In August of 1980 I went to work for Title Records, Inc. (TRI) in Sun Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles. TRI was the largest title plant in the United States based on recording volume. This was a huge opportunity and career jump for me. The plant had moved from downtown Los Angeles to a sparkling new 50,000 square foot facility. There were a couple of hundred employees in the facility, 60 which reported directly to me.
The 1980 recession was in full swing and I knew the first thing I had to do was to assess the workforce and make some cutbacks. The manager that I replaced had been there since TRI was formed in the late 1960’s. He didn’t want to disappoint anybody, so he never made anyone a supervisor. On the organization chart, there were 60 line employees all reporting directly to me. He never understood the concept of plant maintenance. The data entry department was keying IBM punch cards using manual film viewers that seemed older than me. The data entry department had earned overtime so long that they now considered the overtime and dinner money ($5) as part of their salary. Film cabinets were old, multi-colored, and about half of the drawers were damaged and could barely open. Books had broken bindings and pages were already missing and torn out. I went home after my first day of work and tried to figure out why in the world I’d taken on this job.
I knew that what the plant needed was not just a face lift, but a new identity! It needed to position itself and be ready when the recession passed and business returned. I made the necessary (and painful) cutbacks fairly quickly. Within 18 months, I went to the Board for money, purchased new film cabinets, repaired the broken books, ditched the punch card machines for a Nixdorf computerized data entry system, and bought new microfilm readers. The economy did turn around and TRI was ready for some of the biggest housing booms in this country’s history. I’d gained the support of everyone in the plant once they saw that they had a person in charge who not only cared about them and the plant, but was upgrading the workplace and promoting people to higher and more responsible positions. Despite the tough choices and difficult changes, the results lead to future success and camaraderie never before seen at TRI.
Today we’re at the end of summer, and for most title companies and agencies that have survived, things look bleak. The U.S. economy is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression. The actions you take today will be pivotal in the success or even existence of your company in the future. The decisions and changes I made at TRI were more than difficult, but ridding the organization of customs of the past was a necessary step toward our future successes. I knew that an economic rebound was imminent in the 1980’s, and we were able to take full advantage of it. Our rebound is imminent as well – are you ready?