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Elevator and Escalator Consulting Engineers

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If in 1950 one tested a group of thirty year old executives, from the lowest level to the highest, for word association we would likely get responses similar to the following: black-white, elevator-Otis, telephone-Bell et cetera.

If we tested a similar group today we might get: black-white but for 'elevator' and 'telephone' we would likely get quite a variety of responses.

This is a reflection of the change not only in the elevator industry but also across the spectrum of commercial and industrial activity.

Nonetheless, although a phenomenon experienced with many brand names, it is with a sense of memento mori that one looks back to Otis in the 1950s.

It would be fair to say that Otis in 1950 was at the top of its game. The Otis logo (a globe with the name Otis superimposed) did indeed represent the worldwide reach of Otis Elevator. It had two major competitors in North America: Westinghouse and Haughton - both of which have since been engulfed in mergers and acquisitions. Internationally, Otis had a mixture of competitors but none that approached the global scope of Otis. Probably Otis was so positioned in 1950 that if it did not have the competitors it had it would have had to create them simply to validate the excellence of the Otis product.

What changed?

Probably everyone who worked for Otis in the 1950s would have a different answer. And quite possibly the ones who are no longer alive - and this would be the majority - are in a position to give a more precise answer. But certainly the conversion of Otis to part of a conglomerate from a company with one major product would have to be considered as either a factor or the key factor.

One of the objective realities leading to the sale of Otis may have been the diverse nature of the share ownership in Otis. At the time, the major shareholder had only a small percentage of the shares and this made it a natural target for acquisition - which indeed did happen with Otis eventually becoming in 1976 part of United Technologies. In 1979 UTC acquired Carrier Corporation and this, together with Otis, provided a balance to the UTC defence portfolio.

It is believed that the global reach of Otis was an incentive for the purchase by UTC, the thought being that this would give UTC more of an international presence. Quite apart from that, Otis has been and continues to be a profitable enterprise.

It could be argued that Otis as a component of UTC is more successful than Otis as a separate entity or it could be argued that Otis as a company solely dedicated to the elevator industry would have more focus and creativity. Certainly there has been some mutual support between the various UTC companies but, from the point of view of Otis perhaps not as much was gained as would have been hoped or anticipated.

Nostalgia can lead to all sorts of misconceptions. It would be unrealistic to picture Otis in 1950 as an organization with total dedication, purpose, brilliant engineers and highly trained staff. Still, it had done many good things and was consistently at the leading edge of innovation in the industry. It would be difficult to make the argument today that Otis has comparable status. There is no question that the Otis of today has a predominant role in the industry but can it find the innovation to match its long history of inventiveness so that word association tests once more will give the automatic response: elevator-Otis.