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Thursday, August 16, 2012



It's been a while since we looked at Jim V's adventure in nuclear energy with Sylcor; I'd suggest you follow this link to Part 1 of this story for a refresher.

Jim was introduced to the Sylcor upper management with the following January 20, 1958 memo from Stan Roboff, Director of Marketing for Sylcor:

"I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. James Vadeboncoeur as Manager of Marketing, West Coast region. Mr. Vadeboncoeur joined Sylcor on January 6, and will spend approximately one month with us in the New York area. Subsequently, he will set up permanent West Coast headquarters in the San Francisco area, the exact location of which will be announced within the next few weeks. While in New York, Mr. Vadeboncoeur will be spending as much time at our plant and engineering facilities, familiarizing himself with as many aspects of our production and engineering programs as he possibly can in this time.

Mr. Vadeboncoeur, for the past five years, has been with the Atomic Energy Department of Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh, where he has been closely associated with the Nuclear Fuels Program at Bettis Field. Within the last few years, Jim has been engaged in intercompany relations activities involving the Westinghouse Atomic Power Department and other companies with which Westinghouse does business in the nuclear field.

Jim Vadeboncoeur brings with him a wealth of experience in the nuclear fuel field, and will undoubtedly make a major contribution to our marketing program on the West Coast.

I hope that you all will have the opportunity of meeting Jim during his stay in New York in January and early February, and will afford to him our fullest cooperation and warm welcome on his joining Sylcor."

It would appear as if this new Western Region office was not the only new office set up at that time; a corporate organizational chart handout dated 1/1/58 indicates that three marketing regions existed; a Northern Region, an Eastern Region and the Western Region. It appears as if Sylcor decided upon a major expansion of its marketing at the beginning of 1958 in order to take full advantage of the opportunities that the rapidly expanding field of nuclear energy offered, and Jim, along with his new territory, was only part of that.

What is very clear from the papers on hand is that Sylcor didn't spend much money at all in the setup of this Western Region office. Below is a January 20 memo from Stan Roboff (Jim's boss) to Ed Lynch, of Sylvania Electric Products Inc.'s New York Office (this being one of Sylcor's parent companies) about the move:

"As part of our expanding marketing operations, Sylcor is establishing in San Francisco a Western Regional Office. To facilitate our establishing this office, Bart Wickstrum has kindly offered the use of some space, facilities, and certain personnel, at the Sylvania facility at Burlingame. In return, we would desire to pay to Sylvania Electric Products Inc. a fair rental.

At the moment, our needs encompass a desk and a chair, a filing cabinet, a bookcase, two or three guest chairs, and a telephone. We would also like, if possible, a share of the services of a secretary, and to have available for use the other standard office facilities which you may wish to make available.

We, of course, would expect to base our rental agreement with you on our paying a prorated share of the cost of the space that we use, a part of the secretary's salary, and a reasonable part of the office overhead. Concerning our telephone, we should like to make arrangements for a separate listing in the name of the Sylvania-Corning Nuclear Corporation.

Jim Vadeboncoeur, our Manager of Marketing for the West Coast Region and who will be located at Burlingame, is planning to move permanently to the San Francisco area about the middle of February. Because of this timing, I would hope we could have all arrangements made before this time.

Please let me know what arrangements can be made and whether or not our timing is satisfactory. I should also like to suggest that you contact Garth Edwards, our Controller, concerning the contractual and financial arrangements for the use of this space."

Thus, Jim would have only the most meager resources available to him in a small section of an office facility already established; one desk, a phone, and as much time from one of the secretaries at the office as could be spared by Sylvania Electric. Of course, one thing we don't see in the papers at this time is the fact that one of the secretaries would have to be given the proper clearances to work with this information, which no doubt put a strain on the operation. Jim didn't have a lot to work with starting out - and it never got much better than this.

At the same time, Roboff also sent a letter to Robert Harper, of Sylvania Electric, mentioning the above memo and noting that he and Jim V. would be out in California within two or three weeks. Three days later, Harper responded by saying in part "I am sure we will have no problem in making available to you whatever facilities you will require."

Jim's trip to the West Coast with Roboff not only saw the setup of the office, but also got Jim's feet wet with the competitive scene Sylcor found itself in. The nuclear fuels business was something that both showed great promise at the time, and was highly speculative; a number of companies were spending great sums of money to get into the field and make their marks. (A number would later be shown to be selling at or below cost in order to get an early business stake.)

Jim had a large family back East - a wife and five kids - and a home. And many bills. Jim's papers show the work he had to do being a homeowner, husband and dad during all the upheaval to move the family out to the new west coast location. Of course, all the while, he had to continue to try to set up the business, and while I'm sure he did just that, there is a gap in any Sylcor papers until May 1958, when Sylcor decided to set up a sales commission plan for its Regional Managers of the Marketing Unit. The May 9, 1958 memorandum from Sylcor's Bayside, New York HQ, in addition to detailing how the system for payment worked (too detailed for inclusion here) also outlined the sales territories. Jim's territory included the following states:

Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, California, Western Canada.

This document makes special provisions for what Sylcor called "house accounts," which had continuing orders and thus were not available for commission until sales exceeded a preset yearly value. Sylcor's "house accounts" at that time (May, 1958) were considered as the following:

-Pratt and Whitney fuel development program
-AEC-Washington Materials Branch development program
-AEC Air Reactors Branch fuel development program
-AEC Savannah River Operations Office fuel production program

This was, all things considered, not a very large chunk of the total nuclear fuels business available at that time, and while any number of continued accounts was good, it begins to become a little clearer in the materials in Jim's papers just why Sylcor had decided to assume a more aggressive marketing policy.

Jim would have some early successes, but not many- and as we will see, the nuclear fuel business quickly began to turn cutthroat. And, for Jim, quite challenging.

3:20 PM Eastern 8/16/2012


  1. Does "Pratt & Whitney fuel development program" refer to their half of the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program?

  2. @Mark: Absolutely; and somewhere around here I have a P&W report on part of the project - and I think the name on the cover is "Fox Project." Along with appropriate P&W emblemage, labeling, etc.