Michael J. Samek Bequest:
Long-Term Support for CBI
I have before me the record of Michael Samek’s first donation to the Charles Babbage Institute — as well as his last donation. His contributions to CBI form quite a story, stretching over 25 years. We are sorry to report that Michael has passed away, but his bequest to CBI has permanently endowed a special fund that will enhance CBI’s long-term programmatic activities in research, scholarship, and special events.
Michael had a distinguished career in the computer industry, and he drew on his personal experience as an information-technology manager and executive to encourage three CBI directors — Arthur Norberg, Robert Seidel, and myself — to devote appropriate attention to the users of computing. He wrote me in October 2006, shortly after I became CBI director, expressing his experience of having been one of those who “started early service bureaus and/or became ‘MIS directors’ and eventually CIOs” and emphasizing the challenges of “[bringing] a relatively unstable technology into business and industry — affecting the health of organizations not to speak of careers.” Our files have a letter Michael wrote to Arthur Norberg in May of 1986, two decades earlier, expressing a similar concern about the importance of “the early users of computing technology . . . the early enthusiastic promoters who frequently spurred new developmental ideas.” He’d made a similar point in 1972 to the Society for Management Information Systems: “Computer people must ‘stop building systems for systems’ sake’.”1
Michael was born in Vienna, Austria, and came to the United States in June 1939. He enlisted in February 1941 and was assigned to the Army Air Corps, volunteering for glider-pilot training after Pearl Harbor. After initial training in California and Texas, he did field training in Egypt and Algeria and saw combat duty in Sicily and southern France. After the war he stayed in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as Lieutenant Colonel in 1962.2
His wartime experiences led naturally to the aerospace industry where he worked in a variety of engineering positions. Courses at Columbia University prompted his early entry into the computer industry, where he worked in operations, consulting, and management. For many years, Michael was a manager and executive with Celanese Corporation, a Fortune 100 petrochemical company, retiring as vice president of its management services division.
He took special interest in connecting information technology to corporate executives. In a 1974 Computerworld article reporting on a session he’d organized at Info ’74, he praised the expansion in the attendance of corporate managers: “this year 10 of you out of about 100 are corporate executives. I think that’s progress.” At the time Michael was a vice president at Celanese concerned with the “management gap” between corporate executives and data-processing personnel.3 Eight years later, Computerworld profiled Michael’s keynote address to the International Data Corporation’s 1982 Spring Executive Conference. There Michael gave a critical assessment of office automation, noting successes with word processing, but observing many other promising applications (including email!) were hampered by too many “buzzwords” and not enough careful alignment of technology and conceptualization of office work.4
Michael began donating to the CBI Friends program nearly the moment it got off the ground: his first contribution was December 1982 (and our donor records clearly indicate this was a “new” membership). He continued faithfully and regularly, most frequently as an Associate member, over more than two decades. We were saddened to hear of Michael’s passing in 2007. His estate passed into probate in New York state, then was transferred to Israel for final settlement. This process has taken some time, but we are grateful for the very generous contribution that came to CBI as a residual legatee of Michael’s estate. We have arranged with the University of Minnesota Foundation to create the “Michael Samek Fund” with its purpose to be “support of longer-term activities and initiatives of the Charles Babbage Institute, such as funding for special workshops, conferences, CBI research programs, and associated scholarly publications that enhance visibility and scholarly attention to CBI.”
We are grateful to Michael for his support over these many years and, especially, for his intentional donation to CBI through his estate planning.
Thomas J. Misa
1. Edward J. Bride, “How to Succeed in MIS: ‘Identify with Company’,” Computerworld (20 September 1972): 4. ⏎
2. World War II Glider Pilots (Turner Publishing, 1991), p. 135. ⏎
3. “Gap Narrows Slowly But Top Executives Still Shy From DP,” Computerworld (25 September 1974): 9. ⏎
4. Bruce Hoard, “Conference Keynoter Critical of OA [office automation] Scene,” Computerworld (10 May 1982): 16. ⏎