Friday, January 17, 2014

How Greedy Is Big Business...?

There will come a time when big business is going to have to admit they need certain employees to be happy at work.

When you treat folks like slaves, it can come back and bite you in the butt, as this story clearly shows! You don't want your clever employees to become your primary competitor, do you? I think not!

The Scientist Who Got $10 For A World-Changing Invention
By Jeff Kelly on Thursday, January 16, 2014

H. Tracy Hall is probably not a name you’re familiar with, but he came up with one of the most important scientific advancements of the 20th century when he conceived of a way to actually create diamonds. A chemist who worked for General Electric, he and his colleagues somehow created a method that resulted in synthetic diamonds that were, by all accounts, exact duplicates of the real thing. The results led to billions for GE as they found numerous uses for his man made diamonds, so GE naturally rewarded him with a whopping $10 savings bond. Being a very intelligent man, he recognized this as a terrible insult, so he left the company and found another way to create synthetic diamonds for which he would hold the copyright.

If you’ve ever heard of H. Tracy Hall, you’re either a chemistry major or simply an aficionado of General Electric’s 1950s employee roster. But while you have likely never heard of Dr. Hall, he’s responsible for the low cost of many of your everyday devices.

That’s because in 1955, Hall and his colleagues came up with a way to create synthetic diamonds that were virtually identical in every conceivable way to the real thing. This technology has been used to supply the very diamonds that, for example are so frequently used in things like DVD players and computers and various other things that we take for granted in this day and age, including high-tech and life-saving medical equipment. The man-made diamonds that he helped pioneer in the 1950s led to billions upon billions of dollars not just for General Electric, but also for every other company that copied his life’s work for their own financial gain.

Surely, he must have made out like a bandit for this incredible discovery, right? After all, we’re talking about a chemist who made one of the greatest, albeit little known, discoveries of the 20th century. There’s no way he wasn’t rewarded handsomely and given every scientific prize on the planet, right? Unfortunately for Hall, that was not the case. Instead, his bosses at GE gave him a shiny $10 savings bond for this staggering scientific breakthrough that would literally change the course of technological advancement.

So why was he shortchanged? The folks at GE had just spent more than $125,000 on a fancy new machine that was put to use in its labs, and they gave virtually all of the credit to that machine and, by extension, the company itself over Hall, who had been working toward this discovery for years. They naturally ignored the fact that Hall had been able to duplicate his process without the use of their expensive equipment, because sometimes you apparently just have to justify spending that much money to your shareholders who might otherwise wonder why on Earth you needed to buy the machine in the first place when your lead chemist was able to duplicate the process on his own equipment.

Because getting a $10 savings bond and a little pat on the back wasn’t nearly the credit that Hall deserved, he left General Electric almost immediately after the whole fiasco and took a research job at Brigham Young University. However, his previous work had been patented by GE, so he actually came up with yet another way to create synthetic diamonds. Of course, that method was almost immediately deemed classified by the government, at least for a few months when they presumably realized he had been screwed over enough already and let him finish his research.

Ultimately, Hall helped found his own company that to this day remains one of the leading manufacturers of synthetic diamonds. He died in 2008, though we like to imagine it was in a giant, Scrooge McDuck-like vault filled with mounds upon mounds of synthetic, happily non-GE diamonds.

It would seem to me that this is a story that is probably repeated more than we will ever know. Big business has proven time and again that their first concern is profit, and the employees that helped to bring those profits around are treated very poorly indeed! Oh well, sometimes you reap what you sow! At least Mr. Hall was able to have some success in spite of the big wigs at G. E.

Coffee out on the patio again this morning!


Chickenmom said...

I bet that has happened lots of times! At least Mr. Hall made the right move and made his own wealth!
Patio sounds great - it's 19 here.

linda m said...

It does happen all the time. I personally know someone this happened to. He came up with a great idea and the company took all the credit. Most major businesses today have you sign an agreement stating the Company gets all the patent rights if you should "discover" something. Maybe this is why people don't have much loyalty to big business employers. Glad Mr. Hall moved on. Patio sounds great, 8 degrees here. Have a good weekend.

BBC said...

Most major businesses today have you sign an agreement stating the Company gets all the patent rights if you should "discover" something.

That is correct, even a small business can have the rights to an invention if you worked on it while employed by them.

I once invented a tool and made my employer sign a release before I would show it to him. Later I sold him the rights to it.

JO said...

Just another big wig company screwing over their people who made them great in the first place. What this story leaves out is the name of Mr. Hall's company

I am ready for a refill please.

BBC said...

What this story leaves out is the name of Mr. Hall's company.

He founded Novatek and was a co founder of MegaDiamond, both of Provo Utah.

HermitJim said...

Hey Phyllis...
I guess that you can't keep a good man down for long!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Linda M...
Seems like the big businesses would do better if they shared a bit more with the workers. That way everyone wins!

Thanks for the visit today!

Hey BBC...
Smart move on your part.

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Jo...
Yeah, so many of them do that!

Thanks, sweetie, for coming over today!

Hey BBC...
Thanks for the information this morning.

Linda said...

I have made no earth-moving or important discoveries. However, I worked for a company that had a loud-mouth newbie introduce another employee and I to everyone and all the office machines and systems. Because the other woman and I were so confused for weeks, I decided to make a document "Our Office," that had all this information. Then, I made the same document with blanks so that new information could be written in for future employees if codes changed.

I did this at home, on my time, on my computer.

I offered this document to the loud-mouth and the other employee who went through orientation on the same day. Both were haughty, refusing to even pick up the document I put on their desks. So, I removed the documents and left.

When I was relieved of my position, they both called, demanding I email them the document. Do you think I did?

They told the director of the program that I took home company information. I asked him what use the copier codes and extension numbers and detailed information on how to remove a toner were to anyone not employed there. He said they needed the information that I took from my job.

I told them to sit down and type it up. He said they did not have time. I assured him I did it at home, that if I had done it at work, it would be on the computer at work.

I know that is petty, but some days you have to stand up for yourself. And, at that point, I had nothing to lose.

Good for Mr. Hall! Shame on GE!