David “Bud” Menkin was my teacher. He was also, for more than 30 years, my stepfather, mentor, business partner, grandfather, and “Budpa” to my children. He died on Saturday, March 31, 2007, of complications of Parkinson’s disease and old age, at 91. Those who knew him well, mourn the loss of a wonderful friend, a gentle man, a sage, and a fully engaged teacher.
I can still see Bud, on the first day I worked with him, sitting at an assembly table, tinkering with the invention that had been the basis for the growth of his company, Menda Scientific Products. Rather than tell me what he was doing, he engaged me in helping him. Knowing virtually nothing about the product, within a few hours I was trying to improve it. Bud made me feel-even as an absolute rookie
– that I could teach him something about a product he had invented some 20 years earlier. He carefully considered my questions and re-cast my questions as opportunities for both of us to gain a deeper understanding, rather than just giving me answers that, for him, could have been elementary. In no time, I was hooked on trying to understand the inner mechanics of a stainless steel solvent pump, something that had previously seemed boring to me. This process resulted in a modified product which is still selling today-30 years later.
As I worked “the numbers” of the business with Bud, he challenged me to computerize his detailed, handwritten spreadsheets on parts, production, and sales long before this was common. Using a groundbreaking program called VisiCalc, he again helped me to become the teacher, encouraging me to learn by improving upon his time-tested procedures. I needed to fully understand his theories and processes in my efforts to improve upon them. Nothing made him happier than my success.
During WWII Bud worked at Lockheed, assisting in production and assembly to help increase the number of airplanes they manufactured. As the first general manager of Mattel Toys, he created the production process for their first retail sensation, the Jack-in-the-Box. He later developed “fun food” products like Flavor-straws and Jiffy-Pop.
Bud retired from big business to his own small business when he was in his mid fifties, when he worked mostly for the joy of it, and made room to mentor many others in defining and meeting their goals. His most dedicated “students” have used the planning and projection tools he taught them to become giants in the business world. He remained a consultant to many of them far into his ninth decade of life.
Bud learned and taught that a business is a living, breathing organism, and should reflect the personal values of its owners. He nurtured employees at every level, with the knowledge that helping them to succeed in their own lives would ultimately increase their level of commitment. He felt excited when students left to pursue their lives or graduate studies, and they often returned to fill him in on their progress.
When you asked Bud a question, he’d often say, “Let me think about it.” And he did. A day or two later, he’d come back to you with a detailed answer, having looked at your problem from angles you never even considered, even if you had long forgotten that you had asked.
Almost 60 years ago, Bud invented a “dish-type fluid dispenser” as a way to allow his wife to oil his first baby’s bottom using just one hand. The pump became a standard in virtually every doctor’s office in the country. Then Bud developed and patented a stainless steel version, which would eventually be used on nearly every electronic assembly station worldwide. He insisted that every product his company produced carry a lifetime guaranty. My conservative estimate is that some 10 million of his pumps are in use today, all over the world.
Bud taught me that taking care of others, be they employees, vendors, or customers, produces loyalties, good feelings, and business relationships that make work fun. People were happy to do him favors; asked for only when he really needed one and returned freely. He always looked for what was later dubbed “win-win” solutions. Bud never wanted all the marbles, but he always made sure that there were plenty in his bag to take good care of all those who depended upon him.
He was married twice-each time for 33 years-the second time to my mother, to whom he gave a wonderful life, and for whom he was a dedicated companion, friend, and lover. Together they hiked, camped, and tended their beautiful Riviera property. They took care of their many guests with a hospitality and warmth that dubbed their home “The Menkin Motel.”
Bud lived a long, successful, and satisfying life. His hope to make it to the century mark was stolen away by a degenerative disease that sapped him of many of his powers, but not of his gentle and loving nature. He will be missed, but his teachings will continue to guide those of us lucky enough to have been his students.
A memorial service for David “Bud” Menkin will be held at Congregation B’nai B’rith at 1000 San Antonio Creek Road, Santa Barbara, at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, 2007. Directions are available at cbbsb.org.