Adtran and Jack Daniels - Quality the Old Fashioned Way

Just a quick afterthought about the Adtran analyst event from last week. In my earlier post, I included some narrative and photos about the various tours we got of their production and testing facilities. These tours were really great, and I can't recall ever getting to see so much of the inner workings of companies I follow.

Mind you, Adtran is on the high end of vendors who manufacture a lot of products (1,700 different ones if you can believe it), most of which are made right there in Huntsville. Only high volume/low margin products are made offshore. These days, most companies are software shops, so there isn't much to see. Adtran does a lot of software too, but most of what we saw was bona fide product manufacturing and all types of testing facilities.

Anyhow, I wasn't the only one struck by how accessible all of this was to us. While I was pretty much the only one taking pictures as well as blogging, they were happy to have me do this. I asked in advance if it was ok to take photos, and they were most obliging. Not only that, but we didn't have to pass through a maze of security or sign any confidentiality documents. We were quite free to move about, most all the doors were open, and I don't recall seeing ID badges on anybody.

This sure felt like a throwback to a more innocent time, and that openness really stuck with me. I'm not sure if that's the particular culture of this company, or if it's simple Southern hospitality, or maybe they're just not used to having a lot of visitors. Whatever the reason, it was a treat to be so up close to their everyday operations, and I certainly felt they had nothing to hide. To me, that's a virtue, as well as a sign of quiet confidence in the quality of their products. I think it also goes a long way to explaining why the company continues to grow and stay profitable. And in a humble way, it's a great example of the "Made in the U.S.A." quality that used to be a hallmark of America's economic strength.

Just when you thought I was done, there's a Part 2 that stands in total contrast to this, and I couldn't help but bring these story lines together.

So...after the event wrapped up Thursday morning, some of us opted to take the tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. I couldn't pass that one up - who knows when I'll ever get to Lynchburg, Tennessee again, right? The tour was a lot of fun, and you sure come away with an appreciation of what goes into making whiskey. Of course, the biggest irony is that Lynchburg is in a dry county - apparently they were the first to go dry during Prohibition. While you get to see every step of their time-honored tradition of making Jack Daniels, at the end of the tour, all you can do is smile. If you want to take home a bottle - well, you'd best drive over to the nearest county for that. Only in America, right?

Anyhow, the point of all this is how different this tour was from Adtran. We had a great tour guide - Ron - who gave us a well-honed, but folksy narrative of their history and process that makes Jack Daniels so special. While the basic ingredients are common to all types of whiskey, their secret sauce has three elements. First is water, which has always come from one source - Cave Spring - and as we were told, this water is iron-free. Second is charcoal filtration, with the charcoal made onsite. Third is the barrel, which they also make onsite. Apparently, this is the only distillery going that still makes its own barrels.

The tour was fascinating, but unlike Adtran, they make it very clear that no photos are allowed. As simple as the ingredients are, they don't want the world to see the inner workings and process that goes into making Jack Daniels. I'm sure they would argue that Jack Daniels - in its own subtle way - is just as complex as anything Adtran makes, and clearly they want to keep it that way. I guess the moral of the story is don't be fooled by something that looks simple and easy to do.

With that said, I took photos where permitted, and here's a few to share with you for posterity.

How can you not be relaxed here?

The secret sauce troika - Cave Spring (behind Ron), charcoal, and the barrel (well, at least one I could photograph)

Adtran Analyst Event Highlights

Well, it sure has been a great event here at Adtran. I'm not alone being impressed with how much high tech activity goes on in Huntsville, which is also the birthplace, more or less, of the U.S. space program. Very impressive, and am sure it's a great place to live and work. You don't have to look far around here for people or resources touting all the wonderful things about Huntsville, and that's all I'm gonna say.

This is Adtran's second analyst event, and many of us are first-timers. It's been a mutual learning experience, and it's all good. We're learning a lot about Adtran, and they're learning a lot about how to engage the analyst and media communities. There were some newsworthy items here - one of which involves a Canadian company - but we're under embargo now, so you'll just have to be patient.

Otherwise, we got good updates on both their enterprise and carrier divisions, as well as mobile backhaul, which is a real strength of theirs. For many of us, their focus on Unified Communications was the main event, and we got into a deeper dive session with them about this yesterday afternoon. On that note, there are 4 of us here from the UC Strategies fold, and we'll be doing a podcast recap of the event on Monday.

Lots of good information here, and they've looked after us well. I'll share a few photos with you now for a better sense of this.

Digium is the other big name tech company most people associate with Huntsville, and I got a quick visit with them before things started with Adtran. There'a a lot of history between these companies, and depending who you talk to, it's not all friendly.

If you've been to their building, you'll know what this is.

Got a quick lab tour...

Back to Adtran. Am not sure why they're calling this a press event, when most of us are analysts. I've shared my two cents with them about this, and I've got a feeling the name will change a bit next time around.

Morning sessions...

Lab and manufacturing facility tours...

Does your desk look like this?

IPTV testing...

Production floor...

Wall 'o phones - neat, huh? If they all rang at once, which one would you pick up first?

My favorite - the semi-anechoic chamber. That's a fancy name for a purpose-built space that tests for radio wave interference. Something like that, but if you're curious this might help. It looks like something out of Kubrick's 2001, and you don't get to see things like this every day - very cool.

After the day wrapped up, we went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for a tour and dinner. This is quite the place, and it doesn't take long to get an appreciation for what the space program has contributed to the U.S. in so many ways. It's getting harder these days to find genuine points of pride about the U.S., but this sure is one of them. Definitely worthwhile.

Lots of history here - doesn't matter how old you are or how much you remember about what the space program accomplished, esp in the Sixties.

Saving the best for last. We had dinner under a Saturn 5 rocket. A real one. This thing is huge - looks about the length of a football field. I'm told this is just one of two left in existence - the other is at Cape Canaveral. So, if Saturn 5 rockets and ribs are your thing, it doesn't get any better that this. Thanks Adtran!

Next Stop - Huntsville, AL and Adtran

I thought I was done traveling for the year this month, but there's one more trip now. Adtran was nice enough to invite me to their analyst update event, and it's a company I've been meaning to learn more about, so it's good all around.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Huntsville, Alabama, which is where Adtran is based. That's a new stop for me, but my second time to Alabama. Years ago I had a client in Birmingham, but that's worlds away from Huntsville apparently. The locals refer to the Gulf facing side of the state as LA - Lower Alabama - am not quite sure if that's going upmarket or downmarket, but I'll find out soon enough. Forrest Gump happened to be on TV this weekend - couldn't resist watching it as a tune-up for trip down South. Life really is like a box of chocolates, but I like 'em all, and I'm sure I'll enjoy Huntsville just fine.

Supercomm - Night 1 - House of Blues

Following my Forrest Gump happenstance wrong turn into Gazastan, Chicago-style, I ended up at the House of Blues for a couple of Supercomm parties. Downstairs was sponsored by my Metaswitch (note the new spelling!), one of the companies I've been close to for a long time; and upstairs was sponsored by Adtran. I enjoyed both for different reasons, and it was great to see so many people out in one spot having such a good time. Haven't really enjoyed live music this much at an industry event since the VON days, and I'm sure many of you will would feel the same way. So, a big thanks to both Metaswitch and Adtran for hosting great parties and picking a great venue.

Downstairs - local blues band, who were pretty good, but I didn't catch their name. Here's what made this really fun for me. When I walked in, they were playing Five Long Years, a Chicago blues classic. Guess what - that was the same song we played at the Interactive Intelligence Battle of the Bands event a couple of weeks ago! How's that for good timing? I was part of an ad hoc band I dubbed the Dead Circuits, and with a tiny bit more rehearsal, we would have sounded just as good! What also made this moment fun was seeing the vocals on Five Long Years being done by Neil Holcomb of Metaswitch - second on the left.

The hostess with the mostess - Metaswitch's Elaine Perez...

Upstairs at Adtran's party - much bigger room and a much bigger band. This band was really great too, and they knew how get people on the dance floor. For those of you who can remember back to VON's heyday, you'll enjoy this post from one of Jeff's great House of Blues parties (when the show was called Globalcomm), featuring the-greatest-cover-band-on-the-planet, the Herding Cats.