Friday, February 22, 2013

The Road Joe Traveled

My husband, Joe, is retiring on March 1st. In an age when employees and employers move from one to another fairly easily and quickly he managed to stay basically at one place for 33 years. And he stayed in the same profession for 43 years. I know he is being honored by his current co-workers this week but I wanted to provide a look at this wonderful man's career from my view since I've known him throughout almost his entire working life.

We met at a Mendel High School dance when Joe was 17. He was already pretty self-sufficient from working as a stock boy in a local liquor store. He even bought his first car on his own that year from his earnings.

But later that year he got a job at a small bank, Union Bank, a few blocks from Mendel. He became the evening computer operator. He would head over after school and run all of the computer processing for each day's end. For the many of you too young to know, thsee were the days when information was fed into a room size computer system by punched cards. And once in, the data was stored on large removable tapes. There were no screens and output was on huge usually green bar paper. It was all called "Data Processing" at the time.And although everyone knew of computers, how they worked was basically unknown and even a little scary.

But it was great work that paid well. Now he was moving around heavy boxes of paper instead of cases of vodka. He'd usually finish around 10 in the evening but would have to work longer for month end processing or when there were problems. He even bought himself a new car.

He was able to keep the same job while commuting to college. He soon learned that the really cool jobs belonged to the programmers. They were the ones who virtually controlled the computers and told them what to do with the data being processed. And Union Bank was interested enough in Joe to send him to programming school to learn the COBOL programming language.

Over the next several years he continued to program and even moved to a non-banking programming job for a short time. We even got married during this phase of his career. But bank data processing was something he really understood and he moved to the First National Bank of Harvey. That job meant steady working hours, a couple of new cars and two moves that eventually had us into our first house.

While working there he once told me that eventually he wanted to either become a president of a small bank OR work for one of the really big banks. So when he saw an ad in 1979 for a position at what was then The First National Bank of Chicago in computer customer services he applied and was hired. His was now a liaison between the departments in the bank and the computer programming and operations departments.

He was so proud to be working at the largest bank in the Midwest. The hours were even pretty regular. If problems arose with processing during the night he generally didn't find out until the next morning when he would have to contact the affected departments with status updates.

Then came the 80's. The First National Bank of Chicago started using it's corporation identity of First Chicago. Banking was deregulated under Reagan. So First Chicago began buying smaller banks. We had our son, Phillip. And we added a second car for the first time.

Joe's job grew. Now problems with computer jobs meant instant communication even during the night. First this meant the phone ringing at any hour. But it soon meant that Joe's pager seemed to be surgically attached and he was given a brand new portable phone by the bank.

ATM usage was growing exponentially and the bank wanted to give all of it's customers access to their accounts from any First Chicago branch or ATM. For customers this was great. For Joe, this meant moving to a unit in the bank whose job it was to analyze, plan for and finally convert all of the account data from each of the small bank's computer systems and integrate it into First Chicago's.

This also started another phase in his career. These conversions were usually done over a three day bank holiday weekend. Because the conversion schedule was so tight all of the conversion team members needed to stay downtown in Chicago so they could catch some sleep during long process runs but be back at the bank to review results or fix problems. This was done for each conversion and was preceded by at least one or more test runs.

During the 90's the reliance on instant account access now included customers being given access through the web and interactive phone banking. Fixing problems needed to happen just as quickly. The size of Joe's portable phone became smaller and his pager started including a keyboard and small screen to send text messages about the problems back and forth. But at least now when he was home it was in his beautiful new home in Mokena. Phil turned 16 in 1997 and was the new driver of Joe's 1986 Chevy Celebrity Eurosport. So that houses' three car garage was now full and included a new shiny red sports car for Joe.

In 1995, First Chicago merged with the National Bank of Detroit to form First Chicago NBD. First came trips to Detroit to evaulate and compare each bank's computer systems. Once it was decided to continue with First Chicago's systems Joe had to make trips to Detroit to plan and execute the largest import of data yet.

Then in 1998 came the merger with Bank One out of Columbus, Ohio. Once again there was the compare and evaluate phase. This time was a bit scarier. There were lots of duplication of jobs between the two banks when only one was needed after the merger. But Bank One had not completed it's own merger of data from its acquisitions so once again First Chicago NBD's systems were chosen to remain (whew!).

Joe was now had an office both in Chicago and Columbus, with weeks in Columbus happening more and more frequently. There was even an occasional trip to see his team in Phoenix. Thankfully, Joe was able to come home to Mokena most weekends. And Phil was away in college.

2004 brought another round of breath holding when a merger was announced with J.P. Morgan Chase. Once again Joe was on the team to champion what was now Bank One's systems as compared to those of Chase. This meant added trips to New York City. There were some weeks where Joe would fly from Chicago to Columbus on Monday, to NYC for meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, back to Columbus for Friday and finally home to Mokena on Friday evening. And yet again, the decision was made to keep the Bank One version. It was even decided to keep the I.T. teams in Columbus as well.

Of course I haven't even mentioned all of the changes to job titles and officer levels Joe achieved through all of this. Somewhere Data Processing became Information Technology. He worked through Y2K. The bank paid for a one bedroom apartment in Columbus but then decided he needed to cut back on travel and could stay in hotels. The travel cut back lasted for one month before he was back to being in Columbus almost every week.

Through all of this I was working as well. Most of it as a computer consultant whose office was in our home but whose time was spent mostly visiting various clients.Phil finished high school, college and got married in 2008. In 2009 I had to stop working due to what was soon diagnosed as MS. Thankfully for me he was able to spend quite a few weeks working from home after that. In 2010 we realized that I would no longer be driving so Joe sold his much beloved sporty car which by then was a black Pontiac Gran Prix GXP. My new mobility scooter would only fit in what had been my Honda Highlander.

Do to some foresight but a lot of luck, our beautiful Mokena house has it's master bedroom on the first floor. So  its three car garage now only holds one SUV. But it's on a wonderful one acre lot to which we purchased two additional empty acres in back in 2011. Joe can't wait to spend time working outside when the weather is nice. And then building a Lionel train room in what used to be my office upstairs above the garage.

I've watched, listened, been elated or been depressed through Joe's very long but enormously successful career. I've been home waiting through conversions, new installations, and disaster recovery tests. I've waited for late or cancelled flights. I waited to hear from him after he was flying when two planes hit the World Trade Center and one hit the Pentagon but the news didn't know from where they had originated.  But I've been so lucky that even with all of his travel for work he actually enjoys using his frequent travelor miles and points to go with me on many vacations.

I can't begin to say how much I love and admire Joe. He has never given anything but his very best to both his job and his family.

But I'm so happy that he's going to be retiring. And finally giving himself the time he so richly deserves.

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