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Don Yates Biography

Years of Development

The evolution of Don's knowledge, ideas, and experience has come through a number of multi-year periods comprising over fifty years of development. As described below in chronological order they are:

  • The Stanford Years 
  • The Army Years 
  • The Harvard Business School Years  [read]
  • The Bechtel Years  [read]
  • The UCLA Years  [read]
  • The Consulting Years  [read]

The Stanford Years

Don started preparing for his first career, in the engineering/construction business, by working as a carpenter's apprentice during the summer before college. As it turned out, it was also his first course in organization science as it gave him first-hand understanding of organizations from the "worker's" perspective. At the end of the summer he entered Stanford University.

Four years of engineering courses provided valuable training in orderly thinking as well as facility with numbers and problem solving. All of these have proved valuable for working and consulting in the business world. In addition to academics, he played soccer all four years and was co-captain his last two. He was also stage manager for two Spring Shows and Business Manager for Rams Head, the student drama group. He graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering with Distinction, Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering honor society, and Phi Beta Kappa.


The Army Years

Two years in the Army followed, one of which was spent in Thule, Greenland with the Corps of Engineers managing civilian contractors. Military experience is, of course, valuable exposure to a very specific type of organization. The Thule period also allowed him to learn about how people deal with very special conditions.


The Harvard Business School Years

Don entered the Harvard Business School in the fall of 1959 after his release from the Army. Although he did not know it, he was about to be introduced to organization science and to begin his "formal" education in it. This was because the Business School introduced him to the human side of business, something his all-engineering work at Stanford had not exposed him to at all. He became what was called an "Ad Praccer."

This somewhat derogatory name came from the title of a first year, required course, Administrative Practices, often called these days Organizational Behavior. Those who were totally taken by this course and went on to pursue the subject during their second year were called Ad Praccers.

In the second year he took the only two half-year organizational courses offered. The rest of the business school curriculum built a strong foundation for understanding and working with top-level clients in all functional areas. He emerged from the "B" school with an MBA with Distinction and designation as a Baker Scholar, those in the top five percent of the class.


The Bechtel Years

Don joined Bechtel Corporation upon graduation from HBS in 1960. The next ten years saw he and his wife and their growing family moving many times up and down the West Coast and to the East as he received a broad range of experience including:

  • Project Manager - Refinery and Chemical Division
  • Corporate Studies - Corporate Overhead Project Team
  • Project Cost and Schedule Manager - Refinery and Chemical Division
  • Assistant to Vice President - Refinery and Chemical Division
  • Field Superintendent - Refinery and Chemical Division
  • Contract Management Engineer - Pipeline Division
  • Project Cost Engineer - Refinery and Chemical Division
  • Engineering Management Engineer - Pipeline Division
  • Engineering Designer - Power Division, Refinery and Chemical Division

Although one might ask how this kind of experience is relevant to organization consulting work, it has proved extremely valuable for a number of reasons including:

  • Engineering work taught him to think logically, clearly, and, especially, in process terms.
  • He was involved in considerable project estimating, cost control, and planning work-all providing knowledge and skills essential to dealing with many client situations.
  • He was exposed to people from all levels and types of work from Oklahoma pipe liners, to graduate engineers, to company presidents, and everything in between. This helped prepare him for working with any kind of client population.
  • He worked at a number of different levels of responsibility from designer, to estimator, to superintendent, to project manager preparing him to work with clients of virtually any kind and to understand organizations from many viewpoints.
  • Engineering/construction is the quintessential "project" business so he learned project thinking, methods, and management from the ground up. This prepared him not only for carrying out consulting projects but also for working with project-oriented people of all types.
  • He was exposed to different locales and their cultures helping him to feel comfortable with people anywhere.

As interesting and varied as this career was, Don finally sensed that it was somehow not for him. During this time that old Ad Praccer personality was growing. He found the life unfulfilling and saw that most of the people around him were unhappy and unfulfilled. After ten years with Bechtel, he decided to leave and start on a different path.


The UCLA Years

In 1970 Don entered the UCLA School of Business doctoral program in the Behavioral Science area, which could more accurately be called Organization Science. At that time the UCLA department was at the forefront of studying organizational design, and several members of the faculty as well as some of the doctoral students were working closely with Charles Krone at Procter and Gamble.

"Charlie" was in the process of developing some of the earliest self-managed work team plants in the world. During Don's time in the program, he came to know Charlie and his work very well. At the same time, though, his dissertation chairman was a strong organization theorist so he was immersed in both the theory and practice of Organization Science.

Besides his major field, Don had two minors also extremely relevant to Organization Science. At the time, UCLA was one of the foremost schools in Socio-Technical Systems-viewing organizations as a social system formed in conjunction with a technology system. In addition, this department was involved in the Quality of Work Life movement so that he was also exposed in considerable depth to early efforts to improve work life in business organizations.

Don realized, however, that organizational life involves individuals living their personal lives in relationship with others. He therefore designed his own second minor, Dyadic Relationships. Through this he was able to study the psychology of individuals and relationships. His major field studies also included learning about relationships as he was trained to lead what were then called "T Groups" or "Sensitivity Training." This was actually the precursor to the encounter group era but in this case was designed for leadership training, team building, and for helping people understand their own behavior in groups.

After four years in residence at UCLA, Don's family moved back to their home in Northern California where he finished writing his dissertation Towards an Understanding of Vitality in Organizations. In it he studied the relationship between the sense of purpose held by members of an organization and the vitality or aliveness in the organization. In August of 1975 his chairman called and told him his committee had signed off on his dissertation. He was now a Ph. D. in Management in Behavioral Science.


The Consulting Years

Don incorporated Yates and Associates, Inc. in 1976. His list of clients shows the wide range of experiences he has had since then. For about three years he was involved with Charlie Krone in a network of independent consultants Charlie had brought together under the name of Krone Associates.

Charlie taught his ideas not only about organizations but also about thinking and the processes of thinking. It was through this work that Don came to realize the importance of thinking in creating extraordinary organizations. As a result, improving the quality of thinking of everyone involved is a central feature of his consulting process.

In the last few years Don has been working to develop a new paradigm—the set of beliefs through which we look at the world—for thinking about organizations. He has had three articles published and continues to work towards a book on creating Extraordinary Organizations for the 21st Century.

Although these ideas are still well ahead of the way most people think about the world of work, they provide him with a way to keep his thinking creative and on the leading edge. Having a new paradigm "under construction" allows him to help his clients create and capture more opportunities than they ever believed possible.


© 2003
Extraordinary Organizations
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