This was another of this fun jobs. This was a long term contract that kept getting renewed every 90 days. I had no problem with that for the first year or so but then it did become a problem, more on that later.
This job was a post earthquake job. I was hired to complete a program to generate bar-code labels for product returned via their RMA system. The bar-code labels were generated from source data from the sales AS400 server. The program would print out s set of labels with bar-codes on them, the labels were to be put on each of the components of a returned computer so it could be tracked and a report generated that would let the customer know what exactly was wrong with the computer, that included a "Customer Error" meaning that there was no errors found with any of the components of the computer so it had to be a user error.
My primary office was to be in Westlake Village but would include visits to Thousand Oaks warehouses. I was living in Marina del Rey on my boat at the time.
Packard Bell was a private company owned by 4 guys. They had a business model that needed an existing brand name so they bought the company Packard Bell, which was a radio, stereo, turntable, home entertainment type business that had been around for decades and was a well respected electronics company.
The Business Model
These guys had a brand new idea that everyone laughed at... but boy did they have a good idea after all... The model was simple, "sell computers to the general public". Companies like Compaq, IBM, and HP laughed at them saying there isn't a big enough market with the home consumer. Within a very short time they were all proved wrong! Packard Bell had built deals with major outlets like Target and Radio Shack that proved their product to be hugely popular and that the general public was ready to purchase their own computer.
Packard Bell was always on the bleeding edge of computer technology for the 90's. I remember an incident that caused everyone in the company to laugh our heads off. We got a visit from a few big wigs and a slew of lawyers from AT&T, now PS was a small company still and it didn't take log for someone to walk through the main door in the executive end of the building before everyone knew who they were and why they were there! Anyway, these AT&T people were here to tell us to stop selling our latest computer model. The model had a camera and two speakers built into the monitor. It also came with FREE software that would allow two people to carry on a audio/video conversation or a business meeting over audio/video conferencing. What was AT&T peeved about? They had been SELLING the exact same service housed in their offices for thousands of dollars an hour... and here we were giving it away for FREE!!!! The intimidation factor didn't phase the Packard Bell owners, they just laughed even harder all the way to the bank.
There were many more incidents like this that showed how advanced a small company could be and show the big boys to bug off.
I ended up having two separate projects that I was in charge of, being in charge meant that I was the one and only resource and had to be a jack of all trades, which made it fun but also a grind.
Project #1 - RMA Support sub-systems
After completing the RMA Labeling program I sat down with my project manager and the VP of the RMA warehouse and we set out a plan to automate as much as possible of the system to reduce overhead and improve turn over time.
The first step in this process was to get some conveyor belt systems in so once inside the door and off the pallet the computer would not need to be carried but just pushed or rolled along the belt system. We also agreed to trash any and all packing as well as any documentation like manuals etc that came back with the computer. We were not allowed to re-use any of it so it went to recycling.
The second step was to automate the testing of the components and their reporting system. Hard Disk Drives from Western Digital each had their test results sent automatically to Western Digital, as was any of the other components testes at our test stations. The manufacturer could then determine its status and if it was returnable under warrantee. If it was found to be within tolerances it was returned to the production line with a new label showing a previously used item.
I could go on for a long time describing in detail what we did but it would get all very boring, lets just say we had fun, sometimes and it took the better part of 6-8 months to complete. Mostly because I was the only one working on it full time and had little in the way of resource but that made it all the more fun. I had to research all sorts of technologies and not so technical peace's of the equation to make it all fit and work together.
Project #1 - Receiving warehouse management system
This was a much simpler system to build, it was taking their paper system and creating a duplicate application. It took three steps or levels, the first step was a complete duplication of the paper system, line for line. I could and tried to simplify it but I got objections from the workers, that's how we do it and we are not going to change. That is where it took three steps to get to the stage where the only needed to enter the minimal amount of information, with no duplication. I could display dates and other information automatically and that took the three stages of progress. It was not an issue of technology but of human acceptance. But doing it in stages also meant that I could take the three stages over about 6 months to complete, a very manageable time-line.
After about a year of working at Packard Bell they decided that the Westlake Village facility was too small for their needs, it is now the Christian Oaks School building. Intel had just closed it's plant in Sacramento, which left a huge number of people out of work. At the same time there was huge cutbacks in the war machine and air force and navy bases were being closed all over. One such base was the old air force base in Sacramento, another huge blow to the economy. The city of Sacramento made Packard Bell and offer they just could not refuse. They would rent 3 of the 1/4 mile long hanger type building for a penny per year for 10 years, they would also throw in a three story office building and to top it off the persuaded the local power company to let them have all the power they could use for one dollar per year with a 10 year contract.
By this time I had purchased Mouse Pad and was actively racing her in the Wednesday evening Beer Can races, and doing well I might add. I was also getting closer to Jerry who worked at Packard Bell as a project manager for the AS400 servers systems.
Packard Bell was asking everyone to relocate to Sacramento, I declined but said I would be happy to travel up and back each week at their expense. Well they flew Jerry and I up every Monday morning, rented us separate cars, and got us nice separate rooms at the local Hilton hotel. Then because I had "Off-Site Meetings" on Wednesday evenings, we were flown back Wednesday lunch time.
After about a month of being in Sacramento it became evident to us all that gaining their ISO certification back in Westlake was all part of a master plan. They could not sell the company to the larger or international market without an ISO certification. They start selling the company off 20% at a time. Intel was the first to cut a deal, we owned them a few million dollars in back bills for their processors, so to wipe out the debt they gave them the first 20%, Then others cam on board over then net couple of weeks. Remember this was still a privately owned company by four people so there was no board of directors or shareholders to get approval from. Oh and just as an FYI at the end of the year before each of the four took $4billion dollars each home. After renewing my contract once in Sacramento I decided that I had enough of reporting to 6 managers for each project. I was in maintenance mode on both projects anyway, and both had a limited life left with the new buildings and systems being built in Sacramento. I found myself spending my entire time up north in meetings repeating the same report each time as none of the different company men would let the other sit in on a meeting.
So I finished out my sixth and final contract with Packard Bell and Jerry and I settled down back in So. Cal.
Oh and just for the record I was writing MS T-SQL, Visual Basic, and the beginnings of a few HTML pieces for Packard Bell.