Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Did We Come to This? Chapter 2: Twenty Years in a Flash as The Kid Becomes The Old Goat

We Are Independent Trust took off under the guidance of Benny Terrific. Business expanded and stock climbed, yet down in the dark, cool heart of the windowless recesses of Info Machine Processing (IMP) it stubbornly clunked along on outdated systems and over-the-hill sorters. But the Climbers and their Sherpas at the higher peaks of WAIT Mountain were proud of their antique equipment, arrogant in fact. They bragged about how they climbed this multibillion-dollar baby on four-point crampons and frayed manila rope (NOTE: That is just climbing equipment from way back when. I just wanted a different kind of trope here than my original “Modal T Ford” as my metaphor. Just trying not to be too cliché here, but then maybe it doesn’t work when you spend more time explaining it than it was to write it because you think most people probably won’t know what crampons and manila rope is. Anyway, I digress.))
The Kid didn’t share IMP’s smugness. The Info Machine Processing Department might be married to its 16-bit world; he was not. The Kid had stepped into a hand-on labor intense world and was set on modernization.
He didn’t know if he knew what he was doing, but he did it anyway.
For his first project he automated the lockbox operation after a lot of working the numbers to sell Senior Management on the value of remittance machines and envelope extractors.
Now for the uninitiated, we will define lockbox. What The Kid knew at the time as a lockbox might be what a lot of people picture, a big contraption that looks much like a giant padlock that Realtors hang on sale property doorknobs. These contraptions open by a key the Realtor has and hold inside keys to the property.
Lockbox in the bank was something else altogether. Let’s say you receive your electric bill with a return envelope. You write a check and mail it in that envelope. The address on the return is a post office box number. You may think you are sending this payment to the utility company, but actually you are sending it to their bank. It goes to a box at the post office and someone from the bank, with a key to that box (see lockbox again) picks it up and all the other returned envelops in the box. [Remember now, we are talking 30 years ago. There was no online banking and very little pay-by-phone. There wasn’t an Internet, no Email. Bills were received in the mail and paid through the mail with paper checks.]
All those bits of paper had to be handled and in the case of WAIT, these handlers were people, many, many people, who sat at desks all night long tearing open envelopes and reconciling checks to accounts.
Now before we cast The Kid in the villainous role of putting people out of work there are two things. In those bygone days of yesterday WAIT was a benevolent dictator with a no fire policy. Yes, you heard me correctly; they did not fire the people when the machines were plugged in. Places were found for them. Secondly, because of the machines WAIT could market their lockbox operation to more clients than ever and in a few years as many people were sitting at machines as once had been sitting at desks, They were just able to open more envelopes and process more checks in the time they sat there.
Over the next few years, The Kid converted check statement storage from account basis to bulk filing over a weekend even though everyone in the industry said it couldn’t be done. He got rid of keypunch and moved up to key-to-disk and then moved further directly to mainframe. But The Kid was looking beyond mainframe.
He was pushing for PC usage. It was a tough fight, for the Masters of IMP were dedicated to the mainframe. PCs might be nice for home users and their little Pac-Man games, but would never be practical for business use. The Mainframe would always rule.
The Kid was also campaigning for image storage, for check safekeeping, for many other projects that others always seemed to find reasons why they wouldn’t work. There are stories to tell of those efforts, but not here, not now. Someday we may.  In any case, Ross Rollins’ Division had gained a reputation for being the innovator and the rule breaker, and The Kid was known far and wide (well far and wide within WAIT anyway).
Meanwhile the Eighties were drawing to a close and Benny Terrific had grown rich and suddenly a trumpet sounded, a scroll was unrolled, and it was declared throughout the kingdom that Benny Terrific was going to retire.
Benny passed the reigns over to Penn Letterer.  Letterer was a long term We Are Independent Truster, an old time lender and Senior Manager of the Business’ Best Friend (as long as they can pay) Department. He took over the crown and WAIT dripped back into a period of steady-as-it-goes.
One thing that went when Letterer assumed the top loft was that Assistant-to-the-Chairman position (originally Assistant-to-the-President position).  Perhaps Letterer just didn’t feel he needed an assistant; perhaps he saw it as an indulgence and added expense. Difficult to say why he axed the position, but it meant Flip Wineberry had no more cozy office next door to the throne.
But don’t concern yourself with the fate of Flip Wineberry; he has a major role at the end of this story. He didn’t go away, he simply slithered from Department to Department as the years slipped by.
Lydia Metermaid remained relatively quiet during the Letterer years.
Meanwhile, The Old Goat was doing fine. He had become well known throughout WAIT as kind of the shadow behind Rollins, which suited him just fine. More important to him was being both liked and respected by people.
The Kid was chosen as one of the bank representatives to ACES (American Commercial Enterprise System). This was a training program for schoolteachers, who earned continuing education credits for taking a semester of ACES. Each week they would visit a different corporation. It might be Delmarva Power & Light (which became Conectiv which became DelMarVa) or Rollins Cablevision (which became so many different cable companies I’ve lost track until it is now Comcast) and so forth.
The teachers liked visiting We Are Independent Trust better than anybody in the whole universe. I’ll get to why in a moment. WAIT’s ACES presentation was a series of short talks given by four or five people describing different areas of the bank, usually one from BBF (Business’ Best Fiend – oops Friend, All Branches and Vaults, Trust Us We’re Trust, Human Resources and IMP.  The Old Goat was the representative from IMP (Why this was so is yet another tale for another time.).  Each would talk for about fifteen minutes, describe what their area did, what kind of attributes were looked for in staff and then answer questions.
Afterward, all went to dinner, which is why the teachers loved WAIT.
In those days on the top floor of the headquarters was an upscale exclusive restaurant. Its exclusiveness was determined, of course, by money. If you could afford to pay a couple thousand dollars a year to buy a membership, you got the privilege of dining there, paying for overpriced expensive meals, and gaining exclusivity from those who were smart enough not to pay two thousand dollars a year just to eat at a stuffy diner.  Since it was in the bank’s building and also served for that right to be there by servicing the Officer’s Dining Room. Officers of the bank could invite business guests to a meal at the Restaurant, all on the bank. The ACES Representatives, officers all, took the teachers.  They were treated to a charming private room, attentive service and delicious food. Why wouldn’t they love WAIT the most.

The early Nineties continued to be bright times for The Kid. But beneath this seemingly solid footing ran a fault line about to be shaken.

By the mid-Nineties, Penn Letterer was thinking of retiring. He decided to remain Chairman and give up being President.  But instead of doing the sensible thing and naming a new President in his place, he created a co-presidency and named two men to fill this two-headed monster: Cuddy Bear and Hobart Wazza Goodguy. A revolution was thus fused.
Flip Wineberry continually moved here and there during these changes, somehow always plopping into a leather chair in a high-minded sounding position, never really doing anything earthshaking, just floating about under the radar. In the near mid-Nineties he found himself in the Sales Uplifting Division, manager over a black woman named Dynamic Jones, who was creating a new staff development program for WAIT, and over a white woman named Tilda Childspeak, who administered a sales tool database called Twinning.
The head of Operations for the Bank, Craig List, Master of the Mainframe now running a fiefdom of desktop PCs, retired even though he was only in his fifties. Although he had not been very visionary about the role of PCs, he was astute enough to see a future coming he wished to escape. He took his marbles, and by now he had many, many marbles and left to enjoy life. He was The Kid’s boss’s boss (that being Ross Rollins).  List’s protégé, Jim Herring became Senior Manager of IMP.
Something happened that should have reminded The Kid of something important to his own future.
Herring split All Things Deposited Division in two.
Ross Rollins remained the Head of All Things Deposited, but lost half his former venue of rule, a section now made its own division called Spittin’ Out Data. The Kid continued as Operations, Methods and Project Manager for both divisions. (He was now also the budget coordinator for both.)
The Spittin’ Out Data area had been under a woman named Teah Plunker since the year The Kid came to WAIT. She was a most wonderful gal who had started at We Are Independent Trust the year The KID turned four years old.  The Kid was playing sandbox at Kindergarten and Teah was already spittin’ out data. Yeah, she spend her whole adult life in that same department, although when she started it was more sort bins, comptrollers and spreadsheets than the electronic and mechanical marvel of the Nineties. By the time The Kid came to The Bank 35 years after her, she was running that area.  But fifteen years later, just after publically trumpeting her 50 years of service, a bonanza of positive imagery for WAIT, Teah was brutally shoved into a corner and given busywork for the remaining decade of her life.
An applications manager from IMP, Romeo Casanova, replaced her as Spittin’ Out Data Manager.  The Kid had worked with Romeo on projects, served with him on the Security Committee and liked the man, but Romeo was in over his head and did not last long heading Spittin’ Out Data. While Romeo’s mind seem unable to twist itself around the business subtly of his division, he had no problem wrapping himself around the available ladies. Within weeks he began an affair with one of the women working for him, which eventually resulted in his own divorce. He did marry this woman and presumably they have lived happily ever after, but neither of them did so in Spittin’ Out Data. She was transferred to some other far corner of the company.
While Romeo was being successful in romance he managed to butcher the golden goose, botching up the profits from Lockbox by over-hiring and under-controlling costs. He went back to IMP and was replaced by Willy Doitagain.
And then The Kid looked in the mirror one morning and saw all these gray hairs. He had turned somehow into The Old Goat. It was then he remembered that important thing about Ross Rollins and himself. Ross Rollins was eleven years his senior.  That was the fault line in his working life.
Ross Rollins announced he was going to retire.
Everything was about to change.

1 comment:

Ron said...

I've often thought of writing about my own experience in the banking world but every time I think of it I get mad and depressed. It is the same script isn't it Lar? Just the names and locations change. I've seen and been in this movie before and I'm glad I'm out of it now.

See you this week?