Nov 30, 2013

On the Hiring of Bob Widlar

This story is so beautifully written that I am basically just quoting it. I’ve deleted a few things but nothing of substance. It was submitted by Joe Malone, the personnel manager at Fairchild in the early days.

I believe the year was 1964. It seems to me it was springtime and either a Thursday or Friday. On this particular morning, I was visited in my office on Whisman Road very early (and unexpectedly) by Bob Graham who was Fairchild's Product Marketing Manager. Bob, along with Don Valentine the National Sales Manager, reported to the Marketing Director, Tom Bay. Bob had in tow a scruffy, curly haired little fellow with impish eyes that simultaneously smiled and bored holes in you. He was clearly self-confident bordering on arrogant, but outgoing and friendly at the same time. He was introduced to me as Bob Widlar a young design engineer currently working at Ball Brothers Research in Boulder, Colorado. I was impressed that Graham had the "stones" to recruit him out of a customer's house. In any event it was clear that Graham "owned" him now and felt responsible for his welfare at least for the day. This was a special guy.
Graham provided me with a courtesy introduction and informed me that he had arranged for Widlar to spend the day with John Hulme, Murray Siegel, Maurice O'Shea and Vic Grinich one of the company's founders who, I believe, was running the Applications Engineering group at that time. He let me know that Hulme, who was the Manager of Integrated Circuits Applications, was the targeted hiring supervisor and I was to aid and abet Hulme in any way possible to see that Widlar joined Fairchild. They then disappeared and I saw no signs of them until late in the afternoon. I simply was on standby to assist Hulme.

To add a little color to the story, it appeared that Widlar was on vacation that day and driving a big, heavy, red Pontiac convertible with the top permanently down from Colorado to Mexico. Graham had somehow convinced him to plan his trip such that he could spend a day at Fairchild in Mt. View. Widlar had agreed to eight hours maximum. Graham knew he had a narrow window with which to work and, master-manipulator that he was, made every minute count. We needed to "close the deal" by sundown.

Sometime late in the afternoon, Hulme and Widlar appeared at my door. We put Widlar in my office while Hulme and I huddled in the hallway outside. Hulme announced that he wanted to hire Widlar and (ever the pristine manager) indemnified that he had an appropriately approved personnel requisition somewhere in my department. We discussed the magnitude of the offer briefly. John stated that Widlar was currently earning (gulp!) $9000/yr and he was comfortable offering him $10,000/yr. but - NOT A PENNY MORE! Hulme was not comfortable extending the offer and asked me to close the deal. Widlar was driving to Southern California immediately upon leaving the premises and both Hulme and Graham wanted him "closed" today!

I then joined Widlar in my office and the dancing began. He knew where we were going and decided to enjoy the ride. I poked around in his early life and discovered that his father ran a radio/TV repair shop in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He learned electronics from the ground up at his father's knee. For some reason that I can't recall, he chose to join the Air Force instead of going to college. Somehow he got stationed in Colorado and was able to attend the University of Colorado in parallel with his military service. I believe he finished college with a BSEE in three years (3.9999 GPA) and met his service obligation at the same time. Ball Bros. was his first and only fulltime professional civilian employment.

At some point, I (naively) asked if he had thought to bring along a resume. In response, he casually tossed a copy of his transcript across my desk. Ever the poker player, I studied it carefully and noticed that it showed ALL "A's" except for one lonely "C" - that being in Colorado History. When I inquired about the obvious aberration, he replied that Colorado History was required to graduate. He said the instructor, on the first day of class, asked the class to take out a blank paper and draw an outline of Colorado. Widlar's response to this request was to write on the paper, (sic) "The map is on the wall behind you, you dumb SOB!" He then smilingly admitted that the Professor never seemed to warm up to him and simply gave him a passing grade. My first clue that this was a different dude?

We then moved into the negotiations. He verified what Hulme had already told me about his current yearly salary. I responded that Hulme very much wanted him to join his group and was prepared to offer him an increase to $10K/yr. His reaction was a blank stare. The silence was palpable. It was one of those "whose going to blink first" moments. Finally, he spoke. "I won't come for less than $12K," he said. Now it was my turn to stare while my mind was whirling. Is this guy playing me? (Of course he was.) Do I dare stonewall him and risk the wrath of Bob Graham if I lose him? What to do?

I broke the silence by launching into a totally irrelevant and wandering discourse on Fairchild; John Hulme, what a trusted guy he was; how if he was as good as he thought he was he'd be making $12K in no time; blah, blah, blah. I was pouring out platitudes non-stop. Interestingly, I don't recall any talk of equity or stock options of any kind. I guess not at that level at that time. Anyway, he was entirely cash motivated then. The equity thirst came much later.

Speaking of thirst, it was getting on to 5 o'clock and he interrupted my babbling by asking where the nearest "watering hole" was. I acquainted him with Walker's Wagon Wheel just down Whisman Road at the intersection of Middlefield Road. He abruptly ended our meeting by asking me how long I intended to be in my office. I said "As long as necessary, why?" He then stood up to leave and committed to me that I would get a phone call with his decision "after six beers." (Somehow I sensed that wouldn't be long. I was right!) We parted ways amicably with much the same affable, smiling eyes I had seen that morning.

Roughly, an hour later, my phone rang. Widlar was on a pay phone at "The Wheel." (No cell phones then) He graciously accepted our offer as originally stated; asked me to put it in writing and mail it to his home in Colorado; committed to give notice when he returned from vacation; said, "Adios, Amigo!" and left for south of the border.

I "processed" him out when he left the company with his counterpart, Dave Talbert to join what was then a struggling Molectro in 1965. Molectro was purchased shortly after to establish a West Coast operation for National Semiconductor. Together they were unbeatable either at work or play. Linear products generated a steady (obscene?) gross profit for NSC throughout its history while the other product lines "eked" out marginal results if any at all.

Widlar was an amazing individual! There are more "Widlar" stories around than can possibly be true. But this one is mine and I've obviously carried it around for over 40 years. It's interesting how a single day can remain this clear among all of the cobwebs of other memorable events.

In closing, in case there remains any confusion as to who the hero is in this tale - it's Bob Graham. John Hulme hosted Widlar all day and made the easy decision to offer him a job. I may have "closed' on him but Graham was the key ingredient. He "sourced" Widlar and convinced him to stop by on his way to Mexico. He set up and orchestrated a smooth process that the rest of us simply implemented. He made a major impact on the industry by introducing Bob Widlar into it. This was not his only contribution to the industry but arguably one of his greatest.
Read the rest at: "In the beginning… there was Widlar!" by Joe Malone, August 8, 2007 

1 comment:

  1. Bob first started at Fairchild in September 1963 and worked for John Barrett until June 1964 when he than reported to John Hulme the Section Manager until April 1966.