SANTA BARBARA, Calif. _ One would never guess that Ludovico L.
de Carlo, who is 65 years old, is a tormented man as he stands on
the terrace at sunset, nibbling hors d'oeuvres, laughing with a
group of international business tycoons, being serenaded by two
violinists and caressed by warm ocean breezes.
But his wife, Sara, reveals his dark secret.
"He's so angry," she confided to a visitor. "He has complete
control over everything else in his office, except for that
little box. He's determined to master it, but he's frustrated
that he can't do it in one day."
De Carlo, president and chief executive officer of the Marine
Corps West Federal Credit Union, was unwinding at the end of
another grueling day at the CEO Technology Retreat.
The gathering was a three-day boot camp for chairmen, chief
executives, presidents and the like who share a common
frustration _ computers _ and a common desire to learn about
The recent retreat _ held Sept. 21-24 _ was co-sponsored by
the seminars company CEO Institutes of New York and Computer
Associates, a software company based on Long Island. It was the
fifth of its type.
Since 1992, the retreats have attracted more than 250 top
executives who rose to power in the computer age without ever
needing to find the power switch.
The boot camps, which require heads of companies to give up
three work days and several thousand dollars, bespeak a
technological fault line running through corporate America.
As computers and information networks have become crucial to
virtually all types of businesses, the heads of many companies
are virtually clueless about the technology that keeps them in
All 50 of the executives who assembled in Santa Barbara were
the types who exude confidence and steely resolve to their
underlings, but most of them would panic at the sight of a
They were men and woman who have collectively authorized the
expenditure of tens of millions of dollars on information
technology for their companies, often without really
understanding the difference between a mainframe and a modem.
These were among the tech-novitiates at the retreat:
Peter N.T. Widdrington, chairman of Laidlaw Inc. and the Toronto
Blue Jays Baseball Club, who secretly envied the way Blue Jays
coaches used their laptops.
Marie L. Knowles, president of Arco Transportation Co., directs
marine and pipeline operations for Arco, but she felt at sea when
it came to computer networking.
Gerry Briels, chairman of the North American division of Loctite
Corp., speaks fluent French, German, English, Dutch, Spanish and
Portuguese, but said he found computer manuals incomprehensible.
Steve Duce, president of Mitsui Machinery Distribution Inc.,
hated computers so much that his employees placed bets that he
would give up and come home early.
"They get to ask the basic questions that they're too ashamed
to ask their own technologists," said Charles B. Wang, chairman
of Computer Associates International Inc. The goal of the
retreats is to facilitate better communications and closer
relationships between the technologists and the business
executives. "For them it's just one little step, so they can say,
`Hey, it's not so intimidating after all.' "
The conference is an ideal opportunity for Computer
Associates, Electronic Data Systems Inc. and various sponsors who
have contributed software and equipment to the retreat; they
forge relationships with the leaders of dozens of companies that
are potential customers.
Wang (pronounced wong), whose company dominates the global
market for mainframe software, also exploits the opportunity to
warn the executives to be wary of technologists who urge them to
abandon their trusted mainframes in favor of expensive, untested
networks of personal computers.
But usually, Wang's advice is delightfully candid and