Growing up in Glenville in the 1960s, it seemed like most everyone's father worked at the General Electric Company.
In reality, that wasn't the case, but there were enough GE dads to make it seem so. In 1970, as I entered my senior year at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, the city's largest business had around 27,000 employees. While the numbers had decreased significantly since World War II - when 45,000 workers headed down Erie Boulevard toward the plant and its iconic GE sign - Thomas Edison's creation was still a great place to work and have a career.
Around that time Lionel Barthold was married and raising a family in Burnt Hills. He had been with GE for almost 20 years and had a great future ahead of him, when he decided to leave the company and start his own business. I write about Barthold and six of his GE colleagues who left prominent positions back in 1969 to start Power Technologies, Inc., in Sunday's Gazette.
In preparing to celebrate his brainchild's 50th anniversary this summer, Barthold put together a 40-page "memoir" that tells much of the story, including his own feelings about taking a risk like leaving a nice comfortable job for what's unknown. In his account, Barthold put it this way,
"When people talked later about having the courage to do such a thing, i couldn't help but reflect on how instantaneous a thing courage is," wrote Barthold, "and what a fine line there is between courage and recklessness. Both often amount to a one-time, irrevocable step into the path of glory or disaster, like pushing off into the ramp of a 90-meter ski jump. If the answer's glory, it was courage. If disaster, recklessness."
Along with reading what he wrote, I had a pleasant conversation with Barthold last week, and I'm happy to say he looks and sounds like he's got another start-up in mind. Don't bet against it.
I didn't work in the newsroom in the 1980s and 1990s when GE's serious decline began, so I never had to deal with those sad days as a reporter. But covering GE's history over the past few years and getting to know individuals such as Ivar Giaever, Walt Robb and others has been a joy. Giaever and Robb also left GE careers but both were a bit older when they started up their spinoffs. Giaever already had his Nobel Prize and had worked for GE for 34 years when he left, and Robb had a 42-year career and had "retired" when he went off on his own. It seems fair to say their GE exit wasn't quite so much the leap of faith that Barthold's was.
Of course, he had people such as Paul De Mello, Dale Hedman, Bob Ringlee, Del Wilson, Dag Reppen and Al Wood taking the leap with him, as did a secretary, Pat Emmer. Their story is quite inspirational.