First, my condolences to his family.
I worked at the North Sioux City facility from late 1990 to mid-96. It was my first full-time job after college. I started in manufacturing for about 6 months, then moved to tech support for a number of years before going to a couple of other places in the company.
It was an interesting place to work and I have a lot of memories of working there. At first, the parking lot was still gravel and didn't get paved until the new manufacturing building was finished. Up until then, the existing building had at least 2, maybe 3 additions put on it. They had a monthly bonus program. It wasn't that much, but it seemed to give everybody an extra motivation to do better, that they had some skin in the game. I don't mean just push more systems out the door, although that was part of it, of course. But just to do their jobs better because it could affect the bottom line. The parking lot of actually a bit of a point of pride, i.e if we had a choice between the two, we would rather have a bigger monthly bonus over a paved parking lot. There was a story that Ted Waitt wanted to leave his spot gravel, but it was too much of a pain so they didn't. Maybe true, maybe not. I never interacted with him or his brother, although I did see them many times in the early days. Not so much later on.
There was also a sense of purpose in the first few years I was there. When I worked tech support (especially consumer before going to corporate support), I remember talking to people who was happy to be able to afford a computer to help them run their small businesses that they would not otherwise have been able to buy.
The cow spotted boxes. Yeah, at first, I remember thinking that it was dumb. It got people's attention and I talked to people who had bought from them after seeing many deliveries in their neighborhoods. I remember seeing all of our competitors with the ads in Computer Shopper. Back then, Computer Shopper was like the Montgomery Wards catalog for geeks. Talk about dating myself. -sigh- Over time, the number of competitors dwindled. I remember the owner of at least one of them saying that he was going to bury Gateway 2000. That business closed a couple of years later.
I remember when I started, working with ESDI drives, 5 1/2 floppy drives, Windows 3.0 (oh, the horror), motherboards with DIPP memory (up to 72 DIPP chips of horror for a whopping 8 meg of ram). I also remember in the early days, having production waiting on a shipment of something (motherboard, hard drives, etc.) to land at the Sioux City airport so that it could be trucked to North Sioux City. Talk about "Just in time inventory." I think that was the first time I heard that term and that was probably 1991.
Others have commented about failure rate of components. Yeah, I remember some of that. Not to excuse the problems inflicted on customers, but that was the very early days of WD IDE hard drives. I'm not sure if the first ones were 20 MB or 40 MB. Some of the boards (sound cards especially come to mind) had different revisions that just showed up with little, if any, documentation. Drivers... yeah... drivers were problematic. Motherboard BIOSes. This was before they were flashable and chips that were socketed (if you were lucky), but an upgraded BIOS meant swapping out the whole motherboard.
The company kept growing and the quality of some people definitely went down along with the sense of purpose. On the other hand, the manufacturing line had a number of improvements that did raise the overall quality. I think the Waitts (directly or indirectly) made some poor choices of hiring some key people to help manage the growth. I remember a few people from some big name companies at the time (HP, maybe... definitely one from Compaq who came and left). That's not to say that all of them were bad, it's just the bad ones that stick in my memory. There were also consultants, like Ernst & Young. They would bring in a team consisting of some very junior people who were obviously had no clue to as to what they were doing and were learning on the job. I am sure there is some data to support research of when it is good / when it is bad to bring in consultants versus using your own in-house talent for IT projects.
I also remember when I got laid off in mid-1996. That was the first large layoff they company had. I think there had a been a couple before, but they were just a handful of people. I remember going back a couple of days later and walking down the hall with a early-20s female HR employee who looked at me and asked if I was "enjoying my time off." I was so shocked, I could not respond. It's probably better that I didn't.
Anyway, I had started grad school part-time so I went full-time and moved on with my life.
But that was the start of my career in IT.
P.S. I did receive the highly-coveted 5 year varsity-style coat with the company logo embroidered on the back. I never did wear it. I am pretty sure I still have it.