With Honesty And A Coach-Class Ticket, Bob Brodie Becomes An Atari Celebrity
BY AMY H. JOHNSON
There was a time early last year when the editors of START magazine considered creating a "Bob Watch" column, complete with a map pinpointing the cities in which Bob Brodie, Atari Corp.'s manager of User Group Services, had alighted during the month. Each visit would be described in detail by an on-the-spot freelance correspondent: what user-group meetings Bob attended, what Bob wore, what rumors Bob squashed, what equipment Bob brought, what Bob ate, what questions Bob answered, what programs Bob demonstrated, what Bob said about Atari's plans for the STE, the TT, advertising, the Portfolio, the Lynx, the again-vacant presidency. For a published photo of the peripatetic Bob START would pay $25. The model for this flirtation with the cult of personality was Tiger Beat, a magazine pandering to pubescent lust with lavish pictorials of teen-age male celebrities. The would-be inhabitant of START's fishbowl chuckled upon hearing the idea. So did START's editor. Frivolous, however, was not every staff member's opinion of it.
It seemed that half the user-group newsletters received by the magazine that spring featured a front-page story on Bob Brodie's recent visit or an excited announcement of an upcoming one. During his first year at Atari Brodic met with user groups in over three dozen Cities: Chicago; Detroit; Dallas; Houston; Washington. D.C. ; Milwaukee; San Diego; Toronto; Boston; Los Angeles; Pittsburgh; Spokane, Wash.; Newark, N.J.; Rochester, N.Y.; Sacramento, Calif. Santa Rosa, Calif.; Fresno, Calif.; Modesto, Calif. and Asheville, N.C., to name a few. He attended about a dozen trade shows. He maintained accounts on two online services, CompuServe and GEnie. In a company notorious for the unanswered letter and the unreturned phone call, Brodie responded. He earned trust. A reputation for fairness. So when users had questions or concerns, they asked for the gospel according to Bob. Brodie had achieved a local following worthy of a Tiger Beat star.
"We Thank You"
Brodie's Popularity remains high during his second year with Atari, but his novelty has declined. No banner headlines trumpet his arrival, but hundreds of Atari computer owners appear at his demonstrations. By the sheer volume of his appearances Brodie's presence has become commonplace. START magazine no longer discusses plans for a paper trail marking his travels.
|Joining a user group has never been easier
- Bob Brodie's official list of over 250 registered user groups is on your
START disk! You need to un-ARC GROUPARC.PRG from your backup START disk,
then load the file USERGRUP.LST into your favorite word processor or text
editor. It's an ASCII file, so any word processor can load it. Within your
word processor you can read the list, print it (be warned: it's long!)
or use your program's Search function to locate a particular state. For
example, searching for MONTANA will put the cursor at the beginning of
the section of the list with Montana's user groups. Be sure to type in
The list is organized by state. Each entry contains the group's name, address, and other information. If an item is empty, then that information is not available or not applicable. The list is accurate as of Dec. 1, 1990. If you want to update or add your user group to Brodie's list, write to him at: User Group Update, Bob Brodie, Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale CA 94089.
Did you know there's a user group in Kwajalein? Fascinating.
Mementos marking his travels stand on his office shelf. A plaque from the STAR user group of Belleville. Ill., reads, "Presented to Bob Brodie for your devoted support to the Atari user groups. We thank you." A wedding photo and pictures of his three children, usually in a soccer uniform, fill the Opposite shelf. An avalanche of user-group mail tumbles across the desk. He says he reads every piece. Cards and letters decorate the walls. A stack of phone messages sits atop his Mega 4 keyboard. A Megafile 60 hard drive, a Megafile 44 removable drive and a laser printer complete his computer system. A briefcase and a Stacy portable fight for floor space with boxes of newsletters from past years. He's in the process of moving into a real office, with a door he can close on the clutter, but for now he works in a 5-foot-long alcove within a rat's Maze of freestanding partitions. Standing, Brodie easily sees over the top of the partitions. He wears glasses and an analog watch. His beard is close-trimmed, his shirt is button-down, his suit and tie are muted and conservative. He is even-spoken, but not soft-spoken. He chooses his words carefully, and quickly corrects you if you mistake his meaning. The gospel according to Bob is not subject to interpretation.
Bob Brodie rejects my description of him as a cautious man. He prefers words like honest and realistic. He also admits to being visible and accessible. Adjectives of which he has expressed no opinion include friendly, sincere, unruffled and persistent. All nine latter traits serve him well as manager of User Group Services, a job which makes him the instant friend and ally of hundreds of strangers. The first adjective, cautious, is perhaps best replaced by deliberate, because his actions do not demonstrate an avoidance of danger, but, instead, careful planning.
THEY ASKED FOR THE GOSPEL
ACCORDING TO BOB.
When he applied for the job at Atari, Brodie marshaled his forces like a battlefield general. He pointed out to company executives that he was an Atari user; was. in fact, for three years president of his local user's group in Orange County Calif. He reminded them that he had demonstrated Atari products in their booth at the National Association of Music Manufacturers' trade show in January 1989. Speaking before large groups didn't bother him, this self-described high-school "speech and debate stud" told Atari. He asked his friends among the independent Atari product developers to call and sing his praises. And when the choice hovered between himself and two marketing professionals, Brodie hauled out the big guns and asked a friend then employed by Atari for a recommendation. "If I really want something I'll fight for it," he says. Atari hired him, figuring it was easier to teach Brodie the basics of marketing than it was to teach the other candidates to love Atari computers.
The Road To Atari
In August 1989, Brodie headed north to Atari headquarters in Silicon Valley, the high-tech capital about 40 miles south of San Francisco. It was a homecoming of sorts; Brodie was born 36 years ago in Oakland, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. He waited six months before selling his L.A.-area house and moving his family to Northern California. Protestations to the contrary, such deliberation borders on caution.
|A regular column by Bob Brodie will appear
monthly in START, beginning with the March 1991 issue. Brodie, Atari's
manager of User Group Services, will answer user's questions, discuss important
issues within the user-group community and keep readers abreast of Atari's
plans and policies.
If you have questions or concerns that you would like Brodie to address in his column, please send a letter to Bob Brodie, Manager of User Group Services, Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94089. Brodie maintains two online accounts. On CompuServe send mail to 70007,3240; on GEnie his address is BOB-BRODIE.
Watch for Bob Brodie, appearing monthly in START!
Brodie's love of Atari computers landed him his previous, as well as his present, job. Before joining Atari he managed the computer network at Brink's, the armored car company. His transition from armored-car driver to technical wizard, however, was not deliberate. With a multimillion-dollar network languishing for lack of skilled operators, the company sent a vice president of a nationwide hunt for any employees with a computer background. By the time the vice president arrived in Los Angeles from his starting point on the East Coast, he was discouragingly empty-handed. "There were guys more afraid of the computer than going out on the street and facing the possibility of a robbery," Brodie recalls. Spotting Brodie leafing through Computer Shopper in the break room, the vice president immediately transferred him to the fledgling MIS division.
Brodie's background as an Atari hobbyist partially explains his popularity. "There's a real sense of he's one of us," says the president of Michigan's Capitol Hill Atari Owners Society. Leo Sell. He's the guy who turned his hobby into a job. To the users, Brodie serves as "the common man's voice in the corporation," explains John Nagy, editor of Z*Net Monthly.
Despite his mounting frequent-flyer miles, not every Atarian knows of Bob Brodie, especially those who avoid user groups and online services. I asked my friend Greg, an Atari devotee, what he thought of Brodie's accomplishments this past sear. "Never heard of him," he answered. "He's got a name like a superhero, though. Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bob Brodie - fighting for truth, justice and the American way."
Truth, Justice And the
Not exactly a superhero to millions, Bob Brodie is nonetheless a hero to thousands of Atarians, appreciated for his fight for the Atari way. The users say thank you in ways both ceremonial and silly. In addition to the plaque, Brodie keeps a small stash of gold "I Met Bob Brodie" buttons in his office. When he spoke before the Sacramento (Calif.) ST Users club, everyone in the audience wore one of these buttons, courtesy of their local Atari dealer, Jay Pierstorff of Computer Safari. It is experiences like this that has made Brodie possessive of these people, calling them "my" users. In return for their coming, Brodie mounts a real dog-and-pony show during his visits. He takes with him a Stacy, an STE and a Lynx. which were in short supply at the beginning of last year, as well as a Megafile 44 removable hard drive, a Spectre GCR Macintosh emulator, a SuperCharger IBM emulator, a Portfolio and speakers for the sound-enhanced STE. For 1991 he plans to retire the STE, maybe the Stacy. and add a Mega STE and a TT. "I have to tip the baggage guys a lot," Brodie laughs.
COMMON MAN'S VOICE IN
He tries to arrive in town early and meet the user group's officers, maybe over pizza and beer. At the meeting, he usually runs a few demos on the Stacy and the STE, then shows off the Atari's Macintosh emulation. Recently he's been appearing before Macintosh user groups interested in Spectre and the DOS-based Portfolio, which is capable of transferring data to Macintosh machines. No matter what group he's visiting, he leaves a lot of time for questions. This is when his job as manager of User Group Services blurs into his unofficial role as official Atari spokesperson. His audience regards his answers as the gospel. It is during the question period that the qualities of honest, unruffled and sincere serve him well. "I don't get the feeling I'm being BSed," CHAOS President Sell says. Brodie isn't afraid to say he doesn't know, Sell explains, or to say that he's forbidden to answer a question. Brodie gives the best information he has at the moment, according to Sell, and if Atari changes its mind two weeks later, well, at least Brodie dealt with you honestly. Sometimes Brodie catches a lot of flak during his visits from people unhappy with company policy. He can usually make them see the corporate point of view, says Z*Net's Nagy. Sometimes the complaining turns into heckling; if it persists, Nagy says, Brodic can he outright harsh. Regardless, he stays until he has answered everyone's questions, even if they're kicked out of their meeting place and have to move to a restaurant or someone's home. The point of his visit, Brodie says, is to spend as much time with people as possible.
So while he's in town, Brodie also spends time with people at the local Atari dealer, performing his second unofficial role as public relations person. It is in this role that he earns the adjectives visible and accessible. He'll give anyone a few minutes of his time, and plenty of people want to meet him. When Computer STudio of Asheville, N.C., hosted the "Blue Ridge Atarifest." starring Bob Brodie, people came from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. For most Atarians, Brodie is the only company employee they'll ever meet.
The Gospel According To
In describing his first year at Atari, Bob Brodie agrees to my adjectives of happy and fun. "The fun's been going to the shows and meeting the people," he says, giving me the gospel according to Bob. I flash him a skeptical look. He appears unruffled by my response. He nods his head deliberately, stroking his beard. "Yes," he says sincerely. I believe him.