Staying in Bounds

John Henry Patterson was a graduate of Dartmouth College and returned to his hometown of Dayton, OH.  After working for a short time as a tool collector on the C&O Canals, he bought into a manufacturer of cash registers.  He became the CEO of the company shortly after and named it National Cash Register (NCR).

Cash registers were a tough sell because the salesperson had to get by the store clerk to see the owner of the business.  Clerks would routinely keep some money from each sale.  Patterson is credited with a number of sales innovations including the first sales training manual and a sales school.

The working conditions Patterson set up were extraordinary for the time.  He created a work environment that was the opposite of the sweatshop.  The grounds of the factory were laid out by James Olmsted, the son of Fred Olmsted (the designer of Central Park) in New York City.

Patterson also had a not-so-attractive side.  He would routinely fire people.  Charles Kettering was hired and fired several times.  He eventually left NCR for good and founded Delco, which later became a critical component of General Motors.

Another member of Patterson’s team was Thomas Watson who was involved in marketing.  Patterson and Watson were both indicted for Sherman antitrust violations for a marketing scheme that was considered illegal.

Prior to their going to jail, Dayton had a serious flood and Patterson converted his factory into a boat manufacturer.  The boats saved thousands of lives.  Eventually, the convictions of Patterson and Watson were overturned on appeal.  Watson left NCR to become President of the Computing, Tabulating and Recording Company (CTR), better known today as IBM.

When Patterson died, his estate was small because it was his belief that “shrouds have no pockets.”  He had given away most of his wealth.

One out of every six business executives in the U.S. from 1910-1930 had worked for NCR at one time.  Unfortunately, Patterson is better known today for the time he stepped out of bounds.

What possesses a person to step out of bounds and violate the laws of the land or ethical practices?  It could be any number of things:  greed, hubris, fear, lack of morals, etc.  Patterson, for all of the good he did, was also a flawed man.

Staying in bounds requires having a set of personal values which will not be violated under any circumstances.  These values come from parents, spiritual beliefs, and personal convictions.  We shouldn’t need roles and policies to stay in bounds.  Our conscience should tell us what is appropriate.

Staying in bounds can be tough, especially when others feel that anything goes.  But there is one thing that those who stay in bounds can do that others can’t.  They can pass on the rules of the game to their children with a clear conscience.

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“Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.”  – Albert Einstein

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