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Lessons in Work for a Lifetime

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Herb Reichlin ’53 has an Antiochian story built in resilience. His education was interrupted by World War II and the after-effects of his wounds sustained in the war, but through three different stints, Reichlin received his Bachelor’s degree and lessons which have served him his whole life.

Reichlin applied to Antioch because his brother, Si Reichlin ’45, had also attended the College. Despite having a very high IQ and being a Mensa member, Reichlin admits he has trouble with rote memory, and his high school grades weren’t good enough for admission to Antioch. That changed after an interview. “The Admission Director, Fressa Baker Inman, engaged me in an argument when I was being interviewed,” he recalls. “She asked me a question, I answered the question in a manner that surprised her, and we went on until all at once she said with alarm, ‘My God, I’ve got two more people waiting. I’ve used up all their time.’ And when I was graduating, Ms. Inman told me that the reason I was accepted was because of the argument I made.”

Not long after, he left to enlist in the Army to fight in WWII, where he was wounded fighting in Europe. Reichlin came back to Antioch in 1946, but had to leave again in 1948 for more surgery due to the wounds he sustained. After marrying in 1951, he returned the next year to complete his degree. Throughout this time, Reichlin’s Co-op and classroom experiences help steer him to what would become his lifelong working passion.

Herb Reichman in 1952. Photo by Axel Bahnsen ’30

Co-op Lessons

“Antioch Co-op was enormously important because I thought I wanted to get into advertising. My first Co-op job was in New York City with an ad agency and I discovered how much I disliked it,” Reichlin explains. Following that disastrous Co-op, he took a Co-op in St. Louis doing market research. “I found out how much lying goes on in market research reports.”

In his market research Co-op, Reichlin had to go door-to-door to do surveys. “It was such an education speaking directly, door-to-door, finding out how lonesome people were. I was a nice-looking young man, and looked safe, and the number of people who were lonesome and just wanted to extend the visit, just invite me in for coffee, and the amount of screw-ups I could make without knowing it,” Reichlin explains about some of what he still carries with him from the experience. “So from then on, since I use data, it caused me to be aware of the limitations of data. It all depends on how legitimate the company and how legitimate the survey people are, and if they are paid very little money, no one checks what they turned in.” While working in coding for the research, he found out that if something didn’t look clear, they just decided what code to use. “So, that stayed with me, so that when I read survey results, I’m pretty suspicious.”

Another Co-op also happened to be in St. Louis. “I came to St. Louis for surgery and then got a Co-op job at Famous-Barr for Christmas. And learned a lot about Christmas sales.” That wasn’t all he learned, though. Reichlin explains, “You have no idea how ignorant you are until you find out how much you don’t know. One of the greatest ways to find out is to get out into the real world and a Co-op job that takes you out into the real world will make you head and shoulders above about just about any other graduating senior from any other college in the country. For example, that simple sales job at Famous-Barr department store watching the other people, how they sold, how they approached people, and the variety of people who came in—you don’t realize how sheltered you can be as a teenager growing up and just going from high school to college. The Co-op job is an incredible way to expose you.”

Classroom Lessons

“I would have been awful,” Reichlin replies when asked whether he would have had the same trajectory at a different institution. “Antioch had small classes and a completely different approach.” This included a particular grading system in a sociology class, where the professor “graded on how many pages you read. He had an entire list of books and if you read 5,000 pages, you got an A. If you read 4,000 pages you got a B. 3,000 you got a C. And it was all Antioch Honor System. I remember arguing with one of the kids in my dorm about Henry Ford, and I came in, and told the professor about it. He immediately assigned me two different books to read, and one book was extolling Ford and the other book was damning Ford. And both of them were completely correct. That memory stayed with me the rest of my life, realizing there aren’t any absolutes. It taught me what prejudice was too, in that you could make a blanket damnation without being able to examine what you’re damning and find out what else is there.”

Another lesson Reichlin learned was while he was a teaching assistant. “I remember being told by Billy Goetz [Chair of the Department of Business Administration] that when I did comments when I was grading, that it would be guaranteed to be taken the wrong way. And that was a real lesson. Something that is obviously neutral to you can be taken as an insult by someone else. That was another Antioch lesson that saved me in my future life.”

Buzz groups, started by Antioch College President Douglas McGregor, also helped Reichlin implement change later in his career. As an example, Reichlin illustrates: “Let’s say Antioch College is having a problem. Let’s say your staff has 20 people in it, and you know what your goals are, but you aren’t achieving your goals and you’re spending too much money. Well, a buzz group would be to take no more than five people who are clerical-level, no management, and they are a team that will meet to recommend changes in what is being done and those changes become an absolute requirement to implement.” Starting at the worker level helps implement useful change. “I learned at Antioch and Co-op jobs that the worker level sees things that management doesn’t see.” While doing consulting work, Reichlin would start with the lowest level, such as the shipping clerks, and wouldn’t speak to a single manager until he had interviewed the lowest level staff.

He adds of his experience on campus and Co-op, “You learn the lowest level, just as I did on this Market research and selling suits at Famous-Barr, what the real world is, so Co-op jobs are wonderful for that. Even if it is just a crud job, getting the crud job is to experience what a crud job is.”

Systems and Procedures

When he came back to Antioch after being in the Army, he took a course which changed his career trajectory. “I’d quit school and enlisted in the Army in ’42-’44, and fought overseas in the ETO, was wounded, came back in ’46, and had my first class with Billy Goetz called Systems and Procedures, and it was what is really called an ‘ah-ha!’ experience.” He had found what he wanted to do. “It was how to design things to get them done, and it included everything: the psychology of the people, organization of an organization, the physical nature of what you’re doing—everything, soup to nuts—a complete walking into a situation and making it work. And that’s exactly the way my brain worked, it just included everything when I looked at anything and that’s the sort of work I did for the rest of my life.”

In his first job after graduation, Reichlin put what he learned to work. He and his wife moved west. “When I was graduating, because of the extensive hospital record, I couldn’t get a job. My wife was a Catholic, all the way, I was brought up Orthodox Jewish, mixed marriage. I thought, ‘Let’s escape and just go to the West Coast, and there wouldn’t be any family interference.'” Once there, he wanted to get into computers but couldn’t find anyone to hire him. They then traveled to San Francisco, where Levi Strauss hired Reichlin.

“My first experience with doing what Billy Goetz taught me was being assigned on Saturday putting out the sample line of men’s Western shirts,” he says. They had the shirts laying out in 46 piles on a long table. “I immediately saw how bins could be built along the wall,” Reichlin explains. On Monday, he called around and found out that there was a company making label printers for shirts with a newly opened San Francisco office. “I got the man, went over the requirements, did a report like I would for Billy Goetz, and brought it in to the VP, told him how pissed off I was at working Saturday in such a dumb way and this way it could be better. And what happened was they said, ‘ah-ha!’ and Levi Strauss bought the hardware and changed their ticketing system, authorized me to get the bins built, and from then on whenever Levi Strauss needed something done, they gave it to me.” This included an undercover operation with his wife, which ended up forcing Sears Roebuck to stop trying to copy the Levi’s logo.

Reichlin and his wife moved east to Connecticut, and despite being told by a personnel company that insurance agencies wouldn’t hire Jews, through San Francisco connections to a now VP at IBM, Reichlin was hired as a systems analyst for Mass Mutual. “I needed a job, and he told me that Mass Mutual was getting a brand new computer system, the first random access to be sold. And they wanted to put policy issue on it, so he recommended me as the project manager.” Reichlin had been told that insurance companies would be big adopters of computers. “With the recommendation of the IBM VP, I was interviewed, given a test, and then designed and implemented the system.”

What he learned on campus and on Co-op had a profound impact and guided his work and his life decisions throughout his long career. “Antioch stayed with me for my entire working life. It wasn’t casual,” he sums.

Community Connections

“Antiochians to me are a real—I don’t know how to explain it—a real bonding group. I was with a company called Sanders Data Systems and the director called me in to say we were losing our account with National Cash Register (that was a Dayton outfit at the time) and I was to meet the representatives of BP and two engineers who were coming in to complain about the quality of the hardware they were getting.” Reichlin asked his wife to join them for dinner that night to make the meeting less tense. “Turns out one of the engineers was an Antiochian, and it was an immediate change from an antagonistic, argumentative-prone dinner to one of, well, let’s see what we can do to solve this problem.” While meeting with the director of Sanders Data Systems the next day, they requested that Reichlin be put in charge of straightening out the problem. “I found out our production manager and QA manager were cheating on their quality control. I was able to straighten that out, and after that I visited NCR a few times, and each time I thought about Antioch just being miles away.”

Reichlin has found similar connections with other Antiochians over the years, from those who were his peers to younger Antiochians. “I haven’t been able to return to Antioch, but some years ago, I came to a Reunion, and it was a dinner with a group of Antiochians. The person next to me had just graduated and the person across from me was just as old as I was, and I  listened to them talking and I just could not believe that if I closed my eyes I would not know who was the recent graduate. It was a wonderful experience.”

“I belong to the Unitarian Fellowship in Durham,” Reichlin adds of another unlikely Antiochian encounter, “and we were having a picnic. At the table it came out that two of the women there were Antiochians. Never knew that! When they found out that I was an Antiochian, immediately the whole world changed for them and the two of them put me on an appeal to when I retired and moved to a retirement place, to please come to where they live.”

For Reichlin, his Antioch experience was perhaps quite different from many, broken into three different periods in his life, interrupted by war and the impact of the wounds he sustained. But throughout this education, the lessons and wisdom he gathered from his professors, his classroom learning, and out-in-the-world Co-op experiences shaped him and guided him. “There are so many things I did that made me a different person because of Antioch—just incredible,” Reichlin concludes. “But it was the three stays: coming in, but after the Army I was so different, and coming in after being married and living those years, so different that each time. Antioch was a different place but made me enormously grateful for having gone, what I learned.”

To celebrate his 95th birthday and the impact of Co-op on his life, family and friends of Herbert Reichlin ’53 have donated to the Co-op program in his honor.

Header photo: Herb Reichlin with his great grandson and grandson

Published in the Fall 2020 issue of The Antiochian, a magazine for alumni and friends of Antioch College.

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