I think we have a good system.
Hochheiser: In particular can I assume you worked closely with Eric Herz?
Buckley: Eric Herz, Yes, an old friend. Eric was involved with the board initially. He was in an elected technical position, and then, the staff director position opened up. And Eric decided that he would apply for that and he did. We were lucky to get Eric. He was around a long time. He believed in the IEEE. He understood the difference between staff and the volunteers, and helped us to put forth a good face. And Yes, we could use a few more Eric Herz.
Hochheiser: How frequently did you go up to Piscataway to the operations center?
Buckley: When I was president, I had been retired by that time so if there was something I could do or we had an executive committee meeting on some subject, we did change staff directors during that period and that was something I got involved—pretty much. I did a lot of traveling during that time.
Hochheiser: To where?
Buckley: Everywhere. Everybody wants the president of the IEEE to come and speak to them, and within reason we tried to do that. And it’s I think just good to keep the IEEE close together, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, went to China, Japan, Australia, lots of places.
Hochheiser: Just to sort of show the flag as much as anything?
Buckley: Yes, yes, show the flag and go to the dinners, and hob knob with the section leadership. I think it’s a good thing for the IEEE president to do. There’s a limit, you know, you can’t do that all the time, but I think it’s a good policy so I did a lot of traveling.
Hochheiser: I guess being retired gave you a bit more freedom to do that than--
Buckley: That’s right.
Hochheiser: --if you had still been on the GE payroll.
Buckley: It’s difficult to do, be the president of the IEEE if you have a full-time job. There are a few people that did it, but they struggled. It’s a good idea if you can retire, but of course that means that we’re going to—we’re not going to have young presidents. And we should have some, but that can be worked out. But it is easier if you’re retired, of course.
Hochheiser: While you were president, Eric Herz retired.
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: And can you describe your participation in the process of selecting a replacement for Eric?
Buckley: Oh, Yes. We had people—we asked for nominations, and I think we might have asked for some of the employment agencies to send in candidates. And we had a committee that went through all of this, and we had to bring it down to a reasonable number that we could consider. We did that, and then I chaired a meeting where the people were going to make the final decision, the leaders of IEEE. I brought in the candidates, and one at a time everybody was there and we questioned them, went through that process, had a big discussion about it, and then finally we made up our mind. We decided to—what we were going to do. We didn’t rely on some employment group.
Hochheiser: Right, but someone at first the process got winnowed down from everyone who applied to the number of people that were finalists.
Buckley: Yes, you have to—you can—you had to get down to a reasonable number that the leadership could interview and, and decide, which I think is the way to do it really.
Hochheiser: Was it difficult to make the decision among the finalists?
Buckley: There were good people in that last group, and it was not an overwhelming this is the person we need, but I think we made a good decision. Everybody had their say. Everybody had equal weight in that, and we came up with the candidate. And they were offered a position.
Hochheiser: So they accepted?
Buckley: Oh, they accepted, yes.
Hochheiser: And this would have been John Powers?
Buckley: John Powers—John a good man really, but he had some of his own ideas, and his skills—people skills were not as high as they could be. But I thought John did a good job. He was around for quite a while, and then he left and we picked up somebody else.
Hochheiser: I know he left in 1994.
Buckley: Could be. Yes, that’s about right.
Hochheiser: I know you were gone from the scene. That’s—compared to Eric who was there for a good number of years--
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: --and then Dan later who was there for a good number of years.
Buckley: That’s right--
Hochheiser: Do you have any thoughts on why John left after a couple of years.
Buckley: Well, it was somewhat controversial, and I think probably he decided it would be better if he moved on. I don’t know the exact circumstances. So, he did a good job while I was there, but I guess I wouldn’t rate him as the best staff director.
Hochheiser: To what extent or how can the president manage an organization of the size and complexity of IEEE?
Buckley: It’s not easy. You do not—you are the chief executive officer, but you cannot make indiscriminate decisions on your own. The board has to make the decisions, which I think is the way it should be. You’re really only an influence—the influence you have is you are leader of the board. And you try to steer it in the right directions, and you make your arguments about what you think should be done. That’s the way you do it. it’s your relationship with the people who are going to make the decisions. It will probably always be that way.
Hochheiser: So, in part—so part of the job then is working with them in some sense, managing the board so things would get done.
Buckley: Oh, sure, the executive committee, which is a smaller part of the board and the full board. That probably was the predominant factor. I mean all—the staff really as I said does a good job, and they don’t—if we decide that we’re going to do this or that that needs administrative support or we have to hire more people, they do it. We monitor it and so forth, but they do it.
Hochheiser: How closely did you work with your predecessor, Eric Sumner ?
Buckley: Pretty close. Eric and I got along pretty well. Eric was a different personality than I am but worked hard, and I think he had a good year. And Yes, I thought it was pretty good.
Hochheiser: I’m particularly interested, of course, because Eric is deceased. I can’t sit and have a conversation with--
Buckley: [interposing] I can say anything I want.
Hochheiser: Well, he can’t refute it. On the other hand, I can’t ask Eric about what he did. I can only ask other people who may know.
Buckley: Oh, you mean whether he did a good job?
Hochheiser: Or what things he concentrated on because I can’t ask him.
Buckley: Yes, Yes, he—financial, finances were the big problem. The number of staff people that should be involved and all that, that’s my memory of the big things Eric was concerned with. And I think he did a good job trying to keep the waters calm, yes.
Hochheiser: And similarly, how closely did you work with your successor, with Martha Sloan?
Buckley: Pretty close. Martha and I came from the same environment. She was a petition candidate to become president of the Computer Society, and so we were buddies because we were petition candidates. But I—Martha and I get along very well, and she I think was for the best interest of the members. And she ran—well, she ran when I—the five people that ran when I became president, she was one of them. She did not win, but she decided to do it again, which she did, and she won. So she became our first woman president. I don’t think we’ve had enough of them. I think we have to—as we go down the line do more of that and diversify our presidents.
Hochheiser: Well, that’s been an issue that’s been the focus of a lot of attention at IEEE, the whole question of women in the profession and in the society.
Buckley: I am frustrated all these years. In fact I did in making speeches and so forth, I did indicate that we didn’t have enough women in our profession. It was down around 15%, and I don’t think it’s much higher now. Maybe it’s up to 20. If you go in to a medical school now or a law school 50% or a little bit more now are women, but we have not been able to do that in the IEEE. And I think we have to somehow get around that. Some people say, well, women do not want to be engineers or all this and that, but I don’t buy that. There may be a little bit of that, but I think they would be, especially now they’re talking about we don’t have enough technical people. We’re bringing in immigrants on temporary H-1B visas to fill all these jobs. I feel that we ought to fill those jobs with our own people if we have enough people to do it. And getting more women into engineering and encouraging more college graduates to get into engineering we should be doing that, more of that. We do it, but we could do more of that, a controversial issue, but that’s my opinion.
Hochheiser: Are there any particular things that you did to--
Buckley: Well, I certainly pushed that in some of the things I wrote for the Institute and for publications. We have, of course, the IEEE USA staff in Washington. I guess it’s about 26, 27 people there, and we know how to lobby. We’ve been doing it for a long time, and we have fly-ins maybe once or twice a year where people from the sections come in. They go to their representative or senator and try to push some of our, the things that we’re after, which is more money for research and development and a number of other things that affect our profession. But, pensions and anti-age discrimination, that sort of thing we do that.
Hochheiser: So, you were president in ’92, past president in ’93, and then--
Buckley: Yes?
Hochheiser: Then you were off the board.
Buckley: Yes, but I came back again.
Hochheiser: Yes.
Buckley: I came back as a division director, division six, which is the division that picks up the Engineering Management Society and reliability sort of as support. So, I figured I’ll run for that as a petition candidate. What am I going to do?
Hochheiser: Were you a petition candidate again for that?
Buckley: I was, and I was fortunate enough to win, and that was a good experience, closer to the technical people. And I’m glad that I did it. That was a good position. I’m on the board too.
Hochheiser: Any particular things you did as division six--
Buckley: Well, I tried to help give more visibility to our societies, and if there were any financial problems, what could I do to help them—go to their meetings and try to understand from their meetings what they wanted—and represent them on the board. That’s really what you’re there for as a division director, to represent your societies on the board and help to sway big decision in the direction that they’d like you to. So, that was division six.
Hochheiser: And you also joined the USAB?
Buckley: Well, I was always a member of that. Yes, I had a chance to run for president of IEEE USA for the year 2000.
Hochheiser: Right.
Buckley: And I was nominated for that. I wasn’t a petition candidate and I won, so I was president of IEEE USA for a year.
Hochheiser: What led you to want that position?
Buckley: Oh, the same thing, I mean. That’s part of the IEEE that I spent a lot of time on, and there were some issues around that I thought we ought to do more—do more with.
Hochheiser: Which ones?
Buckley: Immigration, pensions, age discrimination, research and development funding, that sort of thing, more money for that, and lobbying in Washington. So, I thought that would be a good match for me to come back and do that, which I did.
Hochheiser: So, you tried to advance these things through lobbying efforts?
Buckley: It is lobbying, really. It’s—what we do in Washington, a lot of it is lobbying and education, and I think you have to do that. Some people don’t think we should be in the lobbying business, but I don’t agree with that.
Hochheiser: And I guess sometimes it’s hard to determine what the line is between education and lobbying.
Buckley: Yes, you’re right. It is. Well, you have to recognize that [of] the people in the Congress, there’s maybe only two or three between the house and the senate who have any technical background, and they’re making decisions about a lot of things that are technical that cost a lot of money. And they need—they need help, and we do, I think, a pretty good job. They call us if there’s a problem in the computers, or software, or electronics, or power, or energy, etc., which are our specialties, and we get to contribute, tell them what we think or what they should do.
Hochheiser: How, when, why, I’m not sure what is the right start to the question, did USAB become IEEE USA? What was the reasons and affects of that change?
Buckley: There’s always been some concern about the total IEEE and people from other countries saying why is IEEE getting involved with this lobbying that we do in this country? You’re an international organization. You shouldn’t be doing that. Well, the members of the United States don’t necessarily buy that. They voted for it, and they still want it, so there was some contention about how you were going to do this. So, I guess the compromise was we will make IEEE USA [an] identified separate organization with this charter. They do it if it’s here. If you want to do that in England or France, you could do it—they can do it on their own. You can be an IEEE member, but you can have—you can join some other society that lobbies for—there was no other society in this country to do it. And we were the logical contenders, and we were the people who stood up and said, yes, we will do it. So, that’s a part of it.
Hochheiser: The other, and I don’t know if the—how much difference it made, but I notice in the changes now the presidency became an elected office.
Buckley: Yes, a little story about that. The IEEE for almost 100 years elected presidents, but the ballots usually had one person picked by the board to go on the ballot. And another line which says write in candidate. You can guess how many write-in candidates ever won an election. When I got on the board, when I was region two director, a few of us started to have a discussion about this. What—what kind of election is this? So, we harangued about it, and finally we convinced the board you ought to put up two candidates from the board, nominated by the board, at least two.
Hochheiser: So there will always be a contested election.
Buckley: It will always be a contested election, and they have followed that I think ever since, which I think is good for the IEEE, sort of a check and balance. So, that probably won’t change. I hope it doesn't’ change.
Hochheiser: I don’t see why it should. The other thing that happened is when USAB became IEEE USA the position of head of that organization now—before was the chair of USAB and now is president of IEEE USA
Buckley: Yes.
Hochheiser: Now, at that point became an elected office, which it hadn’t been in the past.
Buckley: Yes, that’s true. It is elected, and that’s a good thing, elected by the U.S. members.
Hochheiser: Yes, was that a deliberate part of that?
Buckley: Oh, Yes, I think that the—a lot of the board members and so forth wanted it that way. They want to be separate and we want to elect our own president and our own positions.
Hochheiser: Uh-huh. What is the relationship then between IEEE USA with its elected president and IEEE with its elected president?
Buckley: It is a little bit of a concern, but I think that it’s not enough of a concern to try to do anything. I think it’s the right thing to do , and we’re encouraging people who do not want that or other countries, you can do it yourself, but we do not have a separate organization in this country to lobby for our profession, and we’re the logical people to do it. We’ve been told go out and start another society—bad idea. We have a society that can do it, well-recognized, good brand, and all that sort of thing.
Hochheiser: While you were IEEE president, how closely did you work with the—IEEE USA president, how closely did you work with the staff in Washington?
Buckley: Pretty close. Yes, they have a good group of people down there, and they know how to contact and to go over and lobby on the hill and present a good presence. I work with—as I say that was a big interest of mine. That’s why I came back again, so I worked very closely with them.
Hochheiser: And then did you spend a lot of time in Washington yourself?
Buckley: Well, I didn’t move down there, of course, but, Yes, I would go down.
Hochheiser: The train doesn’t take that long.
Buckley: I would go down maybe for the day, or more if it was required, but it usually didn’t require more than that, and you meet the congressman or give an award to the congressman and all that sort of thing, which I got involved with ,and going over to visit the staff of Congress. Staff are very important, and we have a good relationship mostly with the staff, which helps influence what the senator or representative is going to vote for. So, we do a good job of that.
Hochheiser: Did you work with the IEEE--
Buckley: [interposing] President?
Hochheiser: --president and other executives.
Buckley: I never had any problem. They have their world, and we have ours.
Hochheiser: So you operated, did the IEEE USA, as IEEE USA president, you operated pretty autonomously from--
Buckley: [interposing] For professional activities.
Hochheiser: That’s what I--
Buckley: Of course we were also on the big board so you got involved with all of the big board stuff and worked with them. So, it is a separate world. I think it’s good probably to keep it so as long as IEEE USA doesn’t do something stupid. We have to be careful of that and not embarrass us on the—in the Congress or whatever. But I think we’re learning that, or we have learned it pretty well how to handle ourselves.
Hochheiser: In what ways have you stayed active in IEEE since?
Buckley: Good question. I have been active in the IEEE ever since my wife, as I mentioned, said why don’t you get involved. I’ve been involved with the Philadelphia section for a long time. I’ve been on the executive committee here in Philadelphia for at least 30 years. I have also been involved with the engineering management society for over 35 years, on their board of directors and several other positions. Of course, during the time that I was president and other things, I couldn’t put in as much time. So, I wouldn’t for a few years, but since I’ve been retired, I’ve been very active in the Philadelphia section. It’s good you volunteer your time, and good association. And I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I’m presently the chair of the awards committee here.
Hochheiser: For the Philadelphia section?
Buckley: And the life member committee, those two, yes.
Hochheiser:: Very good.
Buckley: I guess the only thing I haven’t really said much about I have a professional career, I have an IEEE career, but I’ve also been in education for a long time. I started as a teacher in the Navy, and after I graduated from Villanova, I had a chance to do some teaching for Penn State as an adjunct professor so to speak. Penn State has a central campus and fifteen or so outlying campuses, so I got involved there. I was teaching basically the electronic courses, and they wanted to know if I wanted to do some seminars where they could move it around from one location to the next. And I had been teaching in RCA for a long time. I did that most of my career, mostly in project management, and so I got involved with that and I started doing seminars for Penn State. And I got involved with George Washington University. They’re big in seminars, and a few other private organizations. That became a big part of my off time so to speak, and putting five kids through college it wasn’t cheap. Here’s a good chance to make some money. Go out one day or two days and give a seminar. But yes, I—I like teaching. I guess if my second choice maybe would be to go into academia. They’re the people that shape the members of the profession. It’s their first interface. Most of my courses were in management or project management. In fact, I went overseas a few time, did some seminars in London, and it took a lot of time, but it was very worth it. It was enjoyable and also could make some money.
Hochheiser: How would you characterize the interactions between the various parts of your careers? We’ve talked about your work as a professional engineer/manager. you just talked about your work as an educator, and of course we’ve talked a lot about your efforts in IEEE.
Buckley: IEEE.
Hochheiser: How would you describe the interaction between these three different hats?
Buckley: Well, they all seem to be going generally in the same direction, I think. It’s not that you would have a real crisis between any two of them. They run together. I think it’s pretty good if you’re willing to put in that amount of time, but it takes a certain amount of time. I think those three are compatible, sure. Wouldn’t want to put in a fourth one, though. Well, the fourth one is raising your family. That, I guess, should be first. Well, it’s first.
Hochheiser: Yes.
Buckley: I think it’s first.
Hochheiser: What do you see as the appropriate balance at IEEE between the technical and the professional activities?
Buckley: They both have their own charter so to speak. I think they ought to get along. There are some people on the technical side who like I say would like to get us out of that and close that office down in Washington. But I think the majority of people do not want to do that, and I think they’ve learned to live pretty well together on the board. I think it works pretty well. It’s just we have different charters.
Hochheiser: Has this evolved at all over the many years?
Buckley: I think it has. I think it’s improved. Of course, I haven’t been on the board for a while.
Hochheiser: Of course.
Buckley: But through the section input that I get. We’ve got some good people in Washington. They’re very good lobbyists.
Hochheiser: Even more broadly, in what ways does it seem to you that IEEE has evolved over your many years of involvement?
Buckley: I think it’s good. I mean we are the number one. I guess I would have to be honest and say I’m frustrated that we don’t have more members. When I was president in 1992 we had about the same—we had the number of people that we now have. So, in all that time we haven’t increased the membership although there’s—in fact we probably lost some in this country and some of the other regions, probably region ten and maybe region eight have increased. But the overall hasn’t changed too much. That, I guess if I could say let’s start a stimulus package or something. That’s something I’d like to see . We’ve got to have more members in not only the United States but all over the world, people who are doing what we do and are not members of the IEEE.
Hochheiser: In what ways has the increasing globalization of IEEE changed the organization?
Buckley: Not too much. IEEE always was strong with—we had a lot of members from different countries, and eventually we made the smart decision to make it—international may not be the right word but to make it worldwide. We are a corporation of the state of New York. We’re a non-profit corporation of the state of New York, and we have to live within that. But I think we’ve set up a good balance between all the things the people of this country want and so forth, and we have helped the other countries. They have benefitted from all the technology and the transactions, and the conferences, we have conferences all over. So, I think that that’s great.
Hochheiser: Can you think of anything else that I should have asked you or that you’d like to say that I didn’t think to ask?
Buckley: No, I think you’ve done a pretty good job. I think the thing I guess I would like to stress that the IEEE is run by volunteers and as long as those people maintain enthusiasm and do the good job that they do and do all the things that we do to keep encourage that, to encourage that and try to avoid any internal disputes. I think that’s our job, and to increase the number of members. And to be a good brand in terms of if we have to lobby—Yes, these guys know what they’re doing. Maybe we ought to listen to them, but we’ve evolved pretty well, I think.
Hochheiser: Well, unless you have anything to add to that I think--
Buckley: No, welcome to Philadelphia again.
Hochheiser: Well, thank you. I think that we’re finished, and I thank you very much for your time.
Buckley: Okay, thank you.