The 21st Century Company – And You — Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the Now Very Familiar… Disruption!

Theme-setting Comments at the Skytop Strategies’ “21st Century Company” conference, early-November 2017 in New York City. This was my third time opening the conference to set the theme of the day…

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

There are three words that I think define the concept of these 21st Century Company gatherings. The approach was conceived more than three years ago over lunch with Chris Skroupa, my partner Lou Coppola and I. And the words keep ringing true ever since.

The first word is Iteration — from the ancient Latin: again…and again…and again. Science and Discovery is about iteration — it is the basis of our scientific theory and practical application of scientific advances. We hear these days about “science-based” and “evidence-based” progress being made. At least from most of us.

The second word is Innovation — also from the Old Latin — the new. Something, everything — new. Most of us are interested in the new; some are anxious, others enthusiastic.

The third word is Progress — also from the Latin roots and with us with the same meaning for many centuries — it is the story of humanity — forward! Moving forward.

Interation / Innovation / Progress. Think of the great inventions of the later years of the late 18th and 19th Centuries that made the 20th Century so very different in so many ways in our personal and business lives. In finance — in public and private governance — and other aspects of our lives.

Our lives in Century 20 were very different from the experiences of generations before us. And will be in Century 21 thanks to the great progress of prior decades.

We can see all of this at work in these Inventions.

First, Electricity – the “Dynamo” (as it was called) that harnessed the power and changed nighttime dark to daylight at any time!

Telegraphy, the Wireless and Telephony….over time leading to the broad-bands of our internet and our cell phone. Everything is powered by electricity.

And the internal combustion engine – providing reliable, portable, movable power — today, cars & trucks and airplanes on the move dominate our lives, don’t they? Speaking of the last….

In the early 20th Century, The Great Tinkerer, Henry Ford brought together many scientific advances in glass, metallurgy and development of materials such as plastics, instrumentation, rubber for tires, the internal combustion engine…and more… to mass produce cars & trucks.

Henry Ford invented the efficient modern factory with his idea of bringing the work to the worker. His advances in the innovations related to motor cars brought about great progress. He was also a…farmboy at heart.

And thanks to the farmboy in him — Ford Motor Company has been making certain parts out of soybeans. This is both a 20th Century and 21st Century story.

Founder Henry Ford planted 6,000 acres of soy on the company farms. In the 1930’s he worked with soybeans to develop early versions of plastics, paints, and other products familiar to us today.

He actually made very sturdy car fenders out of soybeans and was photographed banging on such a fender with a sledgehammer — more than 70 years ago. Those old, collectible brown Ford stick gearshift knobs? Oh, yes — they are a soybean extraction!

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Henry-the-Tinkerer pounding away at a fender made of soy — he wanted to make a whole vehicle out of the wondrous plant!

One thing he invented in his laboratory for us to use every summer — the charcoal briquette. This came out of his “Industrialized Barn Concept,” his idea that future farmers might use their barn for production in the cold winter months!

And now to 2017 — in mid-October, Ford Motor Company celebrated the 10-year anniversary of using soybean-based-foam in its car seats. That practice saved 228 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere — equivalent to CO2 consumed by 4 million trees in sequestering carbon emissions.

You can see the soybean seats in Ford Mustangs of the last 10 model years. More than 18 million vehicles produced in North America have soy-derived foam seats, proudly notes Great-Grandson / Ford Chair William Ford – an MIT grad. And he is Great-Grandson as well of Harvey Firestone, the rubber tire innovator. And he drives a Mustang with soy seats. And Firestone tires!

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Photo:  William Ford, Chair of the Ford Motor Company with a Mustang — with soybean seats!  20th Century meet the 21st in technology!
Tinkerin’ away: The Ford Company’s lab tinkers today with such materials as wheat straw; rice hulls; trees; coconut; kenaf; tomato peels; chopped up US dollars; dandelions; algae; agave…you know, the stuff of tequila! The derived materials may be going into tires and gaskets.

That is truly 21st Century Corporate Sustainability in action!

The Spirit of Old Henry-the-Tinkerer & Innovator lives on. As does the Spirit of Thomas Edison. And Alexander Graham Bell. And many other tinkerers.

This is for us clear demonstration of the spirit at the heart of science, of scientific discovery…and of Innovation. And the outcome: the Progress we make!

Another great 19th Century invention I mentioned was the harnessing of Electricity: This new power source drove wired transmissions; think of the telegraph as electrons whizzing through wires to carry dots & dashes. Then telephony evolved with voice-over-wire; then came electrons driving radio waves, then television waves, then wireless telephones. What comes next?

Think about the little and very powerful cell phone, our wire-less telephone that we take for granted — we carry the device around and depend on it for many things every day. The amount of processing power far exceed the capacities available to “tinkerers” like the early space astronauts in their space-borne vehicles.

Speaking of Innovation and Interation…remember Radio Shack? Kids-in-the-garage of Silicon Valley invention fame shopped at Radio Shack for parts — the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. Radio Shack is gone. Apple thrives. There is great irony here for us…

The fourth word for us to keep in mind for the 21st Century is very important: Disruption.

Iteration, Innovation, Progress…leads to Disruption.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter described the concept of creative destruction almost 80 years ago.

This is the process in our Capitalistic society of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old / creating a new structure.

Applying this to Radio Shack: Technology writer Steve Cichon in Huffington Post in March 2014 mused about the February 1991 Radio Shack ad that highlighted electronic items from the ubiquitous storefront – well-known for several generations as “America’s Technology Store.”

This was before the debut of the World Wide Web (in 1994, by tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee), tiny cellular phones and other goodies in our lives that we take for granted today.

To explore the pace of innovation / and the resulting disruption – and the impact on our everyday lives, please do think about right now:

• The pioneering Tandy 1000 personal computer in the 1980s;
• the little “microthin” calculator;
• home telephones (copper wires!);
• stereo player;
• tape recorder;
• CD player;
• phone answering machine;
• earphones;
• microphone;
• speakers;
• photo camera,
• camcorder/video camera;
• weather station;
• AM-FM clock radio.

All that was listed in an ad at about $3,000 in 1991 dollars. That is $5,400 in 2017 dollars.

And all of those electronic miracles of 26 years ago are right here in the 4-oz Apple iPhone! At in one hand, at a fraction of the price, all portable, all in your pocket.

Think about the progress that is made, step-by-step, an iteration or discovery (one at a time), that lead us to miracles in our lifetime. There is such an exciting future ahead for the Millennial Generation, isn’t there.

I’ll leave it here for now. We will be exploring all through our day together the marvels and miracles — and hard work — that leads us to ….

Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the now very familiar… Disruption!

This is what the 21st Century will be all about.

Mr. V – The Mysterious Pilot – For Your Distraction & Entertainment

March 7, 2017

A story as told to Hank Boerner

The daily news and tweets got you down?  Here’s some light stuff for you.  May or may not be fake news.  Do Stay Tuned – to Mr. V. the Mysterious Pilot…

by Hank Boerner

Back in the day, when I was a young pilot and aviation journalist, I met Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot. In this era of fake news (2017), which is the taking of tiny facts and factoids and made up stuff and then weaving distortion around these, and sharing with other babbling idiots on the social media networks…well,. you may or may not believe the story I about to tell you.

This was 50 years ago, when all-things-aviation were the grist of hot news stories, print and broadcast features, many columns (like mine that ran in various print media), and most enjoyable, “hangar-flying.”

That’s when the weather was too risky to fly and so private and commercial pilots would gather ’round in the hangar and radio shack and swap tales.  Fake news?  Maybe.  Exaggerated experiences?  Par for the course.

In my continuous rounds of large and small airline offices, commercial & private aviation offices, hangars-upon-hangars at airfields-upon-airfields, I met a lot of interesting characters.

Some were world famous: the courageous General Jimmy Doolittle, who led the 1942 raid on Tokyo; Roscoe Turner, the 1930s pilot who flew with a lion cub in the cockpit. Women who were buddies of disappeared flyer Amelia Earhart; Mrs. Charles Lindbergh (herself a pilot, navigator and great author); astronaut Jim Irwin; the fabulous pilot “Jeeb Halaby, US Navy, former CEO of Pan Am and my partner in aviation business adventures, His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan, who flew me around in his helicopter over the Arabian Peninsula deserts; my flying buddy, Fearless Freddie Feldman, the WOR-Radio ttraffic and news pilot in New York City.

And VictorV-the-Mysterious-Pilot. This is his story. Shades of James Turber’s “Walter Mitty” character and his fantasies: Instead of the pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the tiny engines of the old bi-wing aircraft, this evening at dusk there was the vrooom, vrooom, vrooooom of the single-engine aluminum craft, running up before take-off at the small, out-of-the-way airfield not far from the city-center.

The usual run of 800 feet down the runway to lift off was now three times that distance. Because Mr.-V’s fuel load was several times that of the normal capacity. (He had installed extra gas tanks where seats were previously bolted down, all around him!)

Later tonight he is flying off the radar and long, long way off, he tells me.

The planned flight will head out to the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic Ocean…and then east/southeast a bit aiming towards Bermuda. Refuel there and then on to the Canary Islands. And then…nearby Lisbon, Antwerp, and then…destination secret.

What is this? The fiftieth flight, I’m told, by Mr. V, flying across the Atlantic, and his last in this single-engine small airplane, he says. Too risky. Not as sure-footed, he explains, as the un-marked vintage bombers he’s been flying to distant civil wars, like the one (going on back then) in Angola, Africa. The long-time Portuguese colonizers were battling “freedom fighters,” who seemed to be battling each other.

Mr. V. had a kind of mittle-European accent, claimed to be British, or at least was born in the”British Isles”; had a patch over one eye; was always clad in a flying suit (sort of fancy with trim) with shiny jodhpur boots — or — sometimes he showed up in a dashing blue blazer with flying insignia.

And that traditional, lovely flying silk scarf. Looking somewhat at times like “Flying Jack” or perhaps Terry-and-the-Pirates (remember those comics strip of your youth?).

This particular1960s flight was to deliver the new (and very very small) single-engine aircraft made in America to some un-named purchaser in Eastern Europe. Or the Caucuses; or the Middle East…or Turkey….or…who knows where.

The bombers? Mr. V. said these are surplus World War Two aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Corps and later, the succesor US Air Force. Painted over (no insignia). Often decked out in gray or desert camouflage paint with darkened windows. Bomb bays still intact.  Radio gear and radar updated.  No machine guns (yet) pointing out of the windows.

Now, most trans-Atlantic flights of the day (this was still in the early years of jet airliners) were out of Idlewild / New York International — renamed Kennedy International after the assassination of the young President of the United States in 1963. There at JFK were located the weather briefing rooms, FAA offices to log your flights, radars, services, and so on. Mr. V’s flights avoided JFK.

He preferred little, out-of-the-way strips, preferably with unmarked hangars for flight preparation. That’s where I would usually meet him.

He would pilot neat little B-25 light bombers (twin engines, vrooom, vroooon); a B-26 every now and then; a C-46 (cargo version of the ubiquitous DC-3 on the 1940s); an aging DC-4 (four engine, very old airliner with piston engines); a more modern DC-6 four engine airliner…and more, many more types of aircraft civil and military. Cargo craft; seaplanes; passenger craft; bombers; fighter aircraft; private aircraft of all types.

An “amphibian” (capable of land or water landings) was taken to Norway. A small airliner flown out to the west coast of Africa. A light bomber winged its way to Formosa (Taiwan) over Pacific Ocean waters, with many island-hopping stops for fuel. Maybe, just maybe, some of the aircraft being readied for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Communist Cuba. Maybe.

Mr. V. claimed he was raised in the USA, joined the U.S. military after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941, and during the war flew “everything” — fighters, bombers, transports. He held the “Air Transport Rating” of the USA — one of the toughest to win as a pilot. He said, anyway.

Who were the clients? These and those. Sometimes they were “airlines,” or ” new aircraft owners in Europe or Latin America” … And others..

Well, to me he always seemed to work in the shadows with periodic appearances in regal gear to swap stories and quietly boast of new adventures.  Real? Dunno.  Fake news?  I don’t think so.

These were mysterious times with mysterious combat going on here and there in the world.  The Cold War was on!

His mission often was down-to-earth (at the end of the flight) — supplying unmarked old bombers to un-named folks in both real and fantasized faraway countries. That were at war internally or with neighbors. Or with colonizers.  Or maybe getting ready to go to war. Or maybe they were very early terrorists.

One of these old bombers, Mr. V. told me when he was preparing it for that ocean flight (and I did see the real aircraft and sat in cockpit!), was stored for a long time at a secluded airport alongside a large factory in upstate New York where military aircraft were manufactured. A long time ago (remember, this was in the 1960s that I met him in hangar-flying bull sessions). How many were still there? A few. Many. Just enough to satisfy customer demand.  Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe they were not really there but somewhere else, like in the Southwest desert.

As I think back: So was Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot “real?” That is, was he “real” in today’s era of fake news? Were his missions real? Dunno.

He shared little “proof” or evidence (beyond me seeing various aircraft about to fly off). And this was long, long before Google searching, when searching out such information would have been difficult.  I did not find anything on Mr. V. today in searching.  Just the facts here in my notebook.

I enjoyed his tall stories until…  One day, there was no more Mr. V. No one seemed to know where he had gone with the un-marked twin engine Mitchell B-25 light bomber with two engines and lots and lots of high-octane fuel — the last flight he prepared to go off to… as far as I know.

Maybe a spark over the deep ocean set off a catastrophe? Maybe he was captured at a jungle landing strip?  Crashed into the Pyrenees between Spain and France?

So there you have the story as I remember it, and from my notes of the day. Shades of Walter Mitty in his imaginary yellow WW I biplane…pocketa, pocketa, pocketa…

CAVU to you, Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot. Clear skies and unlimited visibility, where ever you may be today.

And for you dear friends, I hoped you liked his story, and that it took your mind away from the unhinging and lunacy that’s descended on our capital city.