Our Northwest

Reflecting on 34 years with PEMCO

Tuesday, May 29, 2018by  Jon Osterberg

PEMCO's former headquarters on Eastlake Avenue East in SeattleMy 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.

Jon and his first PEMCO manager, Genie Brier, with Seahwaks coach Chuck KnoxI 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.

PEMCO's Marketing Department celebrates Halloween in 2000Until 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.

Stan McNaughton and Don Young ham it up with Jon on his 25th work anniversaryAs 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.

Farewell, PEMCO!

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Comments on this post

personKaren Andrews05/31/2018 10:38 AM
Wonderful recap of your journey at Pemco.  Enjoy the rest of your journey
personRod Brooks05/31/2018 09:34 AM
Congratulations on a long and successful career with PEMCO Jon. You have been the historian and consummate packrat over the years. I don’t know who they’ll turn to once you’re out the door. It was a pleasure to serve our customers with you. I wish you all the best in your “commencement” to what comes next!
personChris Browne05/30/2018 08:46 AM
What a long strange trip it’s been!  Wishing you the best as you embark on the next one!  Thanks for all you’ve done for us for all these years.
Bon voyage Jon!
personMyrle Carner05/29/2018 11:31 PM
I have enjoyed a great relationship with PEMCO and a huge part of that is because of a man named Jon Osterberg. PEMCO and Jon have been involved with my Crime Stoppers program in just about every way possible. Jon was always so positive towards our program and he always had a great smile for me. Jon will remain a huge asset to the City of Seattle and frankly he will leave a big hole in the community that surrounds PEMCO. Congrats Jon... I wish you nothing but the best for your future. I will miss you!

Myrle Carner
Founder of Seattle Crime Stopper Program
personJoe Bspivitch05/29/2018 10:17 PM
Congrats Jon on an outstanding career with a fabulous company.  Enjoy your well earned retirement.  Hope to see you at a few hydro races; you know how to find me!  -- Joe Bspivitch
personClaudia McClain05/29/2018 09:22 PM
What a touching trip down memory lane, Jon!  Having begun my career at 325 Eastlake in 1978, I remember the dress codes, the endless paper, the committed and hard working co-workers.  You captured the era perfectly,  just as your clear and neighborly communication style has helped educate and inform PEMCO’s valued clients for decades.   I am so grateful for your many contributions.  You will be missed! 

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