30 Years at the Same Company!?

On 10 Jul 08, I will celebrate my 30 year service anniversary with my current company.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to do my part building what we all consider to be a highly successful company.  The problem in general when talking about something like this, though, is “what does one say about a 30 year career with a company?!”  Typically, when I tell someone this little tidbit, they look at me incredulously and say “30 YEARS!?  That’s a loooong time!”  It IS a long time, and even I tend to look back in amazement.  I don’t know how much longer I’ll be working at the same place, but my plan – mind and body being willing – is to work at least another 30 years (solution to the social security crisis?) one way or the other…

Overall I have been treated well with ups and downs along the way – a natural consequence of being a part of an organization that grew to > 90,000 employees at one point while pulling back dramatically due to divestitures, etc. and then back up to around 30,000 today.  In my company, I have worked with or been a part of the semiconductor test portion of the manufacturing automation division for the vast majority of my career.  This test portion has suffered ups and downs as well as my company considered the pros and cons of make vs. buy in the various areas of manufacturing automation.  We in test are in fact in a bit of a “renaissance” period as we speak and have really never been so successful (in my memory at least).  We are essentially the last one left out of a rather long list of process steps my company has automated over the years as the support industry has developed good solutions to the problems that needed to be solved.

I have also been very fortunate in that I have been given a rather long succession of very juicy problems to chew on (perhaps I seized many – but not all – of them).  My favorite and most successful assignment was running a wafer test floor where multiple wafer fabs sent their wafers.  My group was given the challenge of resolving a rather long list of problems that had developed over the years, and I was given the lead role as operations manager inclusive of engineering responsibilities.  We managed to achieve all challenges, and about 2.5 years later the operation was moved back to a more normal reporting situation.  I’ve often said I could write a book about my experiences in this one assignment, and may well do so one day.  The wealth of knowledge, experiences and relationships I was able to develop amazes me to this day.  Second on my list was my assignment as program manager for the development of a 64 unit parallel memory test and handling system for DRAMs.  This was a leading edge assignment in 1983 for which my company moved me from Houston to Dallas, and the program success helped my company profitability, helped me get to know my new team extremely well and helped me move up the technical ladder at my company.

Wow, 30 years!

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Frustration With Suppliers

I feel a little bad ranting in my first real post, but I need to get it out of my system and then maybe I’ll move on. 

We bought a used Mercedes E320 a couple of years ago.  With it, we bought an extended warranty which they specifically restricted so that it didn’t include the radio or dashboard display – I assume because these things have reliability problems in that year/model since they had just replaced those things when we bought our car.  To be fair, overall I have few compaints about the car.  It runs well, and gas milage is pretty darn good on the highway.  By the time it actually gets the service at prescribed internals, it really needs it, so I guess maybe the intervals are a bit too long, but that is probably easily resolved.

My real frustration with the car is related to what I deem to be a design problem with the car in general.  As you can imagine, electronics in the engine compartment where heat and humidity is high are VERY problematic.  Mercedes “solved” this problem for critical braking and transmission electronics by placing them in the cabin under the gear shift assembly.  This was done, again, to protect it from heat extremes and moisture. 

Surprisingly, what they neglected to do was to protect it from moisture in the cabin.  This assembly is directly under the cup holder on our model, and any spills go right through to the relatively unprotected electronics.  During a visit where I was discussing this issue with dealership mangement, I checked current models on the showroom floor, and noted to myself and to them that they appear to have done a much better job protecting whatever is under there on newer models.  Anyway, due to the fact that the cup holder on this model is also a piece of cr*p, dribbles of coffee and soda often spill.  The electronics under there have acted up previously.  As you can imagine, the punch line of this story is that we experienced a hard failure after a large drink fell out of the previously noted WONDERFUL cup holder, and evidently that was enough to cause the unit to start to catastrophically malfunction while I was driving home from work a few days later. 

Naturally, since I had purchased an extended warranty, I called and had them tow the vehicle in.  After looking at the car, they proceed to tell me that the repair isn’t covered, and that I will be charged well over $1000 for the repair and tow. 

All begging, pleading, intimidation, etc. fell on deaf ears, including a letter to MB Europe.  I’m copying the final response from MB USA primarily because they had the unmitigated gall to attach one of those little thingys to the end of their email stating that the contents were confidential and to destroy if I am not the intended recipient – to add insult to injury.  

Suffice it to say that I won’t be purchasing any more MB products.

“Dear Mr. Watts:

Thank you for your internet message to our colleagues in Germany. It was
forwarded to us since Mercedes-Benz USA is responsible for sales and
service issues with U.S. version Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the United
States.

We recognize your feelings, however, we cannot attribute the spilling of
liquid into the gearshift selector to be a manufacturing defect or design
flaw.  It seems to happen despite the warning to drivers to “cover liquids”
that is included in the Operator’s Manual that came with your E320.

The Mercedes-Benz USA New Vehicle Limited Warranty of 48 months or 50,000
miles (whichever occurs first) covers defects in materials and workmanship,
not malfunctions that are caused by an outside influence such as the
circumstances you describe.  Therefore, Mercedes-Benz respectfully declines
to offer financial assistance with the repair.

Mr. Watts, we realize this is not the response you desire and trust you
understand our company position.

Sincerely,
Robyn L.
MBUSA 1-800-367-6372
IMPORTANT:  The information contained in this e-mail message is
confidential and is intended only for the named addressee(s).  If the
reader of this e-mail message is not the intended recipient (or the
individual responsible for the delivery of this e-mail message to the
intended recipient), please be advised that any re-use, dissemination,
distribution or copying of this e-mail message is prohibited.  If you have
received this e-mail message in error, please reply to the sender that you
have received this e-mail message in error and then delete it.  Thank you.”

The fact is that I did not request financial assistance – I reported what I deem to be a fairly serious safety issue with their 2001 E320 vehicle.  The fact that they responded to a serious inquiry in this manner is terribly insulting to me and to all customers.  I believe they should issue a recall and protect this critical electronic assembly responsible for braking, transmission, and I think steering functions. 

I guess I can get this crud out of my inbox now.  🙂

p.s. I am an electrical engineer and I’ve worked at a semiconductor supplier for 30 years.  Not that one needs to be an expert to know that MB’s design decision was a bit silly, but I am equipped to know it professionally as well as intuitively…