Sunday, October 29, 2006
After my first promotion in Research and Development, I was in charge of a group responsible for formulating laundry detergents. In those days two factors determined the success of a detergent. First, of course, was how well it cleaned dirty clothes and second was how well it sudsed up. This was before automatic washers and back then lots of suds were a virtue. Before long a new machine, the front-loading Bendix, appeared on the scene. Simultaneously, the low sudsing detergent "All" had a market no other popular detergent could touch. Those were fighting words and we had to hustle to develop a competitive product. When we thought we had one, the top brass was invited to watch a demonstration early one morning. My boss’ boss’ boss’ boss was to do the demonstration in the “laundry lab” where we had a big assortment of washing machines. It was a big moment for me because the plan included introducing me to the CEO and the other big- wigs.
Matching loads of laundry were put in our pair of Bendix machines. "All" was added to one machine and our new wonderful formula to the other. Hot water was added to both and the wash cycles started. On schedule, the foam rose to the middle of the widows. Not scheduled, the foam rose to the top of the window of our product’s machine. The suds kept rising and soon were pouring out the little hole on top where the detergent was normally put in. As the suds started to cover the floor around the Bendix, the CEO and his cohorts quietly left the lab and crossed the bridge to their offices.
Such embarrassment does not go down well with the semi-brass who started a big investigation. Our formula easily proved its innocence in more tests where it behaved as we intended. After many days, this was what was discovered. The laundry lab was in a factory building. Down stairs were a variety of filling lines that were staffed by women. Business was good and the lines were running a night shift. Some of the women considered it a perk to bring their family laundry to work with them. During their breaks or before their shift started, they would sneak up to the laboratory and use the machines to do the week’s laundry. Some gal had decided to try out a new Bendix the night before our dog and pony show. She didn’t know that it required a special detergent and grabbed a box of Tide off the shelf. No one thought to clean out the machines in the morning and BINGO! We had a foaming Bendix. I was far enough down the food chain to think it was pretty clever of the production ladies and to laugh about it. But, oh, the inter-departmental wars that broke out. Thus do careers collapse!