The Scottish PC legend

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Happy birthday the PC – 25 years old.

Back in 1995, when I first started looking at stories and narrative in change contexts, I was working at IBM’s manufacturing site in Greenock, Scotland. At the time, it was manufacturing all the PCs for Europe, Middle East and Africa. The site had the most amazing mythology and legends to support its existence and culture, often very separate from other parts of IBM.

One of the first stories I was told when I got there was this one. In 1981, the site was manufacturing punchcard machines and other mainframe accessories – and to many people the writing was already on the wall for these machines and hence the site’s own future. So they began to lobby the Raleigh team that was working on this new-fangled gadget called the PC – could they build the machine for Europe?

No, was the blunt answer. No-one was being shown anything of this new machine, and the plan was that the Raleigh operation would build all the machines for the worldwide market (which was, of course, unknown). The Greenock management didn’t take that sitting down.

After much lobbying, they managed to persuade senior team members from Raleigh to at least come and visit Greenock to talk about it, despite never having seen a PC, far less being allowed to know much about what goes into one.

When the Raleigh management walked into the boardroom that day, they were greeted with two PCs sitting on the desk in front of them. One labelled “Built in Raleigh, cost $$$”, the other identical machine labelled “Build in Greenock, cost $$”

Once the Raleigh team had picked their jaws up off the floor, negotiations could start…