I’m sure that most of us have said, at one time or another, “I could’ve done that!”
Or, rather, “I wish that I would’ve thought of that!”
I’m talkin’ about YouTube. Facebook. Instagram. All those apps on your cell phone. Basically, I’m talking about any idea, invention or creation that just appears to be so simple, just a result of using your common sense.
Why didn’t I think of that? I could’ve been a millionaire!
Look, I’m not talking about something like Google, but the idea to be the hosting site for a bunch of different videos or pictures or be some sort of extended chat room are not exactly rocket science ideas.
Nowadays, there are apps & programs all over that will help you with almost anything! And we all look at this stuff in retrospect, of course, and say, “Hey, why couldn’t I have done that? Why couldn’t I have at least developed the concept, then found someone to bring it to life?”
Soon after I joined Citibank back in 1978, I got a new boss by the name of John Hibel. He turned out to be one of the brightest and sharpest individuals I’ve ever met in my life!
He had been the chief auditor for the Brooklyn Staten Island Region, specializing in the branches so I really had no prior exposure to him. He came on board and, at that time, we were running a bunch of special projects & initiatives designed to reduce our Regional expense base, improve our quality & maximize efficiency.
For example, I was asked to look into our telecommunications costs, one of our largest expenditures aside from salaries/benefits. As a result, I dove headfirst into a totally-different discipline and tried to learn as quickly as I could. I revamped the entire phone system & network that supported not only the Regional Service Center but all of our 50+ branches in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Total savings exceeded 3/4 of a million dollars annually! (Note: That’s in 1980 dollars.)
John ran a Purchasing project where he examined all of our stationery and supplies purchasing requirements. Several of his recommendations were adopted & they wound up saving us a couple hundred
thousand dollars annually!
We created a Social Security direct deposit program that converted over 20K customers from manual checks. Not only did this help to relieve branch congestion during the first week of the month, but the bank also benefited greatly from increased “float revenue” (having the funds on hand Day 1 instead of waiting approximately a week for the customer to deposit the check & for us to collect the funds from the Treasury).
We also coordinated a special initiative in the branches regarding the use of “CBC hostesses” who would “pull customers” off the teller lines, bring them to the CBC/Citicard Banking Center (ATM Lobby) & walk them through how easy it was to get cash, deposit a check or make a payment. Once the customer saw how quick & easy it was, and realized that they didn’t have to send their lunch hour on a teller line, we had ourselves a convert!
Just like many of our programs were the result of applying simple logic & common sense, along with a little knowledge, to a pretty-common phenomenon we faced, John was also working on one of his ideas on his own time.
The self-contained portable kitty litter box.
Today, there are dozens of different products available at pet supply stores, in discount websites and with e-retailers such as Amazon.
But in 1980, there was nothing like it on the market. In addition, it was becoming more & more common for households to have 2 breadwinners, for daily commutes to & from work to be more congested & much longer (especially with the exodus to the suburbs) & the whole concept of “pay for convenience” strongly taking hold with the proliferation of fast food joints, the “use once & throw away” consumer products & the offering of goods that were more convenient & portable .
It seemed that John’s idea could certainly fill a niche with America’s 25MM+ households that owned cats.
Made of cardboard, the portable/disposable kitty litter box would come folded up, containing an unopened bag of litter inside. Open the perforations, spread it out full length, cut open the bag & spread the litter.
When it’s “filled”, you can scoop out the dirty litter & continue using it.
Or if once is enough, simply fold it back up & dispose of it.
It even had a handle on the outside.
I know he had professional artist renderings developed as he was contemplating getting a prototype worked up for potential patent submission.
As it turned out…
I was asked to run the soon-to-be-consolidated CitiPhone business for the entire Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island Region…and that was located about 90 minutes east, in Melville, Long Island (right along the Nassau-Suffolk County border). Soon after, Laurie, Heather & I moved out to Long Island as well & I lost contact with John.
It was only a few years ago when I discovered an old, unread message on Facebook Messenger from Sonya Fortune, John’s 2nd wife for over 25 years!
I had absolutely no idea it was there, along with some other unopened messages.
Apparently, if you receive a message from someone on Facebook who currently is not your friend (“not on your contact list”), it automatically goes into this special folder, but (I believe) you don’t receive any proactive notification that a message has arrived…much different from how “regular messages” are handled.
I opened it & was blown away!
I had completely lost track of John over the years & had tried to find him on numerous occasions via old (outdated) contact information, Google searches, etc..
I felt so bad that it actually took me a couple of years at least to see her message.
Of course, I immediately sent her a FB friend invite & began communicating.
They had a son, Martin (who looked just like his Dad) & Sonya was absolutely the sweetest person.
She told me that over the years, whenever John reminisced & my name was brought up, he’d smile!
Man, that warmed my heart.
She asked me to give John a call as he would never call anyone & was suffering from poor health.
I don’t know why (and I sincerely regret it to this day), but I didn’t call right away. Next thing I knew, he entered the hospital & died shortly thereafter. He was 74 years old.
I still stay in contact with Sonya & recently asked her if John ever shared his idea for the disposable litter box with her.
He hadn’t, so I wonder what happened to his idea from 40 years ago.
? ? ? ? ?
As always, thank you so much for listening!