There Are Bonuses And Then There’s Bonuses!

I was discharged from the Navy March 3, 1961. We took a couple of week’s vacation and went back to Kansas to see our folks and show off the kids. Russ and Doug were 2 ½ at the time but Terri wouldn’t be making an entrance until November of that year..

As soon as we got back to California I started looking for a job. I interviewed at a number of good electronic manufacturing companies. A few days after I interviewed and took the tests with IBM they called me back in and made an offer. If I went with them, I would spend six months in training in Oklahoma City and would return to California to be stationed at El Centro. They gave me a day to consider the offer so Pat and I discussed it that night. Though it is a super company we had no interest in living in El Centro and didn’t care for the way IBM moved their employees around the country so I declined the offer.

A few days later, I interviewed with Electro Instruments and got hired. I started at Electro Instruments on April 12, 1961 as a Test Technician making $2.20 per hour. This was the place I had been looking for.

When I hired in, Electro Instruments had about 250 employees including the national sales force that was based around the country. This was the dawn of digital technology, transistors, integrated circuits, and the like. There were two powerhouses in the digital voltmeter field. First, was Non-Linear Systems of Del Mar, California and second was Electro Instruments (EI) of San Diego. The founders of EI, Jonathan Edwards and Walter East, both M.I.T. graduates, had worked for Andy Kay, the inventor of the digital voltmeter, at Non-Linear.

There was talent in every department at EI. Jonathan Edwards and Walt East were Chairman and President respectively. Corporate Vice President was Edward T. Butler, an attorney, who later became a Superior Court Judge in San Diego. The Vice President of Sales was Jim Sutter, a class act. Dick Kloster was Personnel Manager (this was before the title “Human Resources Director” had been invented). There was talent at every level and the creativeness and enthusiasm was infectious. Just being around these people made you want to do your best.

The plant pretty much took care of all its own needs except for fabricating sheet metal and printed circuit boards. The departments were: Administration, Sales, Engineering, Systems Engineering, Purchasing, Material, Machine Shop, Precision Resistor Manufacturing, Electronic Assembly, Test, Technical Writing, Printing, Shipping, and Quality Control.

The Cold War was still going strong and the Space Race was underway. Our customer base was very large and included everyone at the forefront of technology. We sold our products to the Department of Defense and all of its contractors, NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Redstone Arsenal, Boeing, and just about any other large corporation you can name.

Our company was doing well and the upper echelon shared the largess through a generous bonus system. Goals were set for each quarter and Sales and Manufacturing both had to be innovative and hard-charging to meet them. The amount of each employee’s bonus was computed as a percentage of their earnings for the quarter. If you worked a lot of overtime, your contribution to the goal was deemed to be greater so you received a larger bonus.

The bonus I remember best was a tough one to earn. As I recall, it was the first quarter of a new year and that’s a tough quarter anyhow. The whole world practically comes to a screeching halt over the holidays and it takes until February to get things going again. We entered the quarter without enough sales booked to justify keeping the doors open, let alone paying a bonus. Jim Sutter and his sales force got into high gear and the purchase orders and contracts started rolling in. The Material people fought lead times and got the components in house. Manufacturing geared up and got things rolling and burned some overtime to get the flow going. Everyone did a superb job and in the final week we met the goal and then surpassed it. What a relief! For the next couple of days it felt good just to work at a normal pace.

One morning, a few days after the end of the quarter, we suddenly heard a lot of racket coming from the front of the building and a New Orleans style jazz band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”! I opened the door of the Test Department and looked up the main hall to see what was happening. Here comes a parade! In the lead, was a full-grown cheetah wearing a collar with a leash attached. Holding the leash was a long-legged blonde wearing a leopard skin bathing suit. Behind her, were Ed Butler, Jim Sutter, and Dick Kloster. Behind these men was a New Orleans jazz band, from Mickey Finn’s, a popular San Diego night spot, strutting their stuff and blaring out the “Saints”. Ed Butler was carrying an armload of white envelopes that had to contain bonus checks. The checks were divided up by department and as the procession passed each area, Ed handed the checks to the manager or supervisor at each door. What a sight! What a memory!

Dave Thomas
February 2, 2015 

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