Monday, November 14, 2011

RIP Evans Erikson

by Ben Small

It's not everyday one receives a telephone call from an Undersecretary of Treasury. Even rarer when he tells you that if you persist in your notified defiance of a Treasury Department Iranian assets seizure order, he'll tell the New York Times you're endangering the lives of U.S. hostages held in Iran.

Jimmy Carter's administration had just upped the ante.

My former employer made aircraft parts and components, lots of different ones, used in many different aircraft systems, some of them integrated to system-level; parts, components and systems critical to aircraft manufacture, flight and repair. Indeed, at the time, we owned the only technology capable of converting the variable power of an aircraft engine into electrical power required for all other flight systems.

In other words, we had a lock on the market in aircraft electric power generation. But since it was a technological monopoly, protected by patent rights, the exclusivity was legal. If you flew a jet, you had our equipment on board. You couldn't fly without it.

And Iran Air, an Iranian government-owned commercial airline, owned jets, lots of them. Repairs and spare parts came from us, from our French subsidiary. And, turns out, Iran Air had lots of repaired or purchased product on hand, already paid for, in France, ready for shipment.

Iran Air needed its parts. They were grounding aircraft without them.

Trust me: Instructing our French sub not to ship did not make me popular in France. Each morning, I stared at my Gillette wondering the origin of its inventor.

Our French sub was mad, hopping so. The French government had decreed it would not honor Carter's seizure order, and they'd reminded our French management that under French law, refusal to honor a contract is a criminal offense. Our employees were in a pickle.

And I'd tried to avoid this problem. Consulting with my boss and our CEO, Evans Erikson, I'd written the Secretary of Treasury, explaining our French problem and asking for a window -- just ten days -- in which to ship our product. I explained that Treasury had issued its order with no advance warning. I'd warned that our French employees were subject to prosecution if we honored Treasury's seizure.

The phone call, some weeks later, was Treasury's response.

I beat a path to our CEO's office. Evans Erikson, the inventor of many of our products. A tall, handsome, commanding man, with an intellect that could astound, Evans Erikson was Chair of the Aerospace Industries Association and on the board of the Machinery and Allied Products Institute, both leading international industry groups. A man of substance.

Together, we called the Undersecretary back. It was a long conversation. Summary: They'd put us in a spot, with no window and no way out, and if they didn't rectify this, we'd do so ourselves. We gave them ten days notice of our intent to ship, and I followed the ultimatum up with a confirming letter.

The clock ticked...

On the morning of the tenth day, as I arrived for work, ready to tell our French sub to ship, the Treasury Department amended its regs and provided a ten day window for those with Iranian property on hand, paid for and required by contract to ship.

We shipped and never heard another word.

Evans Erikson died last week. I admired him greatly. He will reign long in my memories.

1 comment:

Jaden Terrell said...

He sounds like a good man, Ben, one who was willing to do the right thing even when it was hard.