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  • Worthwhile Visiting

    Posted by David Foster on April 15th, 2017 (All posts by )

    The National Museum of Industrial History is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel complex.  Most of the original buildings are derelict or partly torn-down, but the above array of blast furnaces and supporting equipment has been preserved.

    Suggested musical accompaniment for a visit to the place that was Bethlehem Steel…features a different company and a slightly different geography, but basically the same sad story.


    16 Responses to “Worthwhile Visiting”

    1. Whitehall Says:

      The creative destruction of capitalism at work.

      I too enjoy visiting historic industrial sites. The iron works in Saugus showed how the early Yankees did it until the British put an end to it by enforcing their monopoly.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Lots of reasons for the failure, only some of which IMO come under the heading of creative destruction….Part of it was market/technology shifting to more steel from scrap, rather than from iron ore…although the industry’s production from ore remains pretty substantial. Part of it was Bethlehem’s unwillingness to move rapidly into new technologies such as continuous casting. Part of it was management which seems to have been almost deliberately out of touch (a separate elevator for the CEO). Part of it was rigid union work rules, and part of it was making promises about future benefits without properly funding or accounting for these. And part of it was foreign imports, the pricing of which was in some cases subsidized by governments. Possibly overly-aggressive environmental regulaltions played a part as well.

      An article about the failure at Fortune, which was once a much better magazine than it is today.

    3. dearieme Says:

      “a separate elevator for the CEO”: if I were a shareholder and found out about that, I’d sell immediately.

    4. David Foster Says:

      Dearieme….I agree.

    5. David Foster Says:

      Re the Saugus Iron Works, when I visited it there was a woman in colonial dress cooking up a storm. It looked and smelled really good. She said her hobby was colonial cookery, and she had previously given samples to visitors (for free, I think), but was no longer allowed to do this on account of some regulation or other.

      I believe it was Margaret who observed that the phrase “it’s a free country” is not in common use in America anymore. Things like this are one reason why.

    6. David Foster Says:

      Re the separate-elevator thing: There was an article several years back about a new approach to elevator controls. The idea is that you select your floor before you get on the elevator, rather than after, thereby allowing the system to dispatch elevators more intelligently–a 30% reduction in average trip time is claimed. Some vendors are also linking the elevator controls (for office buildings) to employee identification cards, so the system knows automatically where the individual wants to button-pushing required. (The advantage here is that the elevator system can keep track of exactly how many people are going where, allowing it to better manage its capacity.)

      What struck me was this quote from an installation director at Schindler:

      “Say I’m a VIP, and I really don’t want to ride with anybody else…So when I swipe my card, the system assigns me an elevator with nobody in it, and that elevator gives me an express trip to my floor.”

      Dear Schindler: Please publish a nice set of customer case studies with the names of companies using this feature prominently displayed. That way, I can be sure to avoid taking long positions in any of them.

    7. Jonathan Says:

    8. David Foster Says:

      24 acres and $120 million? How many employees did Borland have at their peak, anyhow? Surely not enough to justify something like this…

    9. JaimeRoberto Says:

      The Bethlehem Steel headquarters was built in the shape of a cross in order to maximize the number of corner offices. It seems they were more interested in cushy offices than running a business.

    10. Jonathan Says:

      IIRC, Borland made a PR fuss about its opulent new offices shortly before the company started to decline.

    11. Bill Brandt Says:

      Borland is a case study of taking their eye off the ball – they got their start with cheap but decent compilers in the DOS days – grew from nothing to big player overnight and at their height had a family of compilers. Then they seemed to disappear overnight. Phillipe Kahn was the founder and CEO I believe.

      On elevators for CEOs I was reminded of Intel where even the CEO just works in a cubical – or did.

      Our car club has had 2 tours of the Tesla factory in Fremont, and right in the center of the factory floor is a group of about 30-50 desks – including one for Elon Musk. No layers of bureaucracy between what is happening on the factory floor and the CEO.

    12. Mike K Says:

      I think Phillipe Kahn got more interested in sailing at some point. They also had a very good spreadsheet program that I used for years.

      It was called “Quattro pro.”

    13. Mike K Says:

      “a group of about 30-50 desks – including one for Elon Musk. No layers of bureaucracy between what is happening on the factory floor and the CEO.”

      Maybe he learned from Toyota,.

    14. dearieme Says:

      “Say I’m a VIP, and I really don’t want to ride with anybody else…”: ah, the difference between an aristocracy and a nobility.

    15. Bill Brandt Says:

      “Maybe he learned from Toyota,.”

      They didn’t give regular public tours there but occasionally if you were polite and persistent – and were in a car club – someone would accommodate you. In in the talk the guide (really a regular Tesla employee) was saying how horrible the plant was under GM – and their partnership with Toyota turned it around. They actually had drug dealers and prostitutes roaming the factory floor under the GM days, and that plant produced the highest number of warranty claims.

    16. Mike K Says:

      “under the GM days, and that plant produced the highest number of warranty claims.”

      The book, “Crash Course” is really worth reading. It explains how the company tried to institute a “quality circles” culture at the plant that made Saturns. The UAW vetoed it under the UAW president Yokich and the GM middle management were not much more help. The UAW country club, however, was not touched.