After accepting the position of EVP of the Electric League of Southern California, I moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles in late August of 1968. I told you how that came about in my blog on 8/21/13.
We rented a house on the border of San Marino (upscale Waspish community) and Pasadena (more eclectic). It was a big old Spanish manse with floor heaters. We got a beagle dog named Arrow who delighted in chewing through the telephone wires outside so we had a few interruptions of service.
It wasn’t too far from the office so the commute was tolerable and it worked out to be a good one-year transition for the family’s move to Southern California.
I inherited an office in the City of Commerce, 3-1/2 employees and a beat up leased Buick with somewhat bald tires. My assistant was Dick Pharoh, who was very pissed he didn’t get my job. There was also Sharon and Bonnie, who seemed to have mixed-up jobs. Then there was Jim, a bookkeeper, who literally wore a green eye shade and worked three days a week creating numerous ledgers which he totaled and sent the totals to Alfred Norris, a CPA, who produced reports on his computer; a somewhat odd and redundant process.
If you asked Jim a question about some financial transaction, he would come in with two or three ledgers and take 20 minutes to show you the trail but you never quite understood what the bottom line answer was.
To pursue our mission of increasing electric usage in the exciting home market, we ran extensive incentive programs which awarded points to appliance salesmen during four or five promotions each year. The points were redeemable from a large catalogue of prizes or for travel.
In addition, we ran group trips during some of the promotions to Las Vegas, the Bahamas, La Costa, etc.
One dark cloud hanging over my arrival was that no one knew the extent of the liabilities for all the points that had been issued and not yet redeemed and for which we were responsible.
A second cloud was no one had a clue as to the effectiveness of all these incentives to salespeople. Did the points motivate salespeople to push electric appliances or were the salespeople just responding to the customer’s choices? My inclination was to think it would be more effective to create promotions to motivate the consumers.
The two major utility companies—Southern California Edison (SCE) and the L.A. Department of Water and Power—were the main financial support of our programs. Appliance distributors and manufacturers kicked in and some 500 plus appliance dealers paid small amounts for each promotion.
I was also concerned about the lack of membership and programs in the commercial side of the electric industry; i.e., commercial lighting and electric heating.
So first, I reorganized the office. I made Bonnie my secretary and had her forward all the bookkeeping data to the CPA to produce computer reports. I put Sharon in charge of all the promotion data and bid adieu to the green shade bookkeeper Jim and the disappointed Dick Pharoh.
After a year on the job, I approached my main supporter at SCE and asked him if he would chair a long-range planning committee. He said, “No, you draft a plan and the EXCOM can review it.”
“Okay,” I said and over the next several months I drafted “Forward By Plan.” It incorporated my thoughts on changing the direction of the appliance promotions to appeal to consumers and broaden the membership and programs for the commercial side of the industry.
About the same time all this was happening at the office, we bought a four-bedroom house in La Habra, a quiet suburb on the Los Angeles/Orange County line. I always seemed to be on the lines between communities. The house had a redwood fence, which Arrow loved to chew on trying to escape.
Every so often he did escape. He would come back and sit on the front lawn. If you approached him, he would take off again. Trying to catch him was a joint family exercise.
With few changes, the EXCOM and the board approved the five-year strategic plan. We changed the name to the Electric Industries Association (EIA), and we were off and running.
I hired Anne Ewing to be Director of Consumer Affairs and Bob Leiban to head up the Commercial Division expansion. I gambled that the unredeemable points liability would be very low. Mostly, I hoped the points would get lost or misplaced. I got lucky and the costs were minimal.
In the appliance arena, we held yearly kickoff events at Busch Gardens (great place, but no more), the Queen Mary (where the sound system didn’t work), on Channel 11 TV (early morning) and at The Castaway in Burbank.
Our promotions included “Waltz Through Washday,” our award-winning “Freeze Your Food Costs,” and several others for color TVs and refrigerators.
One day early on I got a call from Tom Tobin, who had a similar position to mine and was my competitor working for the Southern California Gas Company. It was a short conversation until the room and I both started shaking. I said, “Tom, I think I’m having a heart attack over this call.” He said, “No, you idiot, we’re having an earthquake.” My first earthquake in La-La Land.
Next month we’ll recount our success and what we did to face the dark specter of an energy crisis.