One Day at Fair, Isaac
Over my many years working with computers I’ve collected myriad amusing anecdotes, most of which involve some incredible stupidity or other, but one makes my heart burst with pride.
My first job out of college was working for Fair, Isaac and Company, which produced custom computer systems for large financial firms.
The “Fair” in the name referred to Bill Fair, who was our much beloved CEO. He, along with Earl Isaac, the titular “Isaac,” were quite the characters.
Bill Fair was a CEO of the “benevolent despot” variety. His word was law, and he did not suffer fools gladly, but he was also a kindly man as long as you stayed on his good side.
He had a nervous habit of tugging at his shirt collar, Rodney Dangerfield style. I remember when a new employee dropped by his office to helpfully point that out and offer to teach him some stress relief techniques.
Bill instead decided to relieve his stress a bit more immediately by firing him on the spot.
Earl Isaac was the extremely bright man who showed up as your project was 90% complete to innocently ask why you were not doing it this way; what he suggested was invariably much better than your efforts and you usually found yourself muttering under your breath as you reworked your project at that point.
One day a couple of our analysts were reviewing all the particulars of a system we were building with a team of representatives from one of our customers, only to be interrupted by the following unusual question: “This all sounds very good, but just between us men, how can we keep Jews out of the system?”
The two analysts politely excused themselves to relay this remarkable query to Bill Fair, who asked his assistant to fetch this firm’s contract.
Without delay, he marched to the meeting room where he tore up the contract in their faces and told them, “We are not doing business with you. Get off my property.”
Needless to say, this made us love him all the more. Bill and Earl are no longer with us, alas, but I am proud to recount this testimony to his character, and proud to have my 13 years at Fair, Isaac on my resume.