Innovation is all in the family
Most of my readers do not subscribe to the mafia rules: pay attention to your own health first, the family second and business third. Almost all of my columns have been on the element of the third item, not the first two. This column will discuss the family, the impact of our lifestyle on the family and how the family can keep our priorities straight and still put a smile on our faces.
My wife, Shirley, and my children are key to our lifestyle. Shirley and I have been together 56 years. She always seems to say “yes” to my next stupid idea. Here are some examples.
My first company, Bedford Associates Inc., was a contract engineering firm. I had no real idea of what was going to happen. My wife and I were walking in Harvard Square, lo, these many years ago and met up with my classmate, George. We had a very short conversation and decided that we wanted the illusion of freedom by being self-employed — and not by big companies or the military.
We did notice that startup companies have rules of philosophy: Never mow your own grass, always hire a secretary and work in the cellar. If you mow your own grass, you are not paying attention to the company. If you hire a secretary, you have to find something for her to do. Go sell. We also heard that the divorce rate of entrepreneurs was high. There are no statistics that I could find, but it seemed to be a worry. If you’re a soldier for example, the recommendation is you that take off your uniform before you come home. That means you do not bring your work home — work in a separate location. I first started working in my cellar in Bedford, Mass., and now I’m in a barn 100 yards from the house. Clearly, I try to distance the family from the business.
How do my bride and I manage each other? When I go on a trip I try to take her along. Perks and trips are one way to get her to have a view of what you do. Most of the time, I never get out of the hotel and am anxious to get back home. Together we have been to Greece, Spain, South Korea, Japan, China, Scotland, London and even Chicago. A mechanic I know who is a difficult person to get along with, every Wednesday, unfailingly, gets flowers for his bride. Showing respect and love and appreciation is a key element of the relationship.
The other thing I did was pay my wife an independent salary. What, you say? The business income is bumpy. I deposit in her private account a salary for her to do with what she wants. It’s her money. And it comes first on the payroll and on the payables. She comes first.
Managing her husband is another story entirely. No one will argue when I make the statement, “I am socially inept.” She understands and guides me through life with the expertise of a rodeo rider. She grounds me in the reality of social interchange. We both have separate and independent interests. As an example, when I take her to China, she has to abide by my schedule and trip demands. When she goes on a trip, I am her chauffeur.
She once wanted to go see Niagara Falls and I — the ultimate geek — considered that a waste of time. She said, “It’s my trip, you do what I want.” I put on my virtual chauffeur’s hat and drove her wherever she wanted to go, including garage sales. It ended up being one of the best trips I ever had. I had to make no decisions and just went along for the ride. At the falls, she did allow her chauffeur to look at the generating equipment and some of the technical aspects of the Silicon Valley approach to electric power.
Both of us have to trust each other implicitly. We also have to understand what wealth is. Wealth is defined by the Harley guys as the ability to make choices. So make them together and live well. Independent roads running to the same destination is what it’s all about. She understands that my other love is working in the virtual world of information and physics. She loves gardening, children, politics, skiing and other stuff. (I previously wrote a column on my 25th anniversary present to her that was a 30 hp garden tractor.)
Let’s go to the right brain for a moment. We have a motto on our kitchen wall that states, “No matter what.” Love is defined by us as the following: Love is when somebody comes to visit, you are glad to see them — no matter what they did to you. That means you love your children, and your dog loves you.
Shirley died on June 15, 2012. And I know now what a broken heart is.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.