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IBM - A Special Place

In 1977, when I went to work for IBM, there was a culture that I likened to a cult. IBM expected employees to work there for their entire career and employess expected to have a job there for their entire career. To hear of someone leaving IBM was very, very rare. I can only think of one person that I know of that left IBM in the first ten years of my employment.

Because of this "forever" mentality, the workforce became much more like a family. In fact there was (and still is) a term for someone who worked at IBM. You were an "IBMer." In those early years they had an IBM Club, which was an officially sanctioned organization of employees who worked on Family Day, and the Children's Christmas Party, and ran the softball leagues and golf leagues and tennis leagues. IBM provided money for these activities and the employees ran them and did the work on company time.

This culture started with the Watson family in the Hudson valley. I think everyone believed it was conciously done as a way to prevent unions but noone really minded that. It was a great benefit that few other companies offered. In the Hudson valley the parks were elaborate. I know one of them had an 18 hole golf course and one had a swimming pool. In Lexington, it wasn't so elaborate, but there was still quite a lot of property with tennis courts, basketball courts, etc.

I remember the first summer I was there in Lexington, they showed movies in the park on Saturday evenings in the summer. Connie and I went a couple of times. It was nice to sit out on the ground on a blanket and watch a movie. I think it was really nice for families with kids. We primarily went because the Kemps invited us.

Another way this forever culture manifest itself was that there were plenty of employees around who really didn't do much. There was a very formal evaluation system and peple took it seriously but when an employee got rated really badly and got put on "the program" it took managers years to be able to actually fire someone. It took so much work on the manager's part that it was easier to just cover up for the lousy employee or transfer them to another department. So, they were able to hang around forever. There was plenty of "dead wood" around.

So this family forever culture made IBM a special place. The company has changed dramatically from this standpoint over the years. I think the management would rather that employees not feel too attached to the company so that they can feel free to lay folks off when they need to. I know that when the first layoffs happened in 1990, it was a very traumatic experience for the company. It was almost scandolous. With the forever family culture, it seemed that IBM was breaking a sacred trust. At the same time, people were smart enough to know it had to be done. Everyone

The Kemps.

IBM would pay the expense for new employees to travel to the new work location to look for housing. Connie and I did that one weekend and met Geneva Kemp who was real estate agent who's husband Jim worked for IBM. She of course found out that I was going to work for IBM and so she had a special connenction with us and worked very hard for us. I always have seen her special efforts as partly because she was a very nice lady and partly because of this IBM culture where you were part of the family.

At any rate, Geneva helped find a house, and really pressured us to buy much more than we thought we could and helped us scrape together the money to do it. She and Jim loaned us $1000 and she arranged for her broker to lend us $1000. She knew what my pay was going to be like better than I did and knew this was the best thing for us to do. It really benefited us tremendously for years to come.

Geneva didn't stop at being our realestate agent. She invited us over for dinner and she and Jim invited us to the movies at the park (I don't remember but I suppose their girls were of an age that they really enjoyed them). We went out to dinner with them and Jim had me help him with some of the work he was doing on houses they owned and paid me for it.

Well respected.. It gets the door open for you
Often resented, especially in the 80s and 90s. I don't see this so much any more.