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Story 11: Learning to Lead

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License to Drive: Bill Mayhew

Written by Mike Spock

Following Tom as a contractor to the museum was a first-year MIT student, Bill Mayhew, who so impressed DEC (Digital Equipment Company, one of the local hi-tech companies pioneering the invention and application of mini-computers beyond mainframes that only big-muscled operations like Stride Rite, universities, and the military could afford, and before PCs appeared on everyone's desks) that they began to offer the museum a succession of state-of-the-art equipment for both public-access and behind-the-scenes uses. With a DEC PD8 computer and UNIX operating system from Bell Labs, Bill put time-sharing terminals on the exhibit floor and adapted Tom Goldsmith's accounting packing so that he, Mary, and Phyl could actually enter all the museum's numbers directly onto our DEC computer, bypassing the time-consuming and error-prone punch cards.

The other breakthrough came when Bill figured how he could tie costs to the details of each transaction in backup pages, so that department and project managers could use their personal printouts to troubleshoot unexpected problems in each month's actuals against budget to see how they were doing. With these homemade, but ultra-sophisticated and timely accounting tools, everyone, from smallest middle managers all the way up to board members, could manage activities against expectations in ways that felt both empowering but not out on a limb!

When we became thoroughly comfortable with the utility and accuracy of our accounting package we began to sell services to the other medium-sized Boston cultural organizations.

The story of how Phyl, Mary, David, Tom, Bill, and Mike Fitzgerald, the former neighborhood kid now paid museum staff, worked together in successive collaborations starting with the simplest green-eyeshade ledgers, outside service providers, borrowed time on a big IBM machine, and then graduating to DEC's state-of-the-art hardware and the newly licensed UNIX operating system to come up with an ultra sophisticated and exceedingly useful package of budgeting and tracking tools more than a decade earlier than the field is worthy of study. Phyl and David created a climate of encouragement and experimentation in which some very young and very smart staff and consultants allowed the museum to get the maximum mileage out of each dollar without going into the red or organizationally spinning out of control.

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