By Nick P. Miller
I worked at BBN from 1973 to 1981. At the time, I didn’t know how much that experience would affect my life – my career, yes – but also the many friendships and experiences I would have. You can go on the web, and find as much as you could want about Leo and BBN, so what I want to briefly describe here is my personal experience at BBN, and how that laid the foundation for the rest of my career, which will soon draw to a close. I view this as a tribute to Leo and the company that he, Dick Bolt and Bob Newman created.
I developed my work habits, my sense of professionalism and the paramount importance of quality, and responsiveness to client needs. Some say BBN had an academic environment. I think it was better. The people I worked with were not competitive with each other, but only wanted to provide the best solutions to client problems. Importantly, the results of our efforts were not “academic” but were practical solutions that helped clients sleep better. We worked together in informal teams, the constitution of which changed depending on the challenge at hand. There was no question that anyone could contribute ideas for solving knotty problems. I loved that – still do.
Because of those experiences, Andy, Bob, Carl and I founded a company that was in our own image of the best of BBN. We worked together to bring in jobs, hire people, mentor the younger, less experienced employees and, as we wrote in our first brochure, “provide an environment that encouraged personal and professional growth.” Luck played a roll, I admit. When we began, “micro-computers” were just becoming available and made our tiny company look much bigger in the quality of the materials we produced. Competition was less at the time as well. We believed, do the best work you can (constrained by schedule and budget), and the work and money will come. And so it did.
The last two times I saw Leo were at conferences. At the 2005 Noise-Con / ASA meeting in Minneapolis, I was eating lunch in the hotel dining room and saw Leo in line waiting in for a table. I caught his eye, and waved him over and we had lunch together. As we sat, I asked what interested him the most these days and he said, not surprisingly, concert halls. He talked about some of his recent experiences and ideas. I said he should stop by HMMH and talk about his work. He replied (at 91 years old – little did we know) that he’d been over a few years ago, and we should wait a few more years until he had something new to talk about.
The second and last time was at the 2014 ASA meeting in Providence. Wherever he was, people flocked around him to talk. I was hoping to catch him alone because I wanted to convey a personal thanks. It was after lunch and I was wandering, wondering what session would be of most interest to me, when I saw Leo alone with his walker making his way to the elevators. I hurried over to him. “Leo, Leo”. He stopped to greet me. I said, “You probably don’t remember me, but….” He said “Sure I do Nick.” “I just want to say that my time working at BBN was wonderful and led me to a fantastic career and I want to thank you.” Obviously, he expressed pleasure with my compliment. I meant every word of it.