DAVE HILL, THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF SBRC 02/18/85
In 1958, I was the Hughes Aircraft Director of Quality and Reliability. Pat Hyland and Bill Wooldridge, who was the Assistant Manager at that point, asked me to become the liaison representative between the Culver City laboratories and Santa Barbara Research Center. In those days there was a considerable amount of rivalry about who should do infrared development work. There were Dr. VanLear and others in Culver City who thought that they ought to be doing it. Of course, the group here had been working in that field for some time.
I started coming up here for visits to get acquainted with the people and this continued for some period of time. I tried to be the diplomatic go-between for the laboratories and SBRC. I didn’t know it for a while, but it turned out that Hyland had received word that Dave Evans and Custer Baum were looking for backing to start a new company and to leave. They had left Hughes in the first place some years before because Dave Evans was interested really only in research, and he didn’t like large organizations and regulations and production and things of that nature. After Hughes had bought Santa Barbara Research again, or from him, he felt that the big organization problems were beginning to crop up again. I was asked to make some checks, to talk to people, without disclosing particularly why, to find out their attitude about the Hughes Aircraft Company and whether they could be counted on to stay if a change took place. Of course, I talked with Dr. Talley, and I talked with Tom Johnson, and Gene Peterson, and a good many people who were there at that time. And I went back to Hyland and I said, “I think we will lose a few people, but I don’t think it is going to wreck the place and I think that some of the very best people will be inclined to stay. “
One day I was told to fly up here while Dave Evans and Custer Baum drove down to Hyland’s office to hear that they were being terminated. So, I flew up in the company airplane, walked in the front door, and in effect said, “Hi, fellows, I’m your new president.” That was just about that way. So I did move up here and take over. Dave Evans had never had any use for organization, for formalities, for plans, procedures and standards and things of that nature, so there just weren’t any. And in fact, there was no organization. Everybody from the janitor to the top scientist reported to Dave Evans.
I felt after a while we had to have some organization as a beginning, so I formed two committees: a technical committee with Bob Talley as the head of it, and an operations committee with Al Paul. I believe, because they gave me copies, there are photographs still in the files of the newsletter of those two committees. That was really the beginning of our organization. We also had an exceedingly informal kind of marketing effort. Our marketing man at that time was a man who later became Mayor of Santa Barbara, David Shiffman. So, Shiffman and I put together the first sales brochure that the company had ever had. We had, at that time, a so-called manufacturing operation in one of the airport buildings which was really subcontract work from El Segundo down south and had nothing whatever to do with the infrared, I guess. It was simply to give somewhat more of a labor base up here, as much as anything.
We were struggling to get into various fields, and we had fairly primitive working conditions in those days, and when the customer came out I don’t think he was terribly impressed with our plant. I remember Tom Johnson showing me the so-called cleanroom which was in one of those barracks over there and it was constructed by pasting plastic up on the walls. Nevertheless, some good work was done.
I think we were trying to do more work in lead selenide, and we got the Navy to fund a metal prefab for a real cleanroom type which we bought in and set up beside the building out there at the airport, and then discovered to our horror that this was really supposed to be erected inside of the building, and it was anything but waterproof. We had to scramble around to take care of that problem. I guess it was around June or so of 1959 that I came up, but it may have been earlier than that. By the end of 1959, Hyland and Bill Wooldridge called me in and said, “We are moving you down to the semiconductor division in Newport Beach” which was having very considerable problems in those days. So, I left to my sorrow. I had enjoyed it very much here. They asked me for suggestions as to who might succeed me, and I named three people. Lloyd Scott was among the three that I named, and they picked him. He had been in engineering work and administrative work before that with Hughes Aircraft Company.
My stay was not very long, but it was a very enjoyable stay. I left the company in 1971 on an early retirement to become President of a small company that was going to solve the smog problem. We didn’t manage to solve the smog problem and I went into consulting. Lloyd Scott in 1973 was having problems with his Product Assurance Department and asked me to come up and straighten those out and to find a successor. I have been a consultant to SBRC and to Hughes Aircraft since then. That’s about the story.
Mike Nagy had made a marvelous machine. He was the machinist who made special devices for people and maintained Dave Evans’ car as far as I know. But he made this marvelous machine that had every kind of crank, lever, eccentricity in it that you could possibly think of, and you turned the crank and all of these things happened. Pat Hyland came up for a visit and saw this machine (in fact, I showed it to him). He thought that was marvelous, and he asked if he could have ten made to give as Christmas presents to important people in the Department of Defense and elsewhere. He thought it was a marvelous illustration of an organization with everything churning and whirling around and a very little product coming out the end. So we made ten, and I proceeded to charge him a fair amount for them, which he got a little mad about, but nevertheless he paid the amount. Mike Nagy was a little upset because he thought he ought to have his name on it. But, nevertheless, that did turn out to be an amusing thing.
A little anecdote goes with that. The background of that machine was that Mike had developed it along with Jack Northrup after WWII as a demonstration of prosthetic devices for amputees that could make wrists and elbows and that sort of thing. He was very proud of it and it was, in fact, a very ingenious machine. But although ten were made for Mr. Hyland, there were a lot more than that bootlegged out of the model shop. In fact, I think the unit price really became pretty low because everyone in the shop had to have one and Mike himself insisted on having some of his own.
Being used to more formality, in a sense, down at Hughes, when I came up here I was a little bit startled by the degree of informality and some of the costumes that people wore. We had an optics man whose name I don’t remember now who mostly came in wearing a Hawaiian print shirt and some dingy looking chinos and huaraches on his feet. I looked a little askance at this, but I was informed that this guy was an absolute genius; he was a marvelous optical man
and I decided okay then I don’t care what he wears.
I was impressed with Phil Cruse. He was a maverick in many ways. He liked to go his own way about things. He didn’t have much use for being given orders even, and certainly not filling out forms and things of that nature. But he was a remarkable developer. The thing I remember was that in that period of time he was working on a system to be used to defend the B52s from attack. Well, it sensed the attack and it put out countermeasures. He and a handful of guys, two or three technicians, turned out and successfully tested a system, and he was up against competition of a couple of hundred people I think it was. And I can’t remember if it was part of IT&T or TRW (I don’t remember which one) but one of the big boys was after this. He successfully demonstrated a system that was better, much less complicated and expensive than the one they were developing. I thought it was a very ingenious design myself. (Some of his work is the basis for the SIRS product line, as I understand).
In the period of time that I was here, indium antimonide was becoming a favorite combination for infrared detectors and we wanted to get into this. We had the beginnings of an IR&D program and my memory is that I talked Pat Hyland into giving us $70,000 to get ourselves started in indium antimonide. Well it naturally turned out that there were a lot of difficulties along the way and we were spending a darn sight more. Our rivals, like Texas Instruments, were putting a quarter of a million, half a million dollars into this kind of development; we were struggling along. So at one of the corporate annual reviews I said, “Well, gee, we only had $70,000,” and Hyland said to me, “You told me that was what you needed and I gave it to you.” I don’t know how we finally got into it. This bailed over into when Lloyd Scott came up here.
This report was written to try to record the history of the Santa Barbara Research Center while some of the principals still remembered the events. Admittedly, my personal memory was heavily used so there are gaps in the story. I selected the time period to coincide with the management change in 1959 and ending with my retirement in 1989. Time was divided into five-tear periods, which also seemed to have common themes. Each period can be read somewhat on its own so there is some duplication between periods. In keeping with the common practice of having an executive summary, a brief history is provided for busy people. An apology is offered to the many important persons not mentioned in this work, but memory and time were sometimes ran out. I wish to thank the many people who contributed, in particular Ralph Wurtz for pulling interviews with Lloyd Scott, Al Paul, Gene Peterson, and jack Lansing. Frank Malinowski, Dick Brody, and the late Don Bode and many others contributed by providing many useful additions. Nancy Tessmer and Tom Ball gave me a great deal of assistance in collecting the background information.