The Meaning of Value, The Value of Meaning—Bob Swanson at Transitron

The Cold War

In the skies outside of Boston after World War II, you couldn’t mistake the screaming whistle of a P-51 Mustang in flight. Bob Swanson could watch military training exercises from his house near Hanscom Air Force Base and dream of flying. Some people look to the sky and see possibilities, Bob looked to the sky and saw dogfights.

Transitron Electronic Corporation

The world’s second-largest semiconductor electronics company at the time, Transitron, happened to be less than 10 miles from his home. They had just won a major contract with Lockheed to build transistors for the Polaris missile program and were hiring. Despite having a safer job offer from the more established Polaroid, he decided to apply.

Transitron Electronic Corporation company headquarters, used with permission © the Nick DeWolf Foundation

The Lesson

David Bakalar was 34 when Transitron went public in 1959. Together, he and his brother made over $34M that day. He was a prolific recruiter and attracted some amazing talent to Transitron, but he didn’t share the wealth. They were creating a brand new industry while doing meaningful work for the Cold War effort, but management didn’t value the workers.

  • Wilf Corrigan (co-founder/CEO of LSI Logic)
  • Nick DeWolf (founder of Teredyne, Inc.)
  • Dave Fullagar (inventor of the uA741 op-amp, co-founder of Maxim Integrated)
  • Jim Diller (Fairchild engr mgr, National Semiconductor, founder of PMC-Sierra)
  • Hans Camenzind (inventor of the 555 timer at Signetics)
  • Pierre Lamond (Fairchild mfg exec, co-founder* of National Semi., venture capitalist)
  • Tom Longo (founder of Performance Semiconductor)
  • Les Vadasz (part of the founding team of Intel)
  • George Wells (former CEO of Exar)

Value and Meaning

It’s not all about the money, though. Money is feedback, but meaning propels you forward. Feedback can be positive or, in these cases where the money seemed unfair, feedback can be negative. According to Jim Collins in Good to Great, if you have the right people, they will be self-motivated. That motivation or sense of meaning is personal; you have to have it already. For some, it may be patriotic duty, the creative freedom to invent something, or perfecting your craft.

Originally published in Japanese by Nikkei Electronics — photo by author

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Todd Nelson

Todd Nelson

Engineer, sustainability, indigenous history, analog electronics history and anything that supports my belief that bikes can save the world.