Good by, Dave…

The news came as a shock. David L. McDonald, the former CEO of Pelco, had died suddenly.. Last Thursday, January 24, a memorial was held at the Saroyan Theater in Fresno. The service, conducted by former mayor Alan Autry, made a pretty good effort to convey the magnitude of all that Dave had accomplished in his 69 years.

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Dave McDonald with a sculpture of one of his dogs at the time of the dedication of the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption center in Clovis, CA. Fresno Bee photo

I worked for Pelco for seven years, retiring at about the time that the company was sold to Schneider Electric. It was, to put it mildly, a unique experience. It was exceptional because Dave ~ we all knew him as Dave~ used a combination of perks and policies that propelled Pelco to becoming the dominant security camera maker in a highly competitive market.

To begin with, there was the orientation, a legendary experience that every new employee, no matter how high or low, would receive. The orientation was a day long seminar that gave the new recruits a comprehensive overview of the company’s operations. This was not put on by outside trainers, nor delegated to low level subordinates. Instead, each department head spent an hour or so telling and showing just what their departments did and how. Typical of Dave’s policy, at the end of each spiel, a small offering of gift items was handed out to each of us present. This included little things like pens, notepads, etc.

And then Dave entered the room. His role was the wrap-up, giving a thorough overview of the company concluding with the secret weapon of Pelco. You must understand that company organizations are hierarchical in nature. They have to be as someone has to be in charge. Someone has to make the final decision. All too often, this degenerates into a system of buck-passing, pushing decisions ever upward, trying to avoid responsibility for failures.

Dave had a different idea. In his domain. every employee was empowered to make decisions when dealing with customers. That is, if I went on a service call and decided that a camera needed replacement, I would not have to call the office for approval or permission. My only call would be to locate that camera and get it shipped ASAP. This policy gave all of us a sense of responsibility unlike any other business.

There were other policies, two of which were instrumental in building the company’s reputation for service. For one, shipping on the promised delivery date was sacrosanct. Missing a date would bring on a review at the weekly staff meeting by Dave himself. So rigorously was this adhered to that Pelco had a track record of shipping on time better than 99.9% of the time. Interestingly, as onerous as this sin might be, Dave never yelled at or humiliated the responsible parties in any way. The facts were reviewed and then he would simply state that steps must be taken to ensure this would not happen again. No one ever doubted that he was serious.

Along with that policy, repairs were guaranteed a 24-hour turnaround. Send in your broken equipment and it would be repaired and returned in 24 hours. Again, the adherence to this policy bordered on the fanatical. This sometimes meant replacing equipment if the repair solution was elusive, but it built a solid reputation for the company.

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The parking lot in front of Pelco. The flag and pole were put in place as a memorial for the 9/11 tragedy. This included a museum displaying items from ground zero , along with first responder equipment and uniforms. As a salute to those men, McDonald had some 1,100 of them brought to Clovis in December of that year for relief and recreation. 

And Dave knew how to treat customers as well. Equipment training was a definite part of the Pelco experience. Not long before the sale to Schneider, Pelco acquired a private jet, but not for business travel. The jet was first and foremost for bringing customers to Clovis for sales meetings and the like. Annually, Pelco displayed at the security show in Las Vegas. This included a dinner and show and admission was much sought after by attendees. Pelco employees were brought to Las Vegas to get exposure to the industry and to act as hosts at this dinner. Did I say ginormous shrimp? And first class entertainment? I went twice and saw Huey Lewis and the News, and Kenny Rogers, just as an example.

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One of my work spaces at Pelco. As the company grew, we moved more than once.

Dave knew how to treat his employees just as well. There were things like the Friday donuts, the monthly department lunches. In the engineering department, when a project was completed, a special lunch was held. There were opportunities to volunteer for many of the charitable events that Pelco staged and sponsored. Fresno will never forget the campaign for Measure Z that helped fund the Chaffee  Zoo. Nor has the Marine Corp forgotten the Toys for Tots donations that Dave promoted. There were the departmental safety gifts, handed out for each quarter that the department had a clean safety record. I still have a very nice thermos, typical of them, and a number of other items. And there were Pelco Bucks, given for various reasons and redeemable at the gift store.

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My engineering group on a tour of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in 2007, lead by a certain interesting personality. Sadly Dave McDonald is not the only  one to have passed on. Two of this group have died recently, Dave Toste next to Kopi and Ann Henebury, the blond lady next to me.

All good things come to an end. Businesses are no exception.  In 2007, it was announced that Schneider Electric, a major company in the building integration market, had acquired Pelco. With the change in management came changes in the policies and purpose of Pelco Since then, the plant in Clovis has essentially shut down and perhaps a third or more of the staff let go. The unique experience of Pelco is no more and now Dave is gone. It is a temptation to liken it to a Camelot but I will resist. Even so, it was a far better working experience than any other I have had and I know, judging by the fact that ex-Pelconauts still get together, that many others thought so as well.

Good by, Dave McDonald. May you long be remembered.

 

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