Appendix A

Tribute to J. Herbert Hollomon

ROLAND W. SCHMITT

I am more than pleased at the opportunity to make a few opening remarks about the person to whom this symposium is dedicated—J. Herbert Hollomon. Herb Hollomon inspired the founding of this Academy, so, in a way, he has touched the lives of all of us here today. The topic and the speakers of this symposium could not be more appropriate to his memory —they represent values and interests that he deeply held; he would truly relish the scope, the depth and the vision of today's speakers though I am sure he would also lay down a fiery challenge to each of them as he always did to those around him.

But the reason I feel especially privileged in making these remarks is that I am one of many whose lives were changed—profoundly and fundamentally—by Herb Hollomon. I dare say there are quite a few others in the audience who could say the same thing, so I am pleased to represent them. I am going to skip the conventional biographical details and go straight to some of my very personal views of this man.

To begin with, he tricked me and lured me into management—and I mean that literally. His first foray was to ask me to manage a group for only six months while the regular manager was on a special assignment. I remember walking away from that session wondering why he thought so little of my research.

And then having enticed me into a job I did not want, he proceeded to teach me that it was a job I did not understand. “Good managers, ” Herb said, “work for the people in their organization, not vice versa.” “And good managers,” he said, “try to hire only people who are better than they are.” Like so many of the things that Herb espoused, these are powerful oversimplifications that



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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE Appendix A Tribute to J. Herbert Hollomon ROLAND W. SCHMITT I am more than pleased at the opportunity to make a few opening remarks about the person to whom this symposium is dedicated—J. Herbert Hollomon. Herb Hollomon inspired the founding of this Academy, so, in a way, he has touched the lives of all of us here today. The topic and the speakers of this symposium could not be more appropriate to his memory —they represent values and interests that he deeply held; he would truly relish the scope, the depth and the vision of today's speakers though I am sure he would also lay down a fiery challenge to each of them as he always did to those around him. But the reason I feel especially privileged in making these remarks is that I am one of many whose lives were changed—profoundly and fundamentally—by Herb Hollomon. I dare say there are quite a few others in the audience who could say the same thing, so I am pleased to represent them. I am going to skip the conventional biographical details and go straight to some of my very personal views of this man. To begin with, he tricked me and lured me into management—and I mean that literally. His first foray was to ask me to manage a group for only six months while the regular manager was on a special assignment. I remember walking away from that session wondering why he thought so little of my research. And then having enticed me into a job I did not want, he proceeded to teach me that it was a job I did not understand. “Good managers, ” Herb said, “work for the people in their organization, not vice versa.” “And good managers,” he said, “try to hire only people who are better than they are.” Like so many of the things that Herb espoused, these are powerful oversimplifications that

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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE pushed the limits of plausibility, that were partially true, and that Herb himself partially practiced. “Be sure you don't compete with your own people,” he would also say. But he taught me that it was okay to tamper in people's research, even basic research —something I did not exactly learn in academia! There was the time that he wanted me to get a member of my group to change his area of research, even though this person was regularly publishing very good work. I argued, “Suppose some misguided manager had made Faraday change his research from electricity to paraffin;” “Nonsense, ” said Herb, “Faraday would then have revolutionized both organic and physical chemistry.” So I set about to induce the change, and Herb was right; soon the person was doing work of even better quality in an area of more interest to us. One memory that I am sure everyone who worked with Herb has is of plenty of laughter. Working with him was fun, and around him you could be serious without taking yourself too seriously. At this time in the late 1940s and 1950s Herb Hollomon was building a research group in the vanguard of the interdisciplinary approach to materials. Kurt Vonnegut, who has since become a famous novelist but who was then writing news releases for the General Electric Research Laboratory, said about Herb that “he feels that tradition . . . and hunches still guide metallurgy . . . for lack of a basic, scientific understanding of the processes that make metals behave as they do. ” And, Vonnegut said, Hollomon wanted to “ take the guesswork and witchcraft out of one of the oldest fields known to mankind.” It was the hey-day of the linear theory of innovation —going from basic research to invention to application and use—and Herb at that time was not only a proponent but a leading practitioner. He organized his group of 125 or so scientists and engineers into sections devoted to basic research, to invention, and to development; innovative breakthroughs were supposed to march through this assembly line and on to profits for General Electric. Now whatever else might be said, there is no doubt about the scientific and technical impact of the group that Herb assembled in the 1950s. For example, the people who joined the group and worked in it during that period produced one Nobel Laureate and 17 memberships in the National Academies of Engineering and Sciences. The linear process of innovation, as everyone knows today—in hindsight—has its problems. But they were not as clear then, and it was an exciting time to be trying. In any event, Herb Hollomon's style would not tolerate the paralysis of uncertainty—he always pushed ahead through any thickets of doubt or error. And like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, he always emerged winning in one way or another because there were always visions and ideas that Herb pumped into and out of those around him. To be around Herb Hollomon was to be constantly challenged—pressed to the limits of your own ability, intellect, skill, self-confidence, fortitude,

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ENGINEERING AS A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE diplomacy, patience, and even privacy. He was always all over you as a person—wanting to know everything—and I mean everything. For example, when I became engaged, I still remember being grilled about why I had given a ruby and a painting instead of the conventional diamond to the lady! But, what might have been intrusive curiosity in another person was commitment in Hollomon—commitment to you, to what you were, to what you might become, to what you could do to change the world. I did not see him often in later years, after his stroke—but when I did, the biggest and saddest change other than the paralysis itself was that even with his still-undiluted intensity about the world, his interest in your personal affairs no longer burned as brightly. To me it was the signal of how devastating his paralysis was. So, the man to whom this symposium is dedicated ranged through the breadth and depth of human interests and emotions as energetically and profoundly as anyone could. He made things happen; to individuals, to institutions, to our nation, to the world. This is a fitting occasion to honor his memory.