Regan and Becky (Rebecca) were growing up, and it was time to consider schools and neighborhoods. Mike and Libby started thinking about purchasing a house. They didn't have much of a down payment for a house, and they couldn't get such money from relatives. Then an angel stopped in: Pat Gallagher, Mike's boss at Field Enterprises. Mike had a good relationship with Pat, and Pat offered to go to one of the larger banks in Chicago to underwrite a loan for the down payment.
This wasn't a formal loan backing, but Pat assured Mike's position and future at Field Enterprises, and that was good enough for the bank to loan Mike the down payment. This extraordinary arrangement wouldn't happen today... Mike and Libby were able to find and purchase a small home in north Evanston, in a quiet neighborhood very near Northwestern University's football stadium. The house was indeed small, but it had a full unfinished basement that Mike later was able to convert into 4 more rooms: a nice family room, a full laundry, a workroom/shop, and some much-needed storage. It effectively doubled the size of the house, and they got twice their purchase price when they sold it later.
This modest house had a nice fenced back yard and a separate 1 car garage at the rear of the property. It was so close to the football stadium that they and friends could sit in the back yard on July Fourth and see all of the annual fireworks show that was held for the city. They were so close, in fact, that they sometimes had to watch for and avoid burning shells from the display that landed all over the neighborhood. They installed a window air conditioner in the living room, and it was enough to cool the house sufficiently when the major summer heat came in.
1st House, in Wilmette, IL
1st House (rear view)
As Libby became a stay-at-home mother, Mike's responsibilities at Field Enterprises grew. The company was growing, and computer processing was expanding as well - there was a need to get more or newer computer equipment to meet the growth. Mike was put in charge of the technical analysis for this selection, wherever it might go. The company's two (IBM 705) computers were old, and there was no reasonable "growth path" for such equipment. IBM had plenty of new and faster computers for sale, but conversion to new computers was going to be very expensive and difficult - there were no "emulation" or conversion programs for their applications.
FEEC recognized that its computer needs were growing beyond their existing capabilities, and it was time to "bite the bullet" and get new and faster computers. Mike was put on a small team of technical and financial people to investigate what could be done about the problem. He spent nearly a year travelling across the country, visiting computer vendors and customer sites to learn about new computer technology and how it was being used. This task and its aftermath would have a profound impact of Mike and Libby's lives.
Mike visited computer manufactures, among them IBM and GE. The visits to GE were particularly interesting, as they were in Phoenix, Arizona, where the computers were manufactured - as well as where the technical development was done for the software. Mike made numerous visits there, and it became clear that GE had the systems and capability that FEEC needed. However, making a change from IBM to a relatively unknown computer vendor wasn't at all simple, since IBM then dominated the large scale computer business with about 90% of the world's business. Convincing the management at FEEC to make such a move was going to take a lot of work...
The job of developing a rationale for and plan to convert the company's computer work to a very different environment (GE systems) fell to Mike. He wasn't really prepared for such a task, as he was really just a programmer. However, the company had trust in his work, and he had the help of the VP of IT to prepare the information and presentations that would be needed. There was some financial work required, and he had help there, too. The team made the presentation that recommended FEEC abandon IBM and convert to GE: two GE 435 systems to replace the aging IBM 705 computers.
The presentation went well, and the company informed IBM that they had lost the bidding process. This was a big loss for IBM, as Field Enterprises Educational Corporation was an important long-term account for them. IBM demanded a chance to talk to the top management at FEEC, asking for "just 30 minutes" to explain why their proposal was really better than GE's.
The (short) IBM presentation was scheduled for 3:00pm, and IBM brought in a team of 4 to "explain why Mike was wrong" in picking GE. This meeting in fact took almost 3 hours, during which IBM castigated Mike's decision, his misunderstanding of the issues, his immaturity, and his lack of education. It was vicious and nasty personal attack on Mike, but it offered virtually no technical or financial reasons why IBM should have been selected. Furthermore, they said they could recommend someone to replace Mike: someone who'd understand the issues and would help FEEC make better decisions in the future.
In the end, FEEC's Senior VP stopped the meeting, saying, "I don't know anything about the technical issues you've raised, but you've spent more than 3 hours attacking my guy (Mike), and right or wrong, I'm sticking with him." This was an incredible moment for Mike: against enormous pressure from IBM, the top executive had endorsed Mike's work. After IBM filed out of the room, Mike's management took him to the Mart's Executive Club for a drink. Mike wasn't yet 30 years old, and the company's data processing future had just been placed in his hands. Nothing like this had ever happened to him, and Mike was reeling.
This was the start of a long period of IT growth for Mike and his company. Mike started making frequent trips to Phoenix, to gain technical understanding and meet with software and hardware managers there. Changing computer "brand" is an enormous effort, as many aspects of use are different and must be learned. Among the things to be done were staff training, deep understanding of how the new computers operated, new programming languages to be used, etc. FEEC became the first non-banking GE customer in Chicago, which was a "big deal" in the IT industry at that time. Sometimes Mike was gone to Phoenix for weeks at a time...just as his family was developing. It wasn't easy for them.
After 5 years, the travel and work responsibilities led to a major change in their life. [more]