AM: I worked 35 years in installation, and travelled all over the world. Greece, Turkey, South America, the South Seas: If you can direct-dial anywhere in the world today, it's probably because of Nortel. We'd go to these countries that had primitive telecommunications systems, where the transition to our equipment was so great it wasn't even funny. Some of them didn't even have a dial tone.
FM: During the early sixties, we didn't know what the hell we were doing, to be quite honest. We were going off in all directions. When I joined, there were less than 200 employees in R&D, trying to extend what we knew from Western Electric products and create new stuff. But we didn't have any focus, and so through the sixties our achievements were relatively minor. It took us about a decade to figure things out.
John Tyson(vice-president, advanced technology and corporate design): I was the first industrial designer ever hired by the corporation, believe it or not. We had a whopping annual budget of $13.5 million, and my first project was to design the first Canadian telephone, called the Contempra. It was a worldwide success, featured in New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. I don't think there's a person in Canada who hasn't used one of my products. As a designer, the culture was wonderful. You knew that what you thought mattered, and if you needed help, you asked for it. The one unforgivable sin was not speaking up.
Rudolph Kriegler(vice-president of technology):I arrived at Nortel in 1966 and asked my new boss, "What would you like me to do?" He said, "Figure it out for yourself." That was frightening and pleasing at the same time. He did say that it would be nice if we could do switching electronically rather than by crossbars [the electromechanical, matrix-like switching method that was standard for decades] That led me to my work in silicon. I discovered how to process silicon in such a way that contaminants, which caused problems in transistors, could be eliminated. That turned out to be the basis of many of my patents, and for a while it became the industry standard. In Canada, at that time, there was hardly any research. That breakthrough provided the recognition that Nortel was a place where good stuff could be done. After that, they let me do whatever I wanted.
Anne Clark-Stewart(head of business planning and human resources): It was an absolutely amazing environment. When I first started with the company, 18 years old and straight out of high school, the only piece of mechanical equipment I'd ever operated was my sewing machine. And there I was manufacturing semiconductor components on the assembly line. Eventually I became the only female reporting to a president, one of only six females out of 1,500 executives.
JT: Don Chisholm was my mentor, as Bell Northern Research's first president, and one of the three or four brightest people I ever worked with. He not only had a brilliant mind, he had a management style analogous to Queen Elizabeth's walkabouts. He'd stroll around the office, wearing a cardigan sweater as old as he was. He had an uncanny ability to ask the question that launched a thousand ships, causing a rethink and pulling passion out of people.
Edith Cadzow(executive assistant): When Don Chisholm arrived, he took his jacket off and put his feet up on the coffee table, and you knew things were going to be different. I wanted to get him new furniture for his office because it was falling apart, right down to the foam cushions. He said, "I don't want any new furniture until my people get more space." That's the sort of guy he was. If someone phoned with urgent business, I had to go out into the labs to track him down, because everyone knew that's where he'd be. He'd be looking at what the young engineers were doing, making suggestions, helping them in the right direction. Often they didn't even know he was the president; they just thought he was some guy walking around.
Bob Ferchat(president): Bell was a very tough customer in those days. They'd been our parent company, so they were very demanding. They used to issue hundreds of complaints every day about our products. As a result, we were forced to make them better and better. That was the secret to Northern's success. When we started selling to AT&T, which at the time was the biggest customer in North America, they used to give us impossible specifications to meet. When we did it, they'd say, "Oh my God, they really know what they're doing."