Monday, May 07, 2007


As I drove by a park last week I saw hundreds of people running and jumping all around some tents with food, drink and games. I pulled over to watch as others were enjoying a dunk booth and running games.

While music was blaring from set up stereos it looked like a “happy” time for all attending. It was not a carnival; it was a local law firm having a company summer picnic for its employees.

It reminded me of a time in the late 70s to the early1980s when I worked for AT&T/Ameritech Michigan Bell. We had countless picnics, some sponsored by the company but mostly just set up by employees who enjoyed each other’s company. The picnics were held at least twice a month with a softball game as the main attraction. Many times they were department versus department or union versus management. Yes, management came in their shorts and tennis shoes and acted like real human beings. Everyone got to know each other’s families and most generally cared about others well being.

It was a time when loyalty to the company and union still meant something. Wearing your company logo on shirts with company initials was done with pride. It was not unusual to walk down the hall or catwalk and have a Senior Leader call you by your first name. At the time we had over 35,000 employees at Michigan Bell (close to one million nationwide). Today, just over 13,000 are employed at AT&T Michigan Bell/Ameritech/SBC/SBC AT&T.

The end came when the government broke up the Bell System in 1984 with what was known as “Divestiture.” By 1986 most of the Michigan Bell executive team was replaced by outsiders in Chicago where Ameritech located its headquarters. When I say outsiders I mean new executives were brought in to shape up the “Bell Heads (employees)” to get ready for competition. It was at that time the company picnics stopped.

A new company picnic was now taking hold, it consisted of two or three people sitting around a conference table taking a call or hiding from their boss so they could at least get a full lunch.

Dilbert - by Scott Adams

In 1985 some employees had the choice to stay with Ameritech or AT&T. Those that stayed with AT&T lost their jobs within two years. In 1986 it was the year that employees no longer wanted to get together because that is the year that Downsizing began to take place. Employees with long-time service were asked to leave and those that remained began to view co-workers not as friends but as competition for jobs. However, there was no focus on the outside competition because there was no competition regardless of what was said by the new leadership team in Chicago.

Too many outside executives began to take hold and the tradition of what was once one of the best-run companies (you try Standardizing processes for close to one million employees in at least 45 states and Canada) in the world started to deteriorate at rapid speed. The new execs usually stuck around for about two years, just enough time to leave bodies and bad decisions in their paths. They were there to get noticed and to get promoted, if that did not happen in two years they left for new opportunities and to continue their wrath at other companies. There were no faces on the employees, just numbers.

If you look at the successful Regional Bell Operating companies like Verizon, SBC and Bell South you will find that they are still led by Telecom people. Those that went the way off listening to “outside consultants” and how to compete in the new market place were taken over by SBC or acquired by other telecom companies (i.e., AT&T, Bell South, Ameritech, PacBell).

The most recent are Bell South and AT&T being taken over by SBC. For the past 10 - 15 years AT&T was taken over by outside executives and consultants that ruined a great company. Oh, they will tell you it was the government regulations that were at fault (some truth to that), but mostly it was the asinine decisions and short term startegies made throughout the late 80s and 90s that led to the demise of AT&T.

Thanks to the company that held the company picnic, it was nice to remember when I was proud to work for my employer.

It's mazing to recently read so many articles and quaotes by current CEOs proudly pontificating they are going to strive for employee loyalty and being a good community leader.

Far worse is the the arrogance and stupidity by some CEOs (NWA, Auto Companies, etc...) to try and justify paying their Execs huge amounts of money because they don't want lose their most talented people, especially as the company is losing tons of money and heading down the toilet.

Dr. Deming words still ring true today "Management Owns The System."

qualityg says ... Mr. CEO and High Priced Execs that means you!!


Anonymous said...


Gosh, I remember those picnics at Ohio Bell. You are right that was a time when we felt like family.

Thanks for the memory,

Jillian from Columbus

Anonymous said...

Company picnics and protected pensions are a thing of the past. Workers are just an added cost that takes away from the bottomline- profits. The attitude where I work is "If you don't like it here, leave" (company VP)