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, March 25, 2017

Into My Private World of Project Management

When the closing curtain dropped upon my performance at Mercy Catholic Medical Center, Sue and a few others, who had worked for me, came to my office for my final bows. They gave me the cup pictured, which is still in use. I was appreciative they felt that way, but I never did. I always thought I was a pretty poor boss. I never liked telling people what to do or disciplining those who went astray. I was too softhearted to be a boss.
  I was on the verge of working for a man who I consider the best boss ever. I am not alone in that assessment. I think nearly all who ever worked or him felt that way and he had over two hundred people reporting to him. Oh, I’m sure you could find someone somewhere that disagrees, but there are always those who find fault even in perfection, not that I’m claiming Walt Whittaker was perfect. I’d be hard pressed to name his flaws, however.

Oh, I suppose his preference for yellow walls. Walt suffered from red-green color blindness. The color he saw best was yellow, so he insisted all our office walls were painted that color. I was also warned about his driving. He tended to get the traffic signals mixed up.
I had two great bosses at Atlantic Richfield, John Murray and Don Jones, and I would have two more in the future, Dave Ernst (the first time around) and Lisa Butler, but there will be more about them later in this opus. Probably the only bad thing about having a great boss is you don’t want to leave them and that can prove a handicap to your career.
There were several things that made Walt so great. He wasn’t a micro-manager always looking over your shoulder. When he hired someone he expected they would do their job and he shouldn’t have to be telling them what to do. He gave me autotomy to run my projects, as long as I kept him abreast of their progress. I never had him second guess me. Sometimes he questioned my plans, but he always let me give my reasons and more than most of the time he let me do it my way. If he did ever pull rank and want things different, he expected you were to get on board. Once a decision was made everyone should support it. He would always listen to suggestions and ideas, and he didn’t mind if being disagreed with. He did not want yes men around him.
I was not only beginning a long relationship with a wonderful boss, I was starting the best job I could wish for (except maybe the paperboy job I had in Downingtown when I was 14). My official title was Operations, Methods and Project Manager for the Deposit Services and Data Preparation Divisions of Wilmington Trust Company. No one knew exactly what that title meant or what I was to do.
This could have been a problem, but instead proved to be very advantages. I had the privilege of inventing my job. I had a wide area to project manage and be inventive with, too. Here is what Deposit Services and Data Preparation consisted of by Section.
In the Savings & Operations Section were Collection (not collections of overdue payments, but a collections of miscellaneous operations that didn't fit anywhere else), Overdrafts/Return Items, Savings & Certificates & Retirement Savings and ATM Control.
The Demand Deposit Section contained Settlement, Input/Mail Deposits, Statements/Verification, Night Deposits, Commercial Analysis/Cash Management Operations, DDA File/Stop Payments, Customer Inquiry and Pay-By-Phone.
Units of the Data Preparation Section included Control, Encoding, Data Entry (Key-to-Disc), On-line Processing and Automatic Lockbox and the Tracing Unit.
Finally there was the Wire Transfer Section of Money Position/Wire Operations and Balance Control/Bank Reconciliation.
When I began my job our Division was spread about in three separate buildings. Demand
Operations, Wire Transfer and Data Preparation were on three separate floors of the Montchanin Building on 10th Street. Savings Operations was on a floor in a building two blocks away, Number One Rodney Square and Collection was in the Farmer's Bank Building at Market Street. In the photo, the building in the foreground is Montchanin. The mostly glass building next door was at that time the Farmer's Bank, but that institute is no more, and the red brick building in the distance was One Rodney Square.

A year or so later we were located in the new Wilmington Trust Building on Rodney Square taking up the second and fourth floors. The new headquarters was built on the site of the old post office. They preserved the lower facade of the historic post office and built the modern high-rise up from within.

My office was then on the fourth floor overlooking Market Street and the exclusive men's club across the avenue. You can see that historic building on the lower right hand corner through my office window. To the right of me is the First and Central Presbyterian Church and the Hotel DuPont.

Walt had only recently taken over the management of the Data Preparation Division. The former head, named Bill Pryor, had just retired. Before he left he had begun looking at equipment to replace the keypunch unit. Walt felt that was a good place for me to begin.
He had already gotten approval for the expenditure and signed the contracts to purchase new keypunch machines from Sperry Rand to replace WTC’s old IBM versions. My task was just configuring how the new stuff would fit on the floor and coordinate the delivery and installation. I had to do layouts for the placement and the electrical and oversee the final setup and testing. Pretty easy start.
Then I was also asked to look into streamlining and automating our Retail Lockbox Unit, a project I would start from scratch.  Ah, now here was a challenge. What in the world was a Lockbox?
My familiarity with the term lockbox involved that big thing that looked like a padlock that Real Estate Agents put over doorknobs when a house was for sale. You know, they hung there and had a compartment inside where the owner's keys were stowed so when the Agent brought a prospect around he could get into the house. He or she had a key to this contraption that opened the compartment and allow he or she to remove the home keys. Something told me when Walk said Retail Lockbox he wasn't referring to these devices.
I had a lot of learning to do.
I had been down the road without signposts before. When I started my job at Olson Brothers, the egg breaker, there was no one there to teach me. The person who I replaced was gone, the man who hired me was gone, the man who was to be the new boss was away. You talk about learning on the job? That was really learning on the job. Just like I didn't know what a retail lockbox was, I didn't know then what the heck an egg breaker did with the broken eggs.
This job was different. It was a brand new position with a rather vague description and no one at Wilmington Trust had a clue what it was supposed to be or what my duties were. I had to make it up as I went along. I had kept my workbook from the Systems Analysis class at Camden County Community College. There were a number of sheets in that workbook for the case exercises. I turned to them, modified some somewhat and these became the framework I built the project manager position upon. Probably the most important thing in there was a scheduling sheet. The next important tool was flowcharting.
But that job did have a history. It had a description. There were some people around who had some idea of what the position was. 

I had even saved my flowcharting template (right). I even had my RPG Debugging Template (left), which contained a sample logic flow diagram. It pays to be a packrat, who never throws away things. Suddenly all those jobs and mix of schools came together. Over the course of my having this position I even got to employee my old art training.
The Retail Lockbox was a fair sized project. I had to analyze the work itself. Then I had to investigate available vendors of equipment, visit them, try the machines. I had to do a cost feasibility study of one system versus another and develop justification reports to go to senior management to get approval for what I recommended. I recommended the Burroughs Remittance Processor.
Without getting into the weeds of the thing and boring everyone, I will just say I brought the project on board successfully and once in place it generated an incredible return on the investment.
Our profit margin on this service became almost obscene (I mean this quite literally) , a fact that became very graphic when I did a followup audit of the system six months after installation to show senior management its success and potential.  I used line graphs to illustrate the differences between the old labor intense operation to the new automated system as well as the profit to expense and where break points would occur in expansion. I did not realize until I did my presentation my line graphs formed the perfect image of an erect male penis.
Eventually the enormous margins of our current operation put greed in the hearts of senior management. The decided to expand the operation and become a clearing house processing other banks credit cards. This was possible because the state government had changed the regulations on credit cards and issuers, so now even if a bank was in Utah, it could base the credit card center in Delaware and have no limit on the interest it charged. In other words, usury laws went out the window. A bank didn’t even have to have a brick and mortar presence in state, as long as they used a local processor, which was going to be us. We were the first and only one equipped to do this.
It is a funny thing how businesses can find a way to skirt regulation. Delaware has long taken advantage by having very liberal business regulations. There had been a long standing bit of bragging that more companies were incorporated in Delaware than any other state. Half of all public-traded companies and 60% of the Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware. There are jokes about all the empty offices existing here. These are the official residency address required. I had occasion to visit some of these shell offices. They can be found in office buildings and hotels about town. All that was in those I saw was a desk, a lamp, a telephone and a chair. 
Anyway, we did begin lining up several giant out of state banks for our lockbox business. This would eventually prove foolish. At first Walk and I visited potential customers selling this service. We had for years serviced local businesses, such as the power and telephone companies. This is still what we targeted, keep it local and loyal. We sold it to such places as the Philadelphia public broadcasting company (they gave me a tote bag). All these companies were perfectly happy continuing to pay the rate we had been charging, even though our cost of processing had shrunk incredibly with the installation of the Burroughs Machine. (We actually had two, one for operating and one for redundancy in case the first went down. These two machines replaced an entire overnight shift of 35 people. Don't get upset, the bank found another job for all those clerks.) The reductions in cost and efficiency was giving us around a 30% ROI.
Senior Management took the selling out of our hands and put it in the hands of a salesman named Joe, from the Commercial Division. His approach to selling was to promise the customer anything and to concede on the price. Within a couple years our margins became paper thin and the long loyal local customers were in essence subsidizing these large banks. The number of Processing Machines had grown, which also added to our costs, not to mention additional labor. There was worse to come in the years ahead as far as bad management decisions go.

Myself, I was off to a great start and I even got daring. I was given the Bulk File Conversion as a project.
Our bank, like many others, filed our customers’ items by account number. Something banks started to do was change to a bulk file system. Bank statements were sent out over the course of a month in cycles, meaning some statements went out on say the 5th of each month, then others went out on the 6th and so forth. Cycles had been assigned customers when they opened their account originally not by some criteria such as alphabetic by name. Each customer was then stored in large revolving files in account number order. Clerks would have a pull list of those accounts within a statement cycle about to me mailed. They would have to go through the files looking for the specific account number and pull all the items to be included with the statement.
With bulk filing, items were sorted and stored by cycle code in plastic trays. When statements for a particular cycle were to be mailed all the trays for that bulk were simply pulled and sent to the sorters to go to the proper statement. This cut down on a lot of labor time.  However, every bank who converted to this system did it over the period of a month, until all the cycles had been run.
I suggested we do the whole conversion over one weekend. Impossible, I was told. Nobody does that. It can't be done.
Well, can't be done, or won't be done? Everyone was doubtful and expected a disaster, but
Walt backed me and we did it on a weekend. It took a good deal of planning on my part, but on that weekend I had everything ready and we used three staging areas. It was pretty cool. The employees were excited. It was like a party. We brought in pizza and hoagies. Everybody worked their hind quarters off and were proud of what they accomplished after it was all done. No other bank had tried this, but we managed it and it all went smoothly. On the right are my plans, schedules and flowcharts for the bulk filing conversion.
All the file trays and new cabinets were order, received and staged before the conversion began. On the left is a stack of the new trays in staging area one with my oldest child, Laurel, standing in front of them. The trays have already been labeled.

We would have no use for those large, bulky revolving files after this. All the items would be in trays by cycle. There would be no sorting through thousands of accounts. The workers would simply pull the trays for a cycle and be off with them. Great labor saver. On the right I am getting all the new files cabinets finalized to receive the new cycled trays as they came from the sorter.

We had everyone in that day, all with assigned tasks and areas. People who would pull the items, people to transport the trays here and there and people to stack and verify at the end after the sorters had done their job.

I had to have maintenance build ramps over over steps to facilitate the movement of the tray carts.

By the end of 1980 I was being known, not only around our bank, but in others as well.

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