Houseton, We Have A Morale Problem At The Roundhouse, And I Have A Proposed Solution

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Houseton, We Have A Morale Problem At The Roundhouse, And I Have A Proposed Solution

Postby Mike McCarthy » Fri Aug 28, 2015 3:56 am



This email is long but that's part of who I am. I'm a writer full time now, gunning for a writing revenue stream that will fund my wife after I'm gone in 5-10 years, and what is tedious in business memos is going to make for some interesting books I have in the queue, three of which are under active development even as I serve CRRM as a volunteer.

Evidently I have appointed myself staff guy to the museum's two funding rainmakers, Donald on donations/grants, and Rick on special events revenue. Let me tell you why you should give a listen to what I have to say. In the immortal song title of Digital Underground in 1987, Do Watcha Like, but please hear me out before you make decisions.

My interest is in this area of staff support to P&L because for a two year period in the mid-70s at DEC I had book/ship responsibility for a $4M per year multinational slice of the corporation's $400M per year business. I was responsible for getting the sales orders in from the worldwide sales force, and for getting finished systems out the door in fulfillment of those customer orders, including systems that shipped from the USA to our Austrian subsidiary, where they were reworked for differing power requirements in different parts of the world. I was only 1% of DEC's business but I was 3% of DEC's profits, and I caused sales of the obsolescing PDP-15 business to rise -- during a recession -- when under my predecessor they had been declining.

In all this time nobody reported to me, and I want the two of you to understand that this was Mike McCarthy at his most effective -- as a staff guy with no direct reports. I'm a lousy manager of people, and unless it's a business I own I don't want P&L responsibility.

I did this work purely as a staff guy with a title -- PDP-15 Product Line Marketing Manager. The Product Line Manager, my boss, had P&L responsibility. As PL Marketing Manager I was responsible only for gross revenue net of discounts, but this was a multinational responsibility including for shipments going behind the Iron Curtain for civilian/humanitarian purposes. Our prices varied from one country to the next and I was responsible for keeping international customers happy in spite of the fact that we were using them to park profits overseas. We did not recognize revenue till a system had shipped, either from the USA or from the Austrian sub, so nobody could play games of inflating bookings and claiming revenue that would vanish into thin air months later. I always made my numbers, and the factory guys honored me as one of only three people out of thirty-five others who were able to do accurate materials forecasts. (The systems in question were worth $250K typically, the system components hand built out of wires, transistors and special logic modules. The factory component stocking levels had to be right if PL15 was to continue to be extraordinarily profitable.)

Okay. Those are my credentials. Now ...

Please understand that I'm not gunning for a job with the museum. If offered one I would decline. Similarly, I would decline any attempt to have volunteers report to me for any reason. What you see is what you get -- an experienced corporate staff guy whose only reward will be to have played a part in helping this museum grow to ever higher national and international status, and whose only tools for getting his job done are his powers of persuasion. You two are the revenue generators. I am only a photographer and an adviser, and I need things to stay that way.


You didn't ask for this service but here I am, suited up and ready to play. If you tell me to stop, I will. But unless you do tell me to stop, I'm going to give some straw man advice here regarding a problem I see. Again, you don't have to take my advice, but I have to give it. Here we go ...

NASA often based strategy and technical discussions on what they called "straw men" -- concrete proposals that everyone could throw rocks at, and rework out of all recognition perhaps, but a definite point of departure for the discussion at hand, whatever the subject happened to be.

It is in this spirit that I say to you that Mike's locomotive crew is very highly motivated (Mike plus 2-3 others are there every day), but the Thomas car construction team is not nearly as well motivated. I base this statement directly on my simple observations of who is and isn't in the roundhouse on which days and which times of day.

I will go directly to my proposed straw man solution for how to make the Thomas car people want to come to the museum every day they can, and work their heads off, instead of simply showing up for a morning of work on Wednesdays and Thursdays in order to earn the right to go to lunch with Jack Campbell.


If I were you guys, knowing that a Richie-driven dollar solution probably is not available in any time frame useful to the Thomas event, I would instead set up a friendly competition between two roundhouse car construction teams. Let's call the teams Red and Blue.

I chose those names because in the grand gallery of the Great Pyramid, near the top is a slab with some hieroglyphic writing on it. Translated, this inscription says "This slab was placed by the Red gang. Nobody beats us." The lesson is that the pyramids weren't built by slave labor, they were built by competing gangs of expert tomb builders accustomed to working on a massive scale and to a very tight schedule -- the lifetime of the pharoah, who could die at any moment. (Amateur Egyptologist here.)

So ... Consider having two cars under construction at any given moment. The locomotive guys and gal get all the glory at present, so to make people want to compete you're going to have to offer them some kind of reward that the museum can easily afford, but one that can only be earned by participating in the Great Thomas Car Buildoff (to give it a name).

What might that reward be? Answer, a recognition dinner with the officers of the board, the dinner served by Donald and Rick as if you guys were serving honored potential and actual donors. Give out embroidered mission patches -- I know where to get them made -- the patches available only to people who actually attend the dinner unless there are extenuating circumstances. These patches effectively would say to the rest of the museum community, "I was with Wellington at Waterloo, and you weren't." They would not be available to anyone else at the museum. (That's crucial. They need to be absolutely exclusive.)


Okay -- all members of the Red and Blue teams who meet some minimum number of hours threshold get invited to the dinner and get the aforementioned patches.

But what about the winning team? How do we get the teams to knock themselves out trying to be the Red Gang That Nobody Beats?

Proposed answer, let them drive 346 around the property three times each. Give them the best available support crew -- best fireman and best understudy for relief, best operator (or best understudy) standing behind, giving advice and direction, and operating the train brake and locomotive brake so that all that the volunteer engineer has to worry about is throttle, cutoff and reverser, with the supervising engineer ready to step in at a moment's notice.

Quite frankly, I know of two different consumer operations, one in Nevada and one in Connecticut, where Joe Blow from off the street can walk in, plunk down $750 bucks or so, and run a steamer for twenty or thirty minutes on exactly the kind of basis I've described here. I see no reason why Mike couldn't design exactly such a program for the exclusive benefit of the Red Gang.

This kind of operating should not count toward trainman certification.


That's the straw man. I'll not mention it again unless you ask me to.


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