People Are The Key #socs

The bulk of my career (twenty years minus one month) was spent with a company that changed hands several times while I was there. When I started, it was Management Science America, or MSA. After another company, Mine Safety Appliances, who also called themselves MSA, objected and took my MSA to court, we had to be sure to indicate that we were "MSA, The Financial Software Company" (later just "MSA, The Software Company") and we gave them a free license to our Payroll system, which I believe they run to this day.

Whenever someone started with the company, they were given a Tiffany key pin like the one shown above, a large one for the women, a small one for the men. Our corporate motto was "People Are The Key," and it was a way to remind our clients (and ourselves) of that. When you started, they gave you a silver key. After five years, they gave you a gold one, and after 10 years, the women received a gold key with a pretty good-sized diamond in it, while the men received both a gold key with a tiny diamond and a clock. I received my gold key in July 1989; four months later, we were sold to Dun & Bradstreet, who owned our biggest competitor. D&B announced their intention to merge the two software companies together, and we were ordered to 86 the keys.

The president and CEO of MSA was a man named John Imlay. He owned the majority of the stock, and when the sale was complete, he became a very wealthy man, in addition to remaining as CEO (and having the opportunity to fire his counterpart with the company we merged with). He decided to take the money he made and start The Imlay Foundation, which "helps entrepreneurial and established community organizations expand their capabilities and reach," according to its website. The keys had been John’s idea (you never called him Mr. Imlay; I did once and he told me "Mr. Imlay was my father, I’m John"), and since we were no longer using the key device, he adapted and adopted it for his foundation. He retired after about five years and spent the rest of his life running his foundation, playing golf, purchasing a minority interest in the Atlanta Falcons, and going around making speeches. He passed away in 2015.

Meanwhile, the rest of us poor bastards who were left behind had to learn to work together. As one friend of mine put it in an all-company meeting after the sale, "who are we supposed to hate now?" Another friend said that our new motto was "No longer to be confused with Mine Safety Appliances." (He had a bunch of them, including "It’s not just software, it’s one damn thing after another.") It gets complicated after that…


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20 thoughts on “People Are The Key #socs

  1. At first I wondered why the guys got a key with a diamond AND a clock but then I re-read the women got a “pretty good sized” diamond so I was okay with that. People are the key, definitely.

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    1. Right, the women’s key was worth a couple hundred dollars, so the clock brought the men up to that level.

      I don’t know if things were ever the same after the merger: there were a lot of hard feelings on both sides, which we worked through eventually, but a lot of people left after that. I often wonder why I wasn’t one of the ones who left.

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    1. That might be another reason I stayed so long, because they treated me well, at least for the first 15 years. The last five were not as good, and I really should have left then, but that was around the time Mom and my mother-in-law died and they were very understanding.

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  2. My second job out of college was at Airborne Freight. If I remember correctly, we ran but had heavily customized your payroll software. My carpool companion was the programmer who was trying to figure out how to get us out of that mess when you guys released a new version. Companies that purchased off-the-shelf software and then modified it always made me shake my head.

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    1. Interesting: one of my last jobs was to work with Airborne, who was merging with DHL and needed to revalue their assets.

      We used to tell people to keep their modifications separate and leave the SPL (the source program library, a sequential file that had all the COBOL, assembler and Information Expert files on it) as vanilla as possible. We had more than a few clients who modified the hell out of the code, and practically all of them went through hell trying to apply new releases and maintenance because they didn’t follow our suggestion and made modifications directly to the delivered code. I used to teach the class about source code maintenance and would plead with the clients not to do that, and they’d nod their heads and do whatever they wanted…

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      1. Watching, thankfully not involved in that effort gave me a lesson I would remember forever in my consulting and private industry career. In fact, shortly before being laid off from Weyerhaeuser in 1981, I was trying to convince my boss not to proceed with a project to modify Jeffery Walker Systems accounting systems.

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        1. To some extent, every client modifies the software: the smart ones do it in a way that applying a new release has little or no effect on the delivered code. Then you have the ones that hire Accenture or another big consulting firm that has no problem hacking away at the delivered code and creating the problems you describe…

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  3. Very true that people are the key. I love your friend’s sayings but this right here “It’s not just software, it’s one damn thing after another.” Now that is a classic!! Inset anything you want for software and it still works. In my case I’d say, “It’s not just INSURANCE, it’s one damn thing after another.” Lol 🙂

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    1. He had a list of ten of them, but those were the two best ones. At that point we had no idea what was going to happen, and both sides treated the other like a mail-order bride. We desperately needed laughs.

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    1. No, and if I had it to do all over again, I certainly wouldn’t stay that long. In retrospect, that was just dumb. And, in answer to your next question, I didn’t want to write a resume. It’s one of those things I think I’m really bad at, and I was too cheap to pay someone to write it for me.

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