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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Toward an End of Something

Leonard Quill, who had replaced Barney Taylor  when he retired in 1992, announced he would be retiring in 1995. Leonard died in 2002 of pneumonia. Sadly, his son, the actor Timothy Quill, died in Sepatember 2017 of Cancer. Tim is pictured on the left in a scene from Hamburger Hill.

His direct replacement wasn't named.  Quill remained as CEO and Chairman of the Board for another year while Ted Cecala and Robert Harra were named co_Presidents.

The Major (actor Peter Cellier - right) in "Keeping Up Appearances" had a striking resemblence to Leonard Quill (left).

Just for the record, I felt The Major bore a resemblence both in looks and behavior to Quagmire on "Family Guy". (Just below left) "Giggity, giggly, giggly!)

I knew both Ted and Bob. (In fact, I knew Leonard Quill as well. I had even been to a party at his home.)  Ted Cecala had started in the Finance Division about the same time I came to the bank in Deposit Services. He was a short man, who during the years I knew him, sported a mustache that gave him a sort of Mafia Don look. He eventually worked his way up to Sr, Vice-President of Finance.  Dave Gibson would replace him in that position. I also knew Dave, had worked with him for a while when he was still there in a lesser roll.  I always felt Ted had a certain sinister look, but in the years after I left WTC he shaved off the mustache and without it he had a ceratin comic appearance (right).

Bob Harra had been with the bank for decades. He had started, I believe, as a teller, but by the time I knew him he was a Vice-President and then became a Senior Vice-President of Retail. His was a kind of inspirational story about a local kid making good.

I always thought of Bob as the "good guy". He spoke to people and it didn't spook you out. He came to company social events and mingled right in so you felt comfortable with him. He never did the power plays other higher managers pulled. What would happen in the future was a bitter disappointment to me, but it isn't time for that yet.

When Quill eventually did step down the next year, Ted Cecala was named the Chairman of the Board and CEO, while Robert Harra became the Bank President and Chief Operations Officer (COO). They were a Mutt & Jeff pair, Bob being fairly tall while Ted was rather short. I chuckle when I think of a special presentation where they came out together to speak. Bob stood at the microphone just fine, but Ted had been provided with a box to stand upon so their heights matched. (On the left are Bob and Carol and Ted and...oh wait, that isn't Carol, maybe its Alice. No, actually it is a woman named Erika Bush. I don't really know who she is.)

In 1995 I was a star. My name was well known throughout the Bank and I got involved in a lot of things, including being borrowed in other divisions when they had a problem they couldn't fix. I was also the go-to guy on PCs, the local guru. Once upon a time I was cutting edge computer savvy; not now-a-days. I'm like brain death when it comes to technology anymore. People around me these days probably can't believe I could have ever accomplished what I write of in these autobiographical posts. I come across, I think, as rather dumb anymore.

Anyway, in 1995, I was a member of the Bank Pricing Committee and Chairman of the New Product Committee. I acted as an advisor to the Accounting Division on Cost and they borrowed my costing reports for our divisions. I was an Officer of the Bank. I was also in my 15th year as Operations, Methods and Project Manager for Deposit Services and Data Preparation. On the right I am about to receive my 15 year pin from Walt Whittiker. My and his secretaries are looking at the cake I got. These were Diane Warwick and Francine D'Ambrosio.

Most of the systems operating in our divisions had been brought in by me: the Digital Sperry UDS-2000 Data Entry System that replaced the keypunches; Automatic Lockbox, that had replaced a heavily intense manual labor division, Bulk Filing of Statements, Statement Insertion Machines, Upgraded Encoders, Personal Computer Support, Self-Service Checking, Action Concept Teams, Intern Training, MAC-ATM Deposit Sharing,  Costing System, Check Retention Safekeeping, and many other smaller projects, as well as Overseening the move of our divisions to the Plaza Operations Center. I had written several of the United Way Presentations, the Deposit Services Guidebook, and a Presentation given publically at the then Radisson Hotel in downtown Wilmington called, "This is Deposit Services". I was co-founder and editor of the divisional newspaper, as well as facilitator for much of the employee training for ACT. I had written several books on Quality, Productivity and Managements for the bank.

There were several projects I championed where I had to fight to get Senior Management to acknowledge, let alone approve; however, once approved I often found myself battling to keep Senior Management from ruining them. I had fought about the need for PCs in the beginning of the '80s, about doing a bulk filing conversion over a weekend instead of a month, having employee participation teams and Check Safekeeping. An example of the type of thing which happened is with Signature Verification.

Banks were required to do signature verification on checks, whether they still are I do not know. So much is don't electronically now and paper checks are less prevalent. In the eighties and nineties, however, there were a lot of checks. When a customer opened an account he or she would sign a signature card and this would be filed. As you know, you sign your check and you sign the back of any checks you want to deposit or cash. These checks went to the Signature Verification Unit where they were stored in files by account number. Theoretically, clerks would check the signature against the signature cards. This was pretty difficult, really, given the volume. Therefore, signatures were often verified randomly. Large items would be reviewed and then a certain number might be selected, something like catching a terrorist by pulling people randomly out of line at the airport. Verification was also done by eyeballing the signatures. It is pretty hard to say if a signature is not forged, especially since people's signatures tend to change over time due to age or diseases like arthritis. Go ahead, sign your own name over and over several times and see if it doesn't change.

I came across a company that did digitized signature verification. It wasn't a large company, because most places were not doing this kind of thing yet. It was new technology. The company was doing this for the Casinos and decided to try and expand into other areas, banks seeming like a logical choice. I put them on the Project List and it got approved. I brought them in for a demonstration and they had a very good stand-along workstation. Signature Cards would be scanned in and when sigatures needed to be compared the checks were fed across a screen and the account number entered. The software compared the signures on something like a hundred points and if a high percentage matched, then you could have some confidence it was legitimate.

We decided to go with this product and vendor and all was going fine until Senior Management stuck its thumb in the pie. It crossed their minds how great this would be if it could be networked across the branches so Tellers could check signatures on the fly, so to speak. Yes, probably would have been nice, but here is the rub. In those days this was fairly new technology, this whole imaging thing. The vendor had been very successful in the Casino businesses, but had no experience with networking a system to support multiple workstations. Our IT programmers didn't have a handle on imaging software, but it was decided to go for this marriage anyway. They were never able to pull it off and the ventor got sick of us and our people were frustrated and things just got lost when we could have had a nice start with the stand alone workstation.

I was still trying to push ahead with some kind of imaging, but no one saw the practicality, until the big equipment vendors came knocking on the door about imaging sorters and data capture. We had, as a matter of pride, contuned along with 1419 sorters, while most other bank had gone to the 3890s. We bragged about our ability to go on running this outdated equipment, but now IBM came with these new imaging beasts. I didn't know this would become my last large project.

IBM flew us by private jet down to a bank in Charlotte, SC for a demostraion of their latest sorters and data capture. Chris Honorowski was also on the team that flew down. Man, I wish I could travel this way all the time. A van picked us up at the WTC Plaza and took us basically across the street where the private aviation company was. (The blimps, such as the Goodyear, used to birth here and Air Force One would land at the airport just on practice runs.)

Thee van pulled right up to the waiting jet. There was even a red carpet rolled out for us. It was so
comfortable in the cabin. Our seats were plush and swiveled, plenty of leg room. (Left, I settle in for the flight.) We were served by young ladies on the trip. A stretch limo met us on the tarmac in Charlotte and drove us to the Bank. Ah, the life of luxury! On the right is our group about to fly down to Charlotte, along with two IBM Representatives. I am standing on the far left. The lady in the red outfit is Chris Honorowski, a software coder of great talent and one of my favorite people to work with.

Then came the changes. George Craig had already retired, some say he got out while the getting was good. Cecala was installed as the CEO and Bob Harra as the Bank President. I had noticed that Walt Whittaker was not his usual self. He seemed more disinterested in new idea or activities. It wasn't too long before he announced his retirement. This is the advice I pass along. If you have a boss you want to work for your career, make certain he isn't 11 years older than yourself.  Walt was turning 65 that year and decided to give up all the stresses of corporate life. I was 54 and had some time left to go.

I had opportunities over those 15 years. Other areas would have taken me, but I didn't want to work with anyone except Walt. I got along so well with him and I loved my job, probably too much.

I expected, we all expected, that John Behringer would be our new Vice-President. It was always that he was being groomed for the job. He had worked for Walt even longer than I, although he was younger. It was a shock when Walt's boss, the man who replaced George Craig, came down and introduced Walt's replacement. It was not John.  It was Fit Sherry, (right) who at that time was around 33 years old with no experience in Deposit Services.

Maybe I shouldn't say anything, but remember a few years earlier the Bank had started an intern program. I was put in charge of developing the training in our devisions. Fil had been in the first group of interns. He was the one who often showed up late, didn't show as much interest as the others, made phone calls during class and who got the lowest score on the final test I gave them. He was now our new boss. I think John was devastated by the turn of events. It had been considered by everyone that the job would be him, now he didn't get it and this effectively closed the door on any further advancement for him.

Sadly John passed away from Lung Cancer a few years later. He had been a heavy smoker, who tried, but couldn't quit. He had even tried hypnotism, but that failed as well. For years he was in a small group that took a lot of smoking brakes. One of those was Phyllis, who died of lung cancer while I still worked in that division. I do not know the fate of Teena, the third member of their little group. After John died it came out that he was a homosexual. He had definitely kept that in the closet, but it kind of explained a couple thing.

John came to most all the social events, which often included dancing and he would dance some with the other women in our party, but never his wife. He had been married, had a daughter in her 20s, but he never brought his wife to anything at the bank, even though spouses were generally invited.One day, through happenstance, I met his wife. I was taken back on meeting her, because I didn't expect her to look as she did. She had some form of Drawfism and was quite small, with disproportionate limbs and a hump on her back.

Fil was decent enough to me and I felt safe, but after Walt packed up his things and left I saw I wasn't as involved with projects as before. I was still Chairman of the New Product Committee and I was then named to the Security Committee as well, but most of the time I was working on my cost program. I wasn't even much involved with the new sorter project despite having kind of initiated it.

Then one day Fil called me into his office. There was another man sitting it there, who rose to shake my hand. Fil introduced him as Dave Ernst, Vice-President of Sales Support. (I will explain the picture of Dave in another chapter.) We all took a seat. This Dave didn't really say anything, Fil did all the talking.

"Dave has a problem," said Fil. "He is trying to institute a new program, one that has top priority. It is called Strong Points. He hopes to build it using Access (A MicroSoft Database application), but it has to be tried to an existing sales program on dBase. So far he hasn't been able to get the data out of dBase.

"Now we met with Ted and Bob Harra, and they felt you were the right fit to work on this new program. Therefore, you are being transferred to Sales Support. We think it may take a year and then you will be transferred to the Finance Division."

My opinion wasn't called for. This was a done deal. I went home that evening beleaving this was a case of "greasing the skids". If you are unfamiliar with that term, it is this. You have an employee you want to get rid of, but have no grounds to do so. You then give that employee a job where it is certain the employee will fail giving you a reason to say bye-bye. They felt I was a perfect fit, come on. I knew nothing about dBase, except the name, and I had never even heard of M/S Access. I had no experience in sales support. It sure sounded like a set up to me.

No comments: