I mainly remembered CDC from their Control Data Institute commercials that aired during Saturday morning cartoons. I knew the company had developed computer technology, but that was about it. Jim explained Control Data was one of the most innovative mainframe computer developers and manufacturers in the 1960s-1980s. Seymour Cray was the first of the company’s many superstars, and that name caught my attention. So naturally I thought the book Jim was proposing would be about the technology developed by Control Data. But surprisingly that’s not the book Jim wanted to write. Instead he wanted to create a book that recorded the history of Control Data’s social business initiatives.
So here’s where I learned this book would be in much more controversial territory. As Jim explained, Control Data experienced a major financial downturn in the late 1980s and was eventually split apart and renamed as Ceridian Corporation. This fact was “the elephant in the room” we would need to address. Many people, former employees, past investors, and company observers were all still angry about what happened to Control Data. Abundant reasons and theories exist as to why the company declined, the main one being CDC missed the personal computer explosion. And why did the company miss the PC revolution? A big finger of the blame pointed at the subject Jim wanted the book to explore – the policies and initiatives pursued by the company’s Human Resource function.
As I researched Control Data over the next three years, I found out this “elephant in the room” was a very large, interesting elephant. Many articles I researched and people I interviewed stated the company’s social businesses were good in theory, but did little for the company’s bottom line. Then other articles and individuals would argue the opposite view, that the HR innovations had little to do with the company’s decline. No way around it, this book would be much more than a point by point corporate history. It would need to examine the validity of an approach to corporate ethics and social responsibility.