This is the part 2 of the personal page of Bill (Bolesław) C. Biega
We arrived in Detroit just after New Year 1951. So as not to be a burden on our friends, I immediately started looking for work. I was very surprised how many job offers I received in response to about 20 letters that I sent to companies chosen out of the Detroit Yellow Pages. For several months I worked as a draughtsman at the electrical equipment manufacturer "Square D". Then I replied to an ad in the newspaper and received a job as a design engineer in the Specialty Transformer Department of General Electric in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There I quickly advanced to section leader. The photo shows how engineers worked before electronic calculators and computers. All calculations were made on slide-rules and mechanical adding machines, all design work written out by hand on paper.
Our next three children, Annette, Philip and Eileen were all born in Fort Wayne. There too we bought 3/4 acres in a southern subdivision called Langford Oaks and built a ranch style home.
However, I had a desire to work in sales, and felt that my knowledge of languages and European experience would be attributes for a position in international sales. I made several overtures at General Electric, but they were rebuffed.
>When a small company in Chicago that manufactured transformers offered me the position of Sales Manager, I accepted. We bought a house in Deerfield, a suburb north of the city, in 1959. For a while the company prospered and grew, but then the rapid expansion exceeded its financial resources and the company became bankrupt.
In 1963 I was fortunate to get a new job quickly. I became Engineering Director for Hevi-Duty Electric, a division of Sola Basic Industries, directly under its president Harry Eikenberry. The transformer plant was then located in Watertown, Wisconsin. For a while I lived there in a room during the week, returning home to Deerfield for the weekends.
at the end of 1964 I was given the opportunity to take the same position in a still larger division of the company, Sola Electric, located in Elk Grove Village, a western suburb of Chicago. As at Hevi Duty, my major purpose was to improve efficiency by streamlining operations through increasing standardization and matching development projects to the needs of the market.
Sola Electric also had subsidiary companies and licensees in other countries so I got a chance to travel. As Sola's representative in NEMA (the National Electrical Manufacturers Association) I ended up heading the USA delegation to the International Electronic Power Supplies Standards committee (IEC-SC22E). I attended standards meetings in Paris, Zagreb and Stockholm. In addition I was involved with the Industrial Applications Society of IEEE and for several years was Meetings Chairman and was involved in organizing the annual meetings in various cities.
I found that I had a natural talent for international negotiations, so when an opportunity arose to join the Sola Basic International division, I applied. In March 1971 I started there, directly under Vice President Jim Hosler, with responsibility for sales of all Sola Basic Industries products in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I was responsible for sales of 12 different divisions manufacturing a wide array of electrical and electronic products.
In particular I devoted much attention to the opening of new markets in the Near East as well as eastern Europe where the chains of Communism were slowly loosening. Within a couple of years I had gained significant contracts in Greece, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Poland and Bulgaria. To reduce the time spent traveling across the Atlantic, I established a new base in Athens which was less than two hours flying time from the most important markets in my area of responsibility. I set up the office there in the April 1976.
Living in Athens and running an office there in the 70s was very interesting but also frustrating, more on that in a separate article. We rented an apartment close to the sea in Paleo Faliron. All our family, except Mark visited us there as did many friends. I traveled at least every other week all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Suddenly Sola Basic was bought by General Signal Corporation, who decided that an International Sales operation was unnecessary! Many of the old Sola Basic divisions felt that they needed the assistance of the Athens office and covered the cost of its operation for a year. But, without any central direction in the U.S., everything fell apart. I closed the office and we returned to Chicago in February 1979.
Fortunately I soon found another job as Manager of International Sales for a small company manufacturing highly specialized electronic instruments - Dranetz Technologies in Plainsfield, New Jersey. The most popular of these instruments were unique voltage transient detectors. With the full support of the company's founder, Abe Dranetz. I was able to quickly expand foreign sales until they became 1/3 of the total, and became Vicepresident-International Sales. During this time I traveled all over the world, except mainland China and central Africa.
Some of my travels, particularly to the rapidly developing Mid-Eastern countries are described in other pages, for example Saudi Arabia. In the earlier years travel to these countries was quite difficult and required living under very spartan conditions. There were a few scary moments such as a visit to Beirut when the civil war engulfed it.
Many American salesmen never spent much time in the countries they visited, they always hurried home. On the contrary, I enjoyed my work as an international salesman, because I took advantage of free time and weekends to get to know the countries and their people, as seen in the photo below.
We sold our house in Deerfield and purchased the house in North Brunswick, where we still live.
In 1987, at the peak of its expansion. the company was sold to a British conglomerate. I decided to cash in my chips and retire from corporate life. I purchased a 36 foot (11m.) sailboat "Syrena"
and sailed all over the Caribbean. I had always been interested in sailing and previously I had had other sailing boats - "Kochanka" on Lake Michigan in the early 1970s - "Neries" while in Greece 1976 to 1979. At other times I chartered yachts to sail with family and friends on various waters around the world. For stories of some more interesting cruises, see favorite sailing destinations.
In 1993, reluctantly I sold "Syrena" and settled down at home to concentrate on consulting, writing and developing this and other web-sites. I have still sailed and traveled, obtaining material and photos for inclusion on this web-site.
In the summer of 1993 Peter became ill with Leukemia. After fighting bravely for many months, in January 1994 he received a bone marrow transplant from sister Annette in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research hospital in Seattle. February 19 he died with all the family at his bedside.
All my children are married and gave us 12 wondeful grandchildren:
Aaron, Troy and Jason - sons of Mark and Katie Heckenberger (State College, PA).
Shawn and Brian - sons of Peter and Jeannette Gilbert (Oakland and Sacramento, CA).
Brandon and Matthew - sons of Annette and Mark David (Tucson, AZ).
Ryan and Monique - children of Philip and Panny Poon (Redondo Beach, CA).
Erik, Jeffrie and Raymond - sons of Eileen and Steve Stys (East Windsor, NJ).
For more family details, see my Family History page, and my
book "Thirteen Is My Lucky Number", which describes my experiences in the war years, in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, in prison camp, and then as an emigrant to the United States.
You may also see a selection of personal family photos and from recent journeys in bcbphotos.html.
A printable version of both parts is available at billbiega-print.pdf.
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Return to Part 1, early years.
Return to Table of Contentsfor other History Essays.