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General Electric and RCA

 
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roger.pape
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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
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Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 8:59 am    Post subject: General Electric and RCA Reply with quote

In the business world these days, large corporate mergers and acquisitions are commonplace. However, they cause one to reflect on how they impact the careers of so many people. My first exposure to these wheelings and dealings occurred in the latter 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, I was working for General Electric in Syracuse, NY as an electrical engineer in their sonar business. We had decided to pursue a large U. S. Navy contract and team with RCA. [It was common for companies to form teams in order to provide all of the necessary technical expertise.]

A group of us from GE traveled down to visit RCA at Moorestown, NJ to discuss our proposal strategy for the contract. During the negotiations, we took a break and the RCA team treated us to lunch at a nearby restaurant. During the luncheon, the RCA engineer next to me spent the entire time reciting all of the technical accomplishments of RCA in the area of radio, TV, and recording as well as their NBC network. At the end, I quietly said “And to think that GE spun off RCA in 1919.” [Actually, GE was required to divest the business as part of an antitrust agreement.] He look at me a bit puzzled and didn’t want to believe me.

While passing through the lounge when leaving the restaurant, he tapped a few notes on a piano by the bar. I told him “Why don’t you play G below middle C, then E in the next octave, and then back to middle C.” [If you try those notes, you will recognize the familiar three tones played by NBC in their station breaks. It originally stood for the initials of General Electric Company.] When he tried that, I said “You probably didn’t realize that all these years RCA has been advertising for GE.” It was a matter of months later that GE purchased RCA and NBC.

A footnote to this story. During the early 1990s, GE CEO Jack Welch (a.k.a. “Neutron Jack”) decided to divest of its defense related business. He found a willing buyer for the Aerospace Division in struggling Martin Marietta wanting to expand and stay competitive in the business. [Martin Marietta was an odd conglomerate of an aircraft/missile manufacturer and a concrete aggregate business that built missile silos. When the deal was announced, someone asked what Martin Marietta's logo was. I blurted out "Probably a concrete mixer". No one seemed to catch the joke.] The deal came as a shock to me since I thought I would spend my entire career with GE and quietly retire as a GE pensioner. Many thought that the deal that was negotiated between Jack Welch and Norm Augustine, the CEO of Martin, was very unfavorable for the GE employees. Martin was in poor financial health and had a severely underfunded pension. (That was before Martin later merged with Lockheed to form the defense business powerhouse that it is today.) So, at that point, I decided to quit GE and subsequently joined Sensis Corporation, a local company designing air traffic control equipment. It was a significant career change but one that I have never regretted.
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