My career at PEMCO winds down this week, and although I feel young in mind and spirit, the changes I've seen affirm it's been a long journey – nearly 34 years.
Who sticks with one company that long anymore? Not many.
What began in September 1984 as a side trip on my road to a sought-after newspaper career soon grew into an improbable vocation: me, in a sport coat and tie, writing about business.
After futilely seeking local newspaper work all summer of '84, and with my first child due in just three weeks, I refocused and parlayed my journalism degree into a writing and editing role at PEMCO.
No way could I foresee that over the next three decades, despite advancing into several different marketing roles, my office would move no farther than 50 feet from my first one on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle.
It happened because I found PEMCO to be a caring company, a good place to work that cared for its customers, community, and employees like no other .
But oh, how daily work life has changed, now that I look back.
People smoked at their desks in 1984. A year later it was confined to the cafeteria and parking garage, an interim step toward our no-smoking policy.
PEMCO Financial Center was an alliance of seven companies, including a credit union and a bank. Our conservative dress code called for suits and ties, or sport coats and ties with slacks. No facial hair allowed. Women were required to wear nylons.
My past colleague Chris left Safeco to join us in the late 1980s, and we ribbed him about his wardrobe. Safeco did not allow colored shirts, and every day for years, Chris continued to wear his Safeco-compliant white dress shirts at PEMCO.
By June 2000, business casual was in – no more ties – and some employees sprouted beards. Later, jeans appeared as PEMCO embraced Northwest casual attire.
In 1984, the tool of my trade was an IBM Selectric typewriter. Soon PEMCO bought us NBI word processors, and we created our paper documents on a daisy-wheel impact printer. The company leased its first personal computers in 1985, and a few years later PCs replaced the NBI in our Marketing department. Those early PCs used WordPerfect software.
I earned kudos early on by questioning why PEMCO outsourced its newsletters for typesetting. I had worked for the nation's leading manufacturer of phototypesetters, Compugraphic Corp., and proposed that our Graphics Department buy a refurbished typesetter to fit PEMCO's then-current "do it all in-house" philosophy.
So we bought a blue Compugraphic Editwriter 7500 and hired Jan, who became one of many work pals over the years, to run it.
At that time Marketing comprised 40 employees. Besides Graphics and my Communications & Advertising unit, we had an in-house print shop, and marketing reps who called on school districts, a staple of PEMCO's clientele. In 1999 we embraced a new philosophy – do for ourselves what we do best, and hire the best for the rest. In other words, outsourcing. Marketing shrank.
In 1984, employees could buy gasoline at a pump inside our parking garage, where you could park for $18 per month. Subsidized cafeteria meals cost $2.25. We ate during one of three designated lunch periods: 11:30, 12:15, or 1:00.
Cafeteria coffee was free, and the "good" stuff was Boyd's drip coffee.
Twenty-two years later, I tasted the best coffee in my life at the Espresso Vivace that opened kitty-corner from PEMCO, in Alley24.
Paper was pervasive and essential in 1984. While You Were Out pads. Interoffice envelopes. Rolodexes. Copy machines every 50 feet.
And with all that paper, countless bottles of Wite-Out brand fluid, and correction tape.
Each work task began by filling out a neon-green "job ticket" envelope. Couriers walked them from department to department so that stakeholders could review and edit the text found on paper drafts.
Meeting rooms and offices were equipped with easels and flip pads, corkboards, and overhead projectors. The modern rooms had electronic whiteboards. Cassette tape recorders were common.
Until 1996, we had no email. We spent lots of time leaving and listening to voice mail.
PEMCO served its customers from drive-in claims offices scattered around Washington, until 2011 the only state we served. If you bashed your car, you drove it to get an estimate from adjusters in places like Bremerton, Redmond, Fife, Olympia, Vancouver, Yakima, Kennewick, Spokane, and points beyond.
I really enjoyed creating PEMCO's ads for years, writing copy and directing production for TV, radio, and print – the "big three" mass media back in the day. Not so now in our digital social world.
When I began at PEMCO in 1984, popular nearby eateries included 13 Coins, The Dog House on Denny Way, and three choices down Eastlake Avenue – Daly's Drive-In, Azteca, and the original Red Robin. When our CEO honored employees for jobs well done, it often was at the white tablecloth Henry's Off Broadway on Capitol Hill.
All now are long gone.
Next door to us, the flagship REI store was still a dozen years away, its future site occupied by Overall Laundry and the long-vacant St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
But much at PEMCO remains the same nearly 34 years later.
PEMCO still thrives on a relationship business model. Its commitment to excellence and superior customer service remain.
Employees continue to enjoy a strong benefits package. Though we're reminded we constitute a team, in my Marketing department anyway, it still feels like a work family.
Our company remains a generous philanthropic force. Employees continue to donate their time and talent to charitable causes that raise the quality of life in the communities we serve.
As I move on to my next life chapter, my hope is that PEMCO will continue to honor and cultivate the timeless values that held me here for so many years. Four in particular:
Respect follows fairness.
There is no right way to do the wrong thing.
A good leader is one who is first a servant to all.
Everyone has equal dignity. Only their responsibilities are different.