Story 11: Learning to Lead

Story | Print | eMail | Related Media | Archives

Tracking the Money: Phyl O'Connell & Mary Babine

Written by Mike Spock

When I arrived in 1962, the budget (comfortably contained within five figures) had always been arranged along functional lines (gifts, grants, fees, and salaries, benefits, utilities, materials and supplies, postage, etc.) and was discussed and voted on by the full board. The minutes of those pre-Spock meetings showed the trustees preoccupied with minute details of how to spend the budget, but not much about policy directions. Although the term "micro management" had not yet been invented, it perfectly describes the climate of those early board gatherings. But the new young Turks on the board, who volunteered as the search committee for a new director and who interviewed me at the Midget Restaurant, had more radical designs on the soon-to-be-fifty-year-old children's museum.

Following the lead of federal guidelines that demanded separate project budgeting, tracking, and eventual auditing, the museum finances were converted into two-dimensional formats with departments (permanent) and projects (temporary) arranged across separate columns or pages, before being broken down into the familiar (functional) lines. Up to that time, the books were recorded in old-fashioned ledgers by our part-time bookkeeper and, when she retired, by Mary Babine, who had run the switchboard.

Before long, a third budget dimension—staff time—was added for tracking purposes to see if the budget would actually work within its projections. The actual results began to arrive in monthly reports and in the payroll from a service bureau. Finances were firmly in the hands of Phyl O'Connell (acting director and later assistant director.) When the MATCh Kits project contract arrived from the U.S. Office of Education, reports were also tracked by Fred Kresse, the project's director. Mary and Phyl's monthly and annual reports were so accurate and reassuringly well-documented that the museum also sailed through local and federal audits without incident.

If both practicality and inventiveness came naturally to us, one of our challenges was to figure out better ways of managing our money that allowed us to distribute responsibility down the line to the project and department levels throughout the museum. We made primitive beginnings in this direction in the early days of computerized accounting in the '60s when we began to send the payroll out to a service bureau, where checks were printed, or later deposited electronically to each employee's bank account, and the numbers, with the fringe benefits subtracted, were continuously printed out on perforated computer paper and sent by mail back to Phyl O'Connell. What an incredible luxury that was!

Next: Inventing Better Tools: David Burnham & Tom Goldsmith