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The Confessions of a Destruction Engineer

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

I sat on a plane the other day with Walter Axe, 99 years old and a happily-retired former telephone company engineer, on the way to see his newest great-granddaughter. During the three-hour flight, Walter regaled me with stories of his life in the Bell System.

He joined the company in 1931, fresh out of the Army. He dug ditches, put up poles (often using teams of horses), ran wire, worked in the switch room, and ultimately ended up in Illinois, where he found himself in, as he describes it, “the best job in the world.” Intrigued, I asked what the job was.

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From Telco Tragedy to Recovery in 28 Days

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

As companies grow large, we have a natural human tendency to declare them incapable of getting out of their own way. We see them as slow, inefficient and plodding dinosaurs surrounded by fleet-of-foot small companies that are so much more capable of getting things done — because of their apparent smallness.

And while there are certainly large companies that suffer from bigness, there are also quite a few that demonstrate amazingness, if you’ll allow me to make up a word (for agility, beyond compare). One of them? The mighty, much criticized Bell System, created in the transition zone between the 19th and 20th centuries.

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