A phone call came to me about three months
later from the head of the accounting
He asked whether we had hired a new person
named Frank Miller.
He complained that Frank had never cashed
his paychecks, thus causing a problem of
closing the books on the employee salary
I went to talk to Frank about this matter.
Frank reacted to my question of not cashing
his checks with a reluctant apology.
He took out his wallet and showed me the
three paychecks, among many other checks.
The paychecks were about $700 each, after
various deductions from the base pay of
$1,000, while the other checks were dividend
checks in amounts of $50,000 to $80,000,
issued by well-known companies such as
Coca-cola, General Motors, General Electric,
Mobil Oil, IBM, etc.
He said that his uncle had left with him a
large portfolio of blue chip stocks, with
a total value of about 50 million dollars.
In other words, our paychecks were of no
significant value to him but he promised
to cash them right away.
Knowing Frank’s wealth did not change my
relationship with him.
His work was quite satisfactory although
I had a great deal of problem with his
Since our research and development reports
were circulated to other departments, I
could not let his reports pass without
After many frustrating hours of editing,
I summoned Frank to my office to talk to
him about his reports.
I complained about the spelling, the
sentence structure, the manner of
presentation, the logic and the conclusion.
Every known grammatical and rhetorical
error was in all of his reports.
Basically, I had to re-write his reports
I advised Frank to take an evening course
in English writing as a remedial effort to
solve this problem.
Frank was quick to admit that he knew his
writing shortcomings and promised to find
a way to resolve this problem.
The next day he came up with a solution:
he would hire a personal secretary, at
his own expense, to write reports for him.
He said though that he couldn’t have the
secretary write at home for reasons that
he would then be working for company
business in the evening and his hesitation
of having another woman in his house lest
his relationship with his wife be jeopardized.
I did consider his idea but could not
approve him having a private secretary in
the laboratory for safety and security
His report writing remained to be a problem
which was never resolved.
Frank never disclosed his wealth to others
in the company.
Outwardly, he wore faded jackets and shirts.
Everyone had the impression that he was poor.
When several chemists were sent to out-of-town
meetings, his expense reports often showed
a breakfast of $0.24 and a dinner of $1.79.
He explained that 10 cents each for one
coffee and one donut, plus a 20% gratuity
of 4 cents; that’s what he would have eaten
The other people reported $3-$5 for a
breakfast and $7-$10 for a dinner on their
The greatest shock came one day, shortly
after the company disclosed that our
conglomerate company was to be sold in
Frank came to my office and asked me to
pass along his desire to buy the company.
He felt that he could run the company
better with me as his partner.
Knowing the new products in the pipeline
of research and development, he was sure
it would be a good investment.
Unfortunately, the top management didn’t
consider his bid as serious and rejected
the proposal without comment.
As it turned out, the company was sold,
and a year later the first Arab oil
The buyer of the company made a net profit
in one single year for more than the total
purchase price of the company.
Both Frank and I left the company when the
new owner took over the company.
I kept touch with Frank for many years.
His wife had a deteriorating health problem
and they moved to southern Florida.
A year later, his wife passed away and he
moved back to Pensacola.
He bought a house right on the edge of Gulf
of Mexico, with a grand view of the water.
Several years later, a hurricane wiped off
the whole house leaving no structure on
He was not upset about the loss from the
hurricane because his stocks were doing
In fact, he told me that now, with no
obligations and attachments, he could
finally enroll at the local community
college to work on his English writing.
In fact, his waterfront empty lot had
tripled in value from what he had paid
years earlier when the property had included
He also told me that he still felt that
I should have let him hire a personal
secretary for his report writing.
On a lazy summer Friday afternoon in 1965,
my secretary asked me whether I wanted to
talk to a chemist who was seeking a job
It was most unusual that a professional
person would come to the door of a company
without making an interview appointment first.
I was in a jolly mood, having caught a
large king mackerel on the Pensacola
Beach pier that morning.
I was looking forward to evening fishing
right after work.
"Why not?" I told my secretary.
Frank Miller was about fifty, medium built,
wearing a worn out white shirt with a button
My first impression was that I was wasting
However, as we talked about his expertise,
I became more than mildly interested.
It turned out he had just the qualifications
my company needed.
He seemed to have difficulty in expressing
his ideas verbally; I thought he was just
I asked for an explanation why he showed up
without first contacting us.
He said that he had just resigned from his
ex-employer in Pittsburgh two days earlier
and so there was no time for him to make
He had been driving with his wife for two
days to come to Pensacola.
More importantly, he was confident that
we needed him.
And his salary demand would be very minimal.
I was curious about his salary demand,
although it was the company’s policy to
offer all employees fair and equitable pay
regardless of circumstances.
Looking at the pay guideline for a
professional with his experience, I would
place his monthly salary at about $950 as
an average for that time.
Frank told me that he would be pleased to
get $400 per month.
He just wanted to have a place to work
and show his talent.
In spite of his less than modest demand,
I made an offer to him to start work the
following Monday at a monthly salary of
As a friendly gesture, I also offered to
invite both him and his wife for a dinner
Frank declined my dinner invitation saying
that now that he had a job, he must look
for a house to purchase.
Frank reported for work bright and early
the following Monday.
He told me that he had indeed bought a
house over the weekend.
Since he and his wife had come to Pensacola
with only a couple suitcases, they had to
buy everything for the new house.
He had paid for the house and bought new
furniture for the whole house with cash.
In fact, they had already settled in and
moved into the new house.
His Pittsburgh house with furniture was
still there but he said that that they
would be trying to sell that house soon.
He asked me not to discuss his wealth with
others so that he would only be judged by
Two weeks later, someone from another
department casually told me that in my
department there was a chemist, named
Wade Sail, who was expressing strong
dislike toward me.
Although Wade was harmless, the informer
thought I should know this.
I had about 50 people in my department.
Up to that time, I had not met Wade Sail
so I did not have the slightest idea why
he would have such feelings against me.
I summoned Wade to my office.
I apologized that I had not met everyone
in my department yet.
Today’s chat was to remedy this oversight.
Then I switched to the main purpose of
I asked, “Wade, I understand that you
don’t like me.
Could you tell me the reason?"
“Oh, no, Mr. Jen, I don’t have such a
He spoke with a very strong southern accent.
“Good, Wade, I am relieved to know that.”
“Wade, I want to be very frank with you.
I am open to criticism.
No one is right all the time.
However, there must be a good reason to
dislike a person.
My philosophy of management is that we all
must work together as a team.
I will not tolerate to have someone who is
against our common objective.
Besides, we now have a law against racial
I further stated, “If there were indeed
dissension in two people for no legitimate
reason, Wade, my solution to such a problem
is to separate these two people.
In our situation, since I just came here
a few weeks ago, I am not about to leave soon."
Wade got the message.
I never had any problems with him.
He retired about 12 years later.
While Cecil was gone, I studied the
chemistry of the reaction.
Suddenly, I saw the key to the problem.
A catalyst, in a minute amount of 0.01%
of the total formulation, was always
used in our lab preparations.
From my distant memory of my organic
chemistry course, I knew that a
catalyst could easily change the course
of a reaction.
The plant records substantiated my suspicion.
Only one initial batch showed the
operator added this catalyst to the
reactor and the remaining six batches
were prepared without this important
At the 2 p.m. meeting, Mr. Rose
introduced me to other members of his staff.
Sales, tech service, production, accounting
and engineering heads were represented.
He then turned to me and blamed my R/D
department of introducing a new product
to our largest customer without thorough
checking and testing.
Although it was my first day on the job,
I was the head of the R/D dept. and
therefore should bear the full
responsibility to get the company out of
I calmly approached the blackboard and
wrote the formulation of the product.
Then I went into some fancy chemistry
explanation of the expected reaction,
emphasizing the role of a catalyst,
although it was in a very tiny amount.
The copies of the plant production record
It was then obvious to all that the error
had been made by production department.
Someone there had arbitrarily decided
that such a small amount of an additive
could not be important and had deleted it.
I continued that although R/D Dept was
not at fault, we had already started a
project in the laboratory to retrieve
and recover the wrongly prepared material
so that our losses would be minimal.
I concluded, "You should expect to hear
our report in one week."
At the end of the meeting Mr. Rose asked
me to come to his office.
He said, “Jim, I really admired your
attitude and guts.
No R/D people before has ever dared to
speak like this.
You were able to analyze a complex problem
in just a few hours, solve it, and start
a corrective step.
I like you.
We're going to work well together."
It didn’t take long for the news of the
meeting to spread within the company.
Everyone I met was extremely complimentary
Already, my stature was running high with
everyone in this company.
Except with one.
In the 1960's Coshocton, Ohio was a quiet
rural town with a population of about
Its biggest industry was a General Electric
laminate producing plant.
Its other big industry was coal mining.
The nearest cities were Cleveland to the
north and Columbus to the southwest.
Summer time was delightful but winter
was long and quite boring.
Snow would fall quickly if the wind blew
from the north.
But in Coshocton the snow, even freshly
fallen, was colored black.
My expertise in the polymer chemistry
helped the GE plant make higher profits.
However, my family was not happy about
living in such a small town.
The major stores in town were a Sears
catalogue desk and a J.J. Newberry.
A coffee shop and a barber shop made up
the rest of the downtown.
Almost all the town merchants knew me
by my first name.
The delivery of The New York Times every
Sunday morning was the highlight of our
week, although the train carrying the
paper did not even bother to stop.
The trainman just dropped our paper from
the speeding train at the main street crossing.
So, when a head-hunter firm approached
me with a job offer in Pensacola, Florida,
I was very interested.
I was attracted to the new challenge of
managing a medium sized research and
development department although the branch
of chemistry I would manage was a total
mystery to me.
Had anybody ever heard of "naval stores"
I knew there was such a chapter in my
college Organic Chemistry course, but
my professor had skipped that chapter
because there were more important chapters
to go over.
I learned later that my professor’s
professor also skipped that chapter
when he was in school.
I did do some study on naval stores
before I reported for work.
On a Monday morning I checked in with the
Division President for my new job assignment.
Harold Rose was a medium sized typical
He welcomed me and praised my past
He said that he was not technically
trained, therefore there was nothing he
could advise me.
His only objective was for me to help
the Division to make more money.
After some more small talk, he rose
signifying it was time for me to leave.
Just before my exit, he said, "By the
way, there will be meeting at 2 p.m.
at the conference room to discuss a
major setback at one of our client mills."
He explained that our new product they
were about to use could not be pumped out
from the railcars, and there were 16 full
railcars standing at the mill site.
Back to my office, I asked my secretary
to get the chemists and their group
leader for a meeting.
Cecil Clinton, the group leader, showed
me the lab sample, the plant production
sample, the test results in their
performance and procedures of preparing
Everything seemed to be in order.
The plant produced sample did show some
cloudiness, which in itself should not
cause any serious problem.
But the cloudiness was indeed a clue.
That was the only difference we could
see among all the samples.
I ordered Cecil to get copies of the
actual plant records in preparing all
the batches, although he said that
during the initial production batches
our people was actually present at the
plant site to render assistance.
Dr. Robinson began to tell me the products
He liked my dual major in college and
said that Nopco could well use a person
with my qualifications.
He offered me a job with monthly salary
of $300, a somewhat lower figure by $50
of the norm.
In order for me to know the company well,
he would put me first in the control
laboratory checking incoming raw materials
and outgoing finished products.
The control lab would be a good training
ground for a new employee.
He said further that if I felt like it,
I could start to work that very morning.
Since I had nothing else to do in Harrison,
I agreed to sign on that very moment.
I was put on Nopco’s payroll that day.
I was then brought to the control lab
where I met my partner Cathy Bercowicz,
a blonde in her late twenties.
She was friendly and wore a constant smile.
She told me where the laboratory equipments
were located and gave me an assigned space.
Since lab work was nothing new to me, I
quickly grasped the ropes and fit into
the team comfortably.
Not only was I quick to learn but my
speed and accuracy were noticed by the
control lab supervisor.
He passed his comments to Dr. Robinson
who, one week later, called me to his
office and told me that he would cut
the required three month control lab
requirement to half of that time.
Then, I would be transferred to the
research lab to do new product development.
I responded positively and told him
that the new product invention work
was exactly my interest.
Although I was on the faster track,
the routine control lab work bored me
and I had five more weeks to go before
It seemed just too long of a time.
I called Dr. Libby at school to tell
him how my job was going.
He told me that he was glad that I
happened to have called him as he
had just received a call from another
past student of his from American
They were looking for a technical
person with exactly my training
Since I was not totally happy at Nopco,
he would make an interview arrangement
for me at American Cyanamid, which was
located at Stamford, CT.
My second interview at Stamford went
much more smoothly than my first.
I was offered an immediate 25% increase
in pay and my first assignment would be
to find a way to improve the strength
of paper with polymer additives, rather
than using the more expensive wood fibers.
It sounded very challenging to me and
I agreed to take on the task.
Back to Harrison, I explained to Dr.
Robinson my decision to leave so quickly.
He offered to raise my pay and give me
an immediate transfer to the research area.
I thanked him for his kindness but bade
That was the end of my first job.
It had lasted only three weeks.
Looking back, I can see how ill-prepared
I was for the interview.
Except for my transcripts with reasonably
good grades, I had nothing else to show.
My English was marginally passable at
In spite of my measly portfolio content,
I went to my interview full of confidence.
I had the feeling that Nopco really could
benefit by hiring me.
In fact, I felt that I was doing them a
favor by going to the interview.
I set my alarm clock for 3 a.m. that
interview morning so that I would have
plenty of time to drive from snow covered
Syracuse to the sunny suburb of Newark.
I arrived at the Harrison site around
9 a.m. with enough time for a quick breakfast.
Ten minutes before the 10 a.m. appointment,
I entered the headquarters of Nopco.
Dr. Robinson’s secretary greeted me and
led me to the waiting room outside his office.
I kept looking at my watch for the ten
o’clock sharp mark, which would be the
decisive determination of my future.
Fifteen minutes past ten, still nothing
I went to the secretary and asked her
whether it was likely that Dr. Robinson
might have forgotten about our appointment.
She firmly assured me that this was
I sat back down and waited.
At 10:25 a.m. I became very impatient
and asked the secretary whether she
would mind going in to Dr. Robinson and
reminding him of our appointment.
She stared at me incredulously and said
that if that was what I wanted, she would
I told her firmly that I would appreciate
it very much if she would do the favor
So she went into his office.
It was only a few minutes later that I
was asked to enter the office.
It was a fine wood paneled large office
with thick carpet. Dr. Robinson, a young
and energetic tall person, rose and
He apologized for the delay, explaining
that the plant had had some major problems
Then we started talking.
I was probably the first Asian Dr. Robinson
had ever interviewed for a technical job.
He mumbled to himself that my credentials
seemed well in order.
Then he looked at me and began his three
First he said that he had never encountered
any Chinese besides those worked in
restaurants and laundries.
How could he be sure that I could handle
the technical and research¬-oriented tasks?
Secondly, as much as he knew, alien students
were not permitted to have regular employment
If he hired me, would that be a violation
of the immigration law?
Thirdly, he would like to know my view on
the paper and chemical industries’ future.
On the first question, I replied that those
Chinese who immigrated to this country
earlier were deprived of formal American
Their skills were limited to what their
parents and parents’ parents could have
It was an entirely different situation
in my case.
Skill and talent had no racial boundary.
There was no doubt in my mind that I could
perform as well, if not better, than other
Although my work until now had been
limited to academic fields, it would only
be a change of objectives that would allow
me to apply my knowledge to industrial goals.
Regarding my immigration status, I was
under a new Presidential order that allowed,
or more accurately described as required,
all technically trained Chinese scholars not
to return to China.
President Truman had declared just a few
months ago that he would not allow Chinese
students with technical training to go back
and aid our enemy (China) who was fighting
Americans in Korea.
These Chinese students, totaled about 3,000,
would be allowed to become U. S. citizens
and seek permanent jobs.
In other words, I was forced to stay here and
find a way to support myself and my family.
On the last question, I expounded on the post-
war economic expansion, the new baby boom era
and particularly the trend of using the fast
growing pine trees in the south for paper making.
These factors would suggest that the paper and
chemical industries would do extraordinarily
well in the near future.
As it turned out, what I predicted all came true.
I could see that Dr. Robinson was impressed.
He said Dr. Libby was his professor many years
Dr. Libby’s words were almost equivalent to
In other words, he'd already made up his mind
that I would be hired.