@JeffL_2 In the 1980s there were whole herd of authors, consultants, and professors proposing ways to make your company attractive for merger or acquisition. And they could be used to change a company's balance sheet to make it unatractive for "green mail." One of my personal favorites (in a positive way) was proposed by Michael Hammer in his book "Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolutio," where he states that the goal of any business process improvement initiative should be to radically improve the activities in the company or even revolutionize them.
Hammer had a lot right. Alas, when the only tool you have is a hammer, you v tend toiew every problem as a nail. Unfortunately many corporate managers had but one tool that they understood: accounting. The fastest way to improve a balance sheet in the short term is to lay people off. Undereducated or under-experienced managers took this simplistic approach to solving short term cash problems, together with a lack of understanding of engineering specialties, wiped out the "greyback" engineers.
One very large company that I consulted for, offered an incentive package for early retirement to emplyees with a certain amount of years with the company. Middle mamagement took the package in droves. And execs were clueless that they had just encouraged their most capable people to leave. What was left were good employees who were missing vital pieces of HOW to accomplish their job. I, and other consultants and contractors, were paid to lead these emplyess through the whole of their jobs. At least management figured out the problem.
I can tell you pretty much how "MBA education" has affected how companies are run from what I've observed. It's led to the following conclusions: "financial engineering" is real and valuable, "technical decisions" are vague, malleable and worthless. Managers are all brilliant leaders who never err in judgment, engineers are marginally competent boobs who are really crying out for leadership but are too ignorant to realize it. Short-term thinking can influence tomorrow's stock price and is therefore of the highest importance, long-term planning is only valid if it fits on a spreadsheet. We mere engineering mortals are also supposed to realize that failures that appear to have resulted from financial mistakes, like Long-Term Capital Management and Lehman Brothers, are really too complex for our small minds to accurately comprehend, but to "real managers" this is all easily understood and appreciated. According to this line of thinking Henry Ford was an idiot when he paid his workers a decent enough wage so they could afford to buy his company's products, he ought to have been smart enough to sell them to the Chinese or someone else because clearly you want to keep your own workers just barely on this side of survival and just one mistake from the poorhouse. Sorry, my take on it is I don't get why Shakespeare wrote that "the first thing is to kill all the lawyers" (Henry VI) when the MBAs would have been at the top of MY list - well, a lot of the time anyway!
It goes both ways? Not any more, at least not for me.
Earlier in my career I used to work for small to mid-sized companies. Not only did everyone in the company know the director of engineering, they frequently turned out to be the sort of person you could "buttonhole" in the coffee line and start up a conversation. Not only were they willing to discuss decisions, in many cases these had been made either by them personally or in collaboration with other management, and to some extent involved issues that were difficult to decide which they had wrestled with before resolution. They were proud not only of the decisions themselves but of the process that arrived at them, and some even figured out loud that encouraging such a level of "critical thinking" among the staff could only improve the level of both competitiveness and product quality.
Sadly I long since moved on to do contract work which involved mostly working with larger organizations. Independently though these decisions are frequently made nowadays MUCH higher within the corporation, and the chief engineer feels lucky if he's even sent a copy of the PowerPoint presentation from the meeting where the results of the decision were presented. Sadly too companies now are run by a process that I refer to as "spreadsheet management", where the fate of entire divisions will depend on the value (or sign of the value!) contained in a single cell on a spreadsheet many yards in each virtual dimension, with rows full of mostly inscrutable equations describing "management controls". Actually attempting to comment on (or even just spend the time to evaluate) what used to be regarded as "engineering decisions" generally brings on at least the calumny of your supervisor if not the absolute termination of the assignment.
I'll illustrate this with an example that actually happened to me. I was brought in a while back on a contract for a major avionics systems company to help update the architecture of a legacy component called the CMS which is a communications item. In order to save on development the new design was going to be based on whichever was the current version of Windows NT at the time (yes this was well before the proliferation of Linux). They wanted to incorporate satellite access to the internet so the customer could charge the commercial passengers for access. When I took the assignment I was handed a copy of the Microsoft Project printout detailing the activities of each staff member - for the next TWO YEARS! The item they wanted help with was the satellite link was only accessible through the X.25 protocol so they needed a driver. Now the level of management that was closer to me had already decided that they would pay an outside consultant to write such a driver for NT. Their schedule was absurdly tight and as I recall did NOT include time for the writing of a formal specification for said driver, which is generally a recipe for disaster - and they were going to count on ME to get it working! But I didn't even get a flavor of how much trouble the project was really in until I found out that the satellite link was intended to connect via "low-speed ARINC 429". OK, try and imagine a plane full of overstressed business travelers each on their individual laptop - where the AGGREGATE THROUGHPUT for the entire AIRPLANE was constrained by the whopping data rate of the 14 kbps ARINC channel, and of course they were paying a premium rate for the "privilege"! I of course made the hideous mistake of pointing this out, instantly causing them to have to reprint and redistribute the Project file for those two years - with my name omitted of course!
Like you I'm not real sure the way they're doing it now is "progress", but of course my management friends have absolutely NO IDEA what I'm talking about...!
@betajet Sadly, short term often wins out over long term health. BUT, it isn't often taken to the extreme of eliminating new product development. Someone once said that the semiconductor industry is the only business requiring you to "bet the farm" for every new major process node. Maybe that's why companioes like Intel continue to pour money into new product development - if you're going to bet big, you might as well go all in.
Henry says: One of the hardest business concepts for many newly graduated engineers to grasp is that public companies (at least in the US) have a duty to their shareholders to maximize return to shareholders.
Ah, but is that short-term return or long-term return? Short-term return says to eliminate costs -- such as product development -- so as to maximize short-term profit. Long-term return says to invest profits in developing future products that render your current products obsolete. After all, that's what your competitors are doing. Generally, you're in more danger from lawsuits by speculator-shareholders who want short-term returns, so to Hades with the long-term health of the company. JMO/YMMV
I worked for a company that was a distributor of electronic test equipment. When we started developing our own products, we actually needed an oscilloscope. The comptroller couldn't believe we had bought a peice of equipment that we weren't going to resell.
The scope didn't have the bandwidth to be useful. Why? because management made the purchasing decision without consulting anyone.
My father was a purchasing agent at several electronics component companies. He'd come home and tell me how the engineers didn;lt understant th real world whenever they specified a single-sourced part. From his perspective, there was never a good reason to do that. He didn't understand that sometimes that's the only way to build a product that did its job.
He also would come home and say how management was just as clueless.
@MeasurementBlues boy you said a mouthful! In addition to my experience with "better purchasing" I once had a clerk who decided that a smaller memory was cheaper, so substituted a DRAM one quarter of the specified size ... fun!
As we unveil EE Times’ 2015 Silicon 60 list, journalist & Silicon 60 researcher Peter Clarke hosts a conversation on startups in the electronics industry. Panelists Dan Armbrust (investment firm Silicon Catalyst), Andrew Kau (venture capital firm Walden International), and Stan Boland (successful serial entrepreneur, former CEO of Neul, Icera) join in the live debate.