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Story 11: Learning to Lead

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Inventing Better Tools: David Burnham & Tom Goldsmith

Written by Mike Spock

Soon, the service bureau was able to assign the payroll to each project or department, but it was awhile before every transaction could be automatically spread to line items (i.e. payroll, benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, etc.) and, in a two-dimensional matrix, to each month's column (month actual, month budget, year-to-date actual, year-to-date budget, difference). David Burnham, board treasurer, and Phyl O'Connell, then museum associate director, brought Tom Goldsmith, a colleague of David's at McBer, in to see if together they could figure out a more rational and useful accounting system. Tom rented after-hour time on local shoe manufacturer Stride Rite's mammoth and fast IBM computer. At that time all data had to be keypunched on IBM cards and fed to the computer, which then spit out a trial printout against which every entry had to be checked by Mary Babine against her manual ledgers. But what now seems like a clunky system was in fact highly innovative and it actually worked to Phyl, Mary, and David's—and even to our auditor's—satisfaction.

When Tom moved on, he got to demonstrate to his new bosses at IBM and one of their clients, General Motors, that the revealing printouts from tiny The Children's Museum in Boston demonstrated that his accounting magic could be profitably applied to the management of their enormously complicated work too.

Next: License to Drive: Bill Mayhew