Continual Innovation and Reinvention
by Russ Westcott
There is often a pattern to one’s work life, a pattern that might not have been immediately evident or intended. Call it an inclination that ultimately morphs into a strategic plan.
My business adventures began as a 9-year-old door-to-door candy salesman for two summers. Newspaper deliverer, dishwasher, short order cook, window dresser, and file and mailroom clerk followed. I thanked these after-school jobs for exposing me to the kind of work I didn’t want to do.
In the mid-1940s, I worked for a small insurance company, where I rotated from job to job, making process improvements along the way. My assignment in the machine accounting unit was especially significant. Thus began my inclination to spot areas for improvement and initiate change.
In a U.S. Navy boot camp, ignoring advice to never volunteer for anything, I became the clerk of our 120-man company. This experience afforded me perks and an opportunity to improve the record keeping. Reporting to my first ship just after the end of World War II, I was assigned to chipping paint. Feeling this was a waste of my capabilities, I requested an office job.
After a brief demonstration of my typing skills, I was allowed to “strike” (apprentice) for a yeoman (secretary) position in the captain’s office. After 16 months I had progressed from seaman to yeoman third class and served aboard three ships in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, before an honorable discharge. I made several innovative changes during this brief period.
Punch Card Pursuits
Pursuing my interest in the growing field of punch card data processing, I became an IBM machine operator in a large insurance company. A year later I began designing punch card systems. During this time, I married and earned a business degree at night from Boston University.
I enrolled in General Electric’s (GE) three-year financial training program (FTP), did three job rotations and affirmed I didn’t want a career in finance. I transferred to the machine accounting unit of the manufacturing plant, where I soon became the supervisor. Working closely with management, I reorganized the unit and streamlined its procedures.
Following FTP graduation, I joined a 50-person plant relocation task force. I participated in the selection of a Virginia site and designed the new data processing center. I moved to Virginia, established a training facility, and became the manager of data processing, reporting to the finance vice president.
To develop job candidates for the Virginia operation, I sold the local business college president on offering a data processing curriculum for which I would serve as instructor. Meanwhile, I was elected president of the local chapter of the National Machine Accountants Assn.
Within two years I transferred to GE’s Defense Systems Division (Syracuse, NY) to manage the conversion of accounting systems to a mainframe computer. Following this, I transferred to GE Credit Corp.’s northeast operations center as manager of data processing. My task was to stabilize an out-of-control punch card operation and manage the transition to a mainframe computer. In reorganizing the operation, I instituted several approaches now under the lean umbrella, such as spaghetti charting, process mapping and 5S practices.
Following that, I moved on to manage the systems development and programming unit. During this time, I became president of the Data Processing Management Association’s Stamford, CT, chapter.
After a brief entrepreneurial venture (data processing services for small businesses), I returned to the corporate world as assistant manager of CIT Financial’s 600-person data processing center. In this role, I established a management development program and aided the transition to a mainframe computer.
Next, I moved to TRW Systems Group (Los Angeles), a matrix type organization, as a functional manager responsible for training, development and deployment of 150 systems and programming professionals for computer based projects. In this role I re-engineered the hiring process for high-demand systems professionals, shortening the cycle time from three months to less than two weeks.
A year later, I became an internal management systems consultant with 10 employee relations offices as my clients.
I moved back East to become an internal consultant with Consolidated Edison (ConEd) of New York, where I facilitated numerous process improvements for the employee relations and information services departments. Most notably, I established the long-running Mini-Scule, a lunchtime school to train and educate in-house staff. I also conducted organizational assessments and led a project team in developing a corporate business model.
A Move to HR
As a result of my improvements to the personnel function of ConEd’s 2,000-person Westchester Division, I became the division’s director of HR.
In this role, I rebuilt the HR function with more effective processes and more focus on training and consulting to operating units. I became active in the American Society for Training and Development, ultimately forming and leading a Westchester chapter. I also served as vice chair of Junior Achievement for Westchester County and taught management courses at Fairfield (CT) and Pace (NY) universities.
ConEd’s Westchester Division sorely needed a major culture change and quality improvement. I initiated and managed a divisionwide performance improvement project (PIP). Over a three-year period, the PIP enabled the division to move from last place on the division scorecard to far ahead of all divisions.
In addition to achieving a positive organizational culture, quality of services and customer satisfaction improved dramatically. The PIP generated a documented return on investment of more than $1 million (1976 dollars).
With this accomplishment, I chose to again become an independent entrepreneur. From 1979 to the present my roles have continued to evolve. I’ve been an ISO 9000 quality management systems consultant, a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award trained examiner for a state award program, an organizational performance improvement consultant, a project management consultant, a career change coach and writer. I’ve also been active in ASQ as a section volunteer and a certified manager of quality/organizational excellence refresher course instructor.
I’ve enjoyed multiple careers, industries and positions. Even though relatively new to ASQ (1991) I’ve long used many of the now popular quality methods and tools, under different names or no names. At the time I joined TRW, my inclination became my strategic plan—to turn every position, regardless of the title, into a consulting role.
After 60-plus years of multifaceted experience, I achieved ASQ fellow status. My modus operandi is to continually innovate and reinvent myself to embrace new opportunities and increase enjoyment in what I do. For me, it’s never too late.
RUSSELL T. WESTCOTT is president of R.T. Westcott and Asso-ciates and the Offerjost-Westcott Group in Old Saybrook, CT. He is an ASQ fellow and a certified quality auditor and manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE). Westcott is on the executive board of the Thames Valley Section, CT. He is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook and the author of Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional and Stepping Up To ISO 9004:2000. Westcott recently received the ASQ Testimonial Award for “leadership and distinguished service” to Section 308.