Helping Deliver an IBM Message About Proposed U.P.C. Symbols

Delivering an IBM Message

Early one morning in 1972 as I was getting ready for the day, the phone rang. Ed Igler called from Distribution Industry in White Plains. He wanted to confirm that I knew Barry Franz at Procter & Gamble which I did. Years earlier I’d worked across the hall from Barry when I first joined P&G and had given him his first small airplane ride. If I remember, that caused his wife Margie some concern. Ed said IBM needed me to have lunch with Barry and deliver a message.
The U.P.C. Symbol selection committee was formed by the Ad Hoc Committee that defined the Universal Product Code, just the code format, in 1971 and was comprised of representatives from grocery retailers and grocery manufacturers. Barry Franz, an Operations Research/Management Science expert in Industrial Engineering, was P&G’s member of the Symbol Selection Committee. But more relevant to that morning’s call, IBM felt Barry to be one of the most technically knowledgeable and capable members of the Symbol Selection Committee. When IBM presented its logic for a more easily printed but not omni-directional Barcode Symbol to be used with an omni-directional scanner, Barry might have been the committee member that best understood all the technology presented. I wasn’t there, but I know what “My eyes glazed over” looks like and evidently there was some of that by other committee members after IBM’s presentation.

Competing concepts included the omni-directional bulls-eye proposed by RCA/Unisys and other circle and half circle type designs. The IBM proposal had included an extensive mathematical proof. Some of the IBM people at the presentation saw indications that Barry appreciated the technological approach but had personal doubts about IBM’s commitment to enter this market. It’s likely the other proposal presenters would willingly discuss more specifics about products under consideration or under development, while IBM would stoically maintain that they couldn’t discuss un-announced products. In any event Barry would not likely support a symbol proposal from a company that wasn’t going to be in the market.

My task was to convince Barry that IBM was very serious about their proposal, re-iterate and verify that IBM can not discuss any product before it’s announced, and tell him the company appreciated his understanding of the technological issues. As evidence of this I was to tell Barry that Marvin Mann had recently joined Distribution Industry Marketing to work on the project. Marvin’s previous position was to introduce the System/3 with its unique small 96 character punch card. Because of that product’s success, Marvin was joining Distribution Industry. The corporation was interested enough to dedicate this kind of executive talent to the effort.
I called Barry a few minutes after hanging up with Ed and we arranged for lunch that day or the next. It was great seeing Barry again and catching up on all that was appropriate for him to discuss about P&G. I told him about the call, relayed the information about Marvin and reaffirmed IBM’s strict rules about un-announced products. At that time I didn’t know very much of the details about products myself, only that Gordon Vick, a prior sales partner had been promoted to Raleigh to work on something that must have been supermarket store related. Barry wasn’t under any Non-Disclosure rules relating to the symbol proposals and clearly had been impressed by the IBM presentation. He told me about an IBM mathematician that filled a board with equations to document that the parallel bar barcode would outperform concentric circles. Barry told me the presentation had been moderated by a fellow named Bo Evans. At the end when everyone had questions, Barry had questioned “wouldn’t it take a System 360 Model 40 to do all the processing required to keep the check lane productive?” Bo reached into his pocket and held up a single chip while replying, “This is your Model 40.” Evidently Bo had the concept of stage presence. Barry had been very impressed. IBM’s Distribution Industry Marketing was delighted with the results of the lunch.

Before we parted, and as a friend, I had to ask Barry, “Why is P&Gsupporting this since it’s a net cost to them?” Barry replied that the projections showed that it would cost about 1 percent of sales for manufacturers to include a symbol on a package. But if it really saved 2 percent in cost at the store, they would pay the 1% and help the consumer achieve the 1% net overall benefit. Of course in hind-sight, the benefit has been much higher