November 10, 2014 § 7 Comments
And then there was Uncle Cy, the uncle who paid the bills, kept us in medical insurance, sent me, my sister and brother to college, and gave my father the generous retirement plan most workers now have to engineer for themselves.
Practically unknown in this era of shareholders-first, this benevolent patriarch who made my family secure, upwardly mobile and ensured that my father, a chemical engineer, achieved his full potential, was a big corporation, American Cyanamid.
With the exception of his first couple of years in the workforce my dad worked for Uncle Cy for his whole career—“Uncle Cy” was what he called his place of employment.
It is anthropomorphizing to turn a corporation into a close relative, but just a little.
Like my dad, the management team that ran the company had made a home at Cyanamid. They knew their staff and made long-term investments in those employees and their research projects.
R&D timelines ranged ahead a decade or more. Those at the top were scientists too and they knew, good science takes time.
My father started in Cyanamid’s Lederle lab working on pharmaceuticals and was transferred to the Agricultural division (probably the only shirt-and-tie worker to regularly bring manure home from work for his vegetable garden).
Although he was a trained research chemist my father had a unique gift for management. He could take the difficult or off-stride employee and find a project where that smart and educated nuisance could shine.
But it was the company’s policies that allowed him to search for that good-fit project.
The company invested in its employees, and employees returned the favor.
After college my brother went to work designing computer programs for Uncle Cy’s scientists–and then there were two Carl Fogelins on the payroll.
Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, Uncle Cy passed away in 1994. My brother was part of the package bought out by American Home Products in a hostile takeover. He was acquired again when AHP spun off its agri-chemical division to BASF.
The attitude of the takeover companies—and the times—was mean, the timeline on a product’s development, or an employee’s tenure short.
Why invest in a product that would not come to market, like, right now?
Why keep a guy with deep experience and corporate memory when you could get two fresh out of the box for the same price?
It wasn’t perfect back in the days of benevolent but demanding uncles. Women and minorities had a tough time breaking in (although research companies like Cyanamid were ecumenical in their hiring practices and quick to welcome the best and brightest from around the globe; so many accents were heard in those shiny linoleum halls).
Uncle Cy was not unique. Educated, talented hard-working employees like my father found 9-5 homes in big corporations all over America. Loyalty was a two-way street and these longterm relationships nurtured a large and healthy middle class.
But times changed.
My brother, having been sold twice, retired very early from a job that was slowly killing him, just south of fifty in fact. He had been frugal, a good planner, and had gotten in on the tail end of a dying pension system.
And my dad, a good steward of what he had earned while working for Uncle Cy, left each of us enough money to, as he would say, “put a little tread on the bald tire” of our own less secure retirement plans.
Good old Uncle Cy.
Note: American Cyanamid, in its corporate life span gave us Tetracycline, Breck shampoo, Formica, Pine-sol, Centrum, Combat, Amdro, Cyalume lights, and many other products used every day in home, hospital, and field.
In addition to my father and brother, Uncle Cy also employed my real uncle, Uncle Giul, and his wife, known in the family as Aunt Betty.