Cal Poly Pomona, IME Engineering Colloquium Speaker Series - Winter 98

(Back to Colloquium Page)

(IME Homepage)

 What a Young Engineer Should Know About
Corporate Culture and Company Politics
Written by David Algallar (ECE) and Genevie Velarde (ECE).
Photography by John Kord. Edited by Phil Rosenkrantz
Based on a Presentation by Mr. Bob Addicks
Quality Manager, ARCO Marine
February 16, 1998
Bob Addicks 

Biography: Bob Addicks graduated from General Motors Institute in 1974 with his BSIE degree. He later obtained an M.S. in Environmental Studies from California State University, Fullerton. Since graduating from GMI, Bob has worked for three different companies: General Motors, Hughes Aircraft, and his current employer, ARCO Marine.

Presentation Summary: In the presentation, Bob talked at length about each of the three companies he has worked for, their cultures, and how his career was shaped at each one. He used each experience to illustrate different lessons that are valuable to the young engineer. One of the most interesting aspects of the presentation from a young engineer's point of view was the variety of interesting things Bob has done and the enjoyment he has had throughout his career--including the satisfaction of a job well done. He emphasized the importance of being close to the organization's workers, learning how work really gets done, and supporting people in their efforts. He also remarked, "Having grown up in an incumbent bureaucracy, smaller companies give people a lot more freedom and a lot more responsibilities. You work harder but you are also going have more fun in the process."

When asked for tips on how to handle "company politics" he said,  "Rules change as we speak." This is somewhat due to a transition toward teamwork oriented environments and away from more traditional corporate cultures. He did give some suggestions based on his thirty years experience in major corporations.



Experience From Different Companies and Valuable Lessons Learned:
General Motors
Hughes Aircraft
ARCO Marine

Advice Based on Three Companies and Thirty Years Experience:
Overall Viewpoints of Different Companies About Quality
Overall Economic Outcomes of Different Companies
Corporate Dress
Company Transfers and Relocations
How Different Companies Value Additional Education
Socializing and Dating Co-Workers
Final Thoughts


Experiences: During his education at GMI (now Kettering University), Bob was a co-op student with General Motors. While in the co-op position, he divided his time between work and school. He would be at work at GM for six weeks and attend school for the next six weeks, then the cycle would repeat itself. GMI has an outstanding reputation for preparing its students for hands on work. During the early 1970's, there was a growth in Organizational Development (OD) in management. Problems and status of projects were discussed during weekly meetings. During his employment at General Motors, Mr. Addicks encountered two different types of bosses: Those who listened to your concerns with no intention of doing anything about them and those who were interested in implementing change. During the seventies and early eighties, the automotive industry took a big hit competitively forcing him to pursue other employment opportunities.

Major Lessons: As an engineer you should "know who your customer is". Get to know who is doing the work, how they are doing it, and learn how you can help them. This knowledge will help you all the way up the organization. He considers it a key factor in his success...being in touch with the workforce. At GM this meant supporting the people working in manufacturing. After all, they are the people who make the product. Engineers are often there to help and foster workers to do a better job. Another key point from Bob was that you will get greater personal satisfaction from a well-done job. Always strive to achieve the expected results or better.


Experiences: In March of 1982, Mr. Addicks was offered two different jobs located in different parts of the United States: a GM plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and employment at the Hughes Plant in Fullerton. After discussing it with his family, he opted to work for Hughes in Fullerton.

Mr. Addicks worked for Hughes for 10 years largely in plant engineering. The plant in Fullerton employed 15,000 people and is on a 300-acre site. Hughes had a large maintenance staff with extensive resources. Mr. Addicks then was invited to work for a spin-off company of Hughes whose primary focus was developing an electric vehicle. One of the positive aspects of this assignment was the opportunity to create a new working culture within the hourly workforce. He was able to break through traditional union culture to develop a more flexible union environment that was team oriented.

Major Lessons: "You will encounter that different people have different egos". If you are going to work at a bureaucratic company, know that people's egos will conflict with one another. For example, you will often have senior managers who will insist that their office be a certain size equipped with lavish furniture. Foster good working relationships with everyone. Do not "burn bridges" with people. That is, do not leave people unhappy with you because you never know when that could come back to hurt you later on...maybe years later.


Experiences: Mr. Addicks started to work for ARCO Marine six years ago. ARCO Marine is a division of ARCO that operates the oil tankers. Bob was asked to interview with ARCO Marine after one of their managers heard Bob present a paper at a conference. They asked him to become the Fleet Staffing Manager. ARCO Marine has a small organization where one may have to wear many hats and not be limited to knowing only one operation. Later Bob led the division in becoming ISO 9002 certified. He did this by using the workers to help put together the program.

Major Lessons: "Having grown up in companies with large bureaucracies, smaller companies give people a lot more freedom and a lot more responsibilities. You work harder but you are also going have more fun in the process." His prior experiences of getting to know the people doing the work were essential to his ability to succeed.


General Motors: In the 70's, General Motors had its detailed cookbook approach that required no creative thinking from the engineers and no conscious thought was involved.

Hughes: Hughes had a Continuous Measurable Improvement Program. This was designed to develop products and roll them out. However, the group managing quality was totally autonomous and essentially segregated from production.

ARCO Marine: ARCO Marine has a quality program and Bob has been responsible for it. It encompassed educating the workers about understanding the principle concepts of quality. The workers were teaching themselves about quality and then developed and wrote their own quality operations policies and procedures. Their quality procedures have been broken down into simple forms and flow charts that everyone can understand and use. As a result, ARCO Marine has become ISO-9002 certified.



Each company has their own perspective about the importance of profit and what good profits look like. Hughes and ARCO Marine are good examples to show the contrast of companies in this regard. These contrasts are reflected in the work culture:

Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton had over 15,000 employees, $5 billion in assets, and
a $6.8 million profit. They had a commercial orientation but were a large bureaucracy.

ARCO Marine has less than 500 employees, also has $5 billion in assets, but recently made a $33 million profit. They are a small division that was not expected to make a profit, but managed to anyway.


At ARCO Marine dress is "business casual". Bob mentioned that there is a time and place for everything. Usually slacks and polo shirts where he works now. However, be prepared and know what each day is going to encompass. If you know there is going to be a meeting with executives or customers, you should dress appropriately--suit and tie for men for example. Also, note that you should not carry dress to an extreme.

Interviewing- Dress well! Corporate dress is a given. Invest in at least one good suit--it is well worth it.


If a company asks you to take part in another division, they generally want you to do it. Do not let transferring get you down. Moving is not bad. Most companies will take care of you when you move. Bob and his wife, Karen, have lived in 16 different houses since he first started working. He says it is not that big of a problem.


Teamwork is an important skill today. Teamwork includes having the ability to be either a team leader or a team player...whichever is called for at the moment. Interpersonal skills are not as important as they used to be compared to the importance of being a good team member.


At General Motors in the 70's the company was not very educationally orientated. At that time, Bob wanted to obtain an MS/MBA. However, the company asked him why he would want to waste time in school.

At Hughes, they wanted people to obtain more education. There was a 5 % raise if you earned another degree. Bob could not find anything interesting to him at the Masters level until he went to CSUF and earned an M.S. in Environmental Studies.

At Arco Marine the attitude about additional education is somewhere in the middle. The company does value MBA's, however, since financial aspects are important to the company.

Bob does not think anyone should stop learning. Networking with peer groups is also beneficial. Bob, however, felt that he learned more from evaluating and expanding his experiences in industry than he did from school.


Socializing with co-workers is good. Mr. Addicks found that when working for ARCO he was able to socialize with everyone at off-site meetings. He had the opportunity to meet and talk to other managers around the world. At Hughes, on the other hand, the company could not sponsor offsite meetings because of corporate constraints. Bob pointed out that it is a lot easier to work with people if you already know them.

Regarding dating people you work with, Bob recommends that you do not date anyone who works in your same division, and really cautions against dating someone who works in the same company. He has never seen a situation where it did not turn ugly and gave several strong examples to prove it. Every relationship starts out as congenial but then it turns for the worst. While dating coworkers might work if you place the two people in different divisions, there is always a huge potential for a "third party sexual harassment" lawsuit.

Always read the Company's Employee handbook because it describes all the rules about how the company deals with most of these subjects.


Many managers will tell you that he/she has an open door policy. Do not believe it until you know that manager well enough to predict how they will take criticism about activities under their control. Tread lightly, it takes a while to know the person you are dealing with. Have experience with a person first, then you can conclude how much you can trust them. Maximize your networking skill by socializing with your peer group. Lastly, Bob urges any interested student to take a tour of his facilities.