Design for Innovation


Interview with Tom Schnell

“I feel like this is a giant hamster community with tubes connecting their living spaces,” I said to Tom.

“Well, it’s not,” he said behind one of his high pitched, stirring laughs.

Metatec got its start from a business called Discovery Systems. Jeff Wilkins branched out from CompuServe (also a Wandel & Schnell building circa 1980) and started Discovery Systems only to find out that it couldn’t quite compete with the larger companies of the same market, CD manufacturing. The next step was a more distinct, niche market. From a small and basic Discovery Systems, Metatec expanded in increments over 12 years. The last building called the Fulfillment Center connected to the main frame by an enclosed bridge.

“From my standpoint, I was always trying to anticipate the change,” Tom said. “I left holes in the building where I thought that if we needed to add to it, you know, it would work, but it never worked out that way.” 

This was a Dave Lenox project. He was heavily involved in each phase, so when he left, Tom said he was depressed to break the news to Jeff Wilkins. When he did, Jeff said “Tom, we hired you guys because you have really good people. You always have good people and you’ve proven that you can work this out.” Tom said that insight always stuck with him. That reputation is the reason a lot of Wandel & Schnell projects became projects in the first place. “You can follow a trail through all of this and it would last a long time,” Tom said of the path that led to Metatec and all of the connections. “So, we were sad to see Dave go. Tim, on the other hand, I haven’t figured out how to get rid of him yet.” We both giggled until he redirected us back to the project.

I asked Tom what he thought he learned from this giant project. He said he learned that he couldn’t tell the future, but he tried really hard. “You want to build something that goes together and has architectural compatibility,” he said. “We took this basic project and made a really nice piece of architecture. It still looks pretty good.” 

1992 Pop Culture Facts

“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The truth is that A Few Good Men premiered this year. Bill Clinton was elected President of the U.S. (We later found out that the truth made him a little uncomfortable. Am I right?!)

Jay Leno became the host of The Tonight Show and the last episode of The Golden Girls aired. America wept for the loss of the girls, but when a door closes, a window opens and that window takes the shape of seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped. The Real World made its way into our lives. Thanks for molding Millennials, MTV! You really nailed it. Walt Disney is always there with a silver lining, though, and the 1992 silver lining was Aladdin. Riff raff? Street rat? I don’t buy that. Speaking of buying… the Mall of America was built in 1992. The Jake (currently known as Progressive Field) was also built. Go Tribe! “There’s no crying in baseball!” Tom Hanks said in 1992 when A League of Their Own was released. You know what else? You can’t cry in figure skating. Kristi Yamaguchi knows that because she won the Olympic Gold in ’92.

In other, more important news, Wandel & Schnell won their 1000th project and probably celebrated with martinis at Rigsby’s.