Roundhouse Attitudes During The Miracle On 44th Street

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Roundhouse Attitudes During The Miracle On 44th Street

Postby Mike McCarthy » Thu Aug 27, 2015 1:59 am



Donald and Rick,

This is the second of my two part memo series relating to Thursday, 16 July, 2015 ...


A volunteer who shall remain nameless confronted me at the start of the day and said, in effect, "We shouldn't have to be doing this. Over time I have done this, that and the other thing to wake management up and none of it has made any difference." I stopped him. "Harrison" (let's call him that) I said, "I don't have any more authority in these matters than you do, and I have no basis for agreeing or disagreeing with what you are telling me. But let me ask you this ... What do you people need to get this project done in a timely way?"

Harrison launched into his diatribe again. I stopped him again. "I don't mean what do you need in general, I mean what do you need to get these two rider cars built right now -- what do you need today and over the next few days? I don't know that I'd be able to get you anything at all, but I'd still like to know what you need. Union carpenters? Welding rods? Primer paint? What do you need?"

"Need?" said Harrison. "For these two cars? Well, I don't think we need anything at all." I asked him where the next five car frames would be coming from. "I don't know anything about that" he replied in an irritated way. "I only know about two cars."

"Well" I said. "Rick said that Donald will be back Friday and that everybody should cool their jets until then." This got Harrison going again ...

"Where is Rick? Why don't we ever see him?" I explained that I knew for a fact that Rick is extremely busy and that I would speculate that he figured Jack had matters under control so that he, Rick, could concentrate on things like Polar Express ...

... And this brings us right straight back to my proposal for a Volunteer Ombudsman -- someone to represent Rick and museum management to the volunteers (not just roundhouse), and the volunteers to Rick and museum management.


I never served in any military branch -- never had to because my NSA-related work had been declared vital to the Vietnam War effort. So, my knowledge of the Navy is limited to my voluminous readings on the subject. Let me give you my view of the management of a US navy warship, after which I'll tie it back to the two of you and your situation at CRRM. Here we go ...

On a well run US Navy warship the captain (that would be you, Donald), has nothing to do -- nothing that he HAS to do, that is, except think.
The captain does not run the ship. No, the Executive Officer (XO) does that, and that would be you, Rick, if only you had the time.

The ship's officers all report to the XO. They are over the enlisted ranks, not of them. Yet there is a job that is of the enlisted ranks that reports directly to the captain with almost as much status as the XO himself and certainly as much as any of the XO's officer direct reports.

That job is COB -- Chief of the Boat.

The COB is the ombudsman for the enlisted folks who do the work that the officers manage. If COB feels strongly about a given issue he can and will bypass all of the officers and lay his case directly before the XO or captain as appropriate. Similarly, a wise XO or captain will consult with the COB before doing anything substantially out of the ordinary -- because if COB's people don't buy into [whatever] then [whatever] will not be happening no matter what orders the officers may give or how firmly they may give them.

This is because we're talking about the US Navy, not the navy of the Russians, or the Germans, or the Chinese, or the British. We're talking about a Navy in which what you know -- as proved by the qualification exams you've taken -- is as important as who you know and what your rank is. The old US Navy came as close to being a rankless organization as you can get while still being able to maintain military disipline.

And that's what you folks need -- a Chief of the Boat to talk to the XO, and sometimes the captain, on the part of the enlisted crew, and to carry messages (as opposed to rumors) directly from top management right back down to the enlisted ranks.


I'm trying to do some of that job right now in writing this memo, for example, but I can never be your COB for one simple reason -- I KNOW VERY LITTLE ABOUT TRAINS -- and therefore I can never seriously command the respect of those volunteers who are master technicians about all things railroading.

This is why, Heidi Marklye, if she is seriously trying to be the volunteer ombusdsman, is doomed to fail -- certain to fail, just as Lauren was certain to fail. It's not because they're women, it's because they know nothing about trains. If she weren't super busy making the retail and front office operations successful, Bonnie Prater would be perfect for the job because she (as does Marty) has a deep model railroading background.

So now I will speak to both of you but especially to Donald. Forget the fact that Rick already has an assistant -- get him the help he needs in the form of someone that the volunteer community will automatically respect in the role of volunteer ombudsman -- Alan Olson, or Marty Prater, or perhaps Bill Gould as I realized yesterday.

Rick is not stupid. He knows that if he does a good enough job of special event rainmaking, all of his other sins will be washed away right Rick?. However, no matter how good a job of Volunteer Coordinator he does, if the revenue numbers don't happen then his ass will not be talking its way out of low revenue coffin corner -- am I right, Rick? Or am I right?


Donald, you have this man so heavily loaded that I've seen him go into his office, close the door and ignore all knocks on it. He once chased me away from the outside of his office door because the simple threat that I might want to chat with him -- that a few minutes of time might get lost to something irrelevant to Polar Express or whatever he was scheming about -- might get lost forever was more than he could handle at that moment.

If you want Rick to succeed in keeping a happy volunteer home, get him a volunteer ombudsman so that the volunteers will be able to bask in the glory of Rick as represented to the volunteers by SOMEONE WHO KNOWS TRAINS.

Give this man what he needs. If he says that he needs five assistants, get them for him. If he says that he needs fifty Screen Actors Guild people to do carpentry for stagecraft, get them for him. You hired him for his skills and track record, for heavens sake give him what he needs and then stand back and let him make you -- all of you -- and the museum -- as successful as you can be.

Rick is going to turn this place into a museum such as has never been seen on earth before, if only you will give him what he needs to get his job done.


Continuing my analogizing of DEC and CRRM, it seems to me that your Board of Trustees serves the same functional role as DEC's Operations Committee did -- to be a management court of last resort.

(The Ops Committee was company president Ken Olsen plus four senior VPs who had been with him since the company's founding. In ten yeas with the company, I was a delegated member of the Engineering Committee, and I was a regular delegate to the Product Line Manager's committee, but I never appeared before the Operations Committee, just as in ten years I had never been in Ken Olsen's office.)

At DEC huge battles were always erupting at all levels of the organization as people spoke passionately for or against various ideas. Olsen encouraged this kind of conflict because it allowed new ideas to come from anywhere in the organization at the same time that those ideas were forced to endure a strange kind of trial by ordeal.

So, if a dispute reached the Operations Committee it meant one of two things ...

1 - Something was being proposed that was a) very expensive and b) not in the current company financial operating plan ...

Or ...

2 - That the best minds in the company from all walks of corporate life had been unable to reach consensus, which was always a goal at DEC. It being necessary to make decisions and keep moving forward, on these rare occasions the Ops Committee would decide -- and no matter what they decided, some people were going to be deeply disappointed at the same time that others would be elated.

So it must have come to pass at CRRM's recent board meeting, it seems to me. I don't want to get involved in board politics -- I just want to do my staff guy thing -- but decisions were made, Ambrose and Horner took umbrage (it seems to me) and they quit, possibly causing some other volunteers to quit. (It's hard for me to tell, I don't know all the players, and usually [but not always] I wait for others to bring this stuff up.)

The key thing at DEC was that once the Ops Committee spoke (and it was usually Ken Olsen doing the talking), that was it. Debate was to stop and everyone was to get with the program decided upon by the Ops Committee, period end of subject. People who regularly were unable to do this usually left the company of their own free will usually because if they didn't leave they would be shunned for not being team players.

Frankly, the museum is better off without Ambrose, Horner et al. At least now you know who your true friends are and what they are capable of. The others would have been poisonous dead wood had they stayed on, constantly backbiting and constantly undermining managements' business decisions. It is these kinds of trials by fire that show which people "get it" and which people don't. Again, this is another parallel with DEC.

And again, my thanks for letting me be here and see all this close up. My name can still open certain doors, and on the other side of those doors are people who can get you in to pitch to the people who can provide the funding to make your visions become museum reality.

What an exciting time this is for me. The DEC book is on hold while I give you folks my undivided attention.


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