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, any idea, invention or creation that just appears to be so incredibly “simple”, a result of only using your common sense.
Why didn’t I think of that? I could’ve been a bazillionaire!
Look, I’m not referring to something as complicated or earth-shattering as Google, but when you look at some of the most popular apps, the concept of being a central repository of different videos (YouTube), or an interactive map (Mapquest), or even the weather are not exactly rocket science ideas.
But they work!
Unbelievably well, too.
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?”
A few years 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 entire life!
He had been the lead auditor for the Brooklyn Staten Island Region, reporting to George Bissell (for all you FNCB vets out there), specializing in the branches so I really had no prior exposure to him. He came aboard 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 the 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 wound up revamping the entire system & network that supported not only the Regional Service Center but all of our 50+ branches & offices across Brooklyn and Staten Island. Total savings exceeded half a million dollars annually! (Note: That’s 1980 dollars…today, ~$1.7MM)
John ran a Purchasing project where he examined all of our stationery, supplies & various purchasing expenditures. Several of his recommendations were quickly adopted e.g., low-cost providers for office equipment & computer paper, etc. & we wound up saving the B/SI Region over $350,000 annually!
We worked together to create a Social Security direct deposit enrollment program that converted over 30K customers from manually receiving, and depositing, monthly checks.
Not only did this help to relieve branch floor 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 receive/deposit the check & for us to eventually 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 (ATMs) & 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 spend their entire 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 fairly-common phenomenon we faced, John was also working on one of his personal pet projects ideas on his own time.
The self-contained, disposable kitty litter box.
Today, there are dozens of similar products available at pet supply stores, on 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 commonplace for households to have 2 breadwinners and for daily commutes to & from work to be more congested & longer (especially with the exodus to the suburbs). With the whole concept of “pay for convenience” strongly taking hold in consumer America, the “use once & throw away” & “convenience” products were becoming way more popular!
Fast food. Microwavable meals. Disposable tableware. Food storage. Razors. Diapers. Contact lenses. Garbage bags. Vacuum cleaner bags.
It seemed that John’s idea could certainly fill a niche with America’s 25MM+ households that owned cats.
Made of sturdy cardboard (environmentally-friendly before its time!), the portable/disposable kitty litter box would come folded up, containing an unopened bag of litter inside. Open the perforations, spread out the box full length, cut open the bag & voila!
“Here, kitty, kitty!”
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 nice convenient 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.
Soon after, Laurie, Heather & I moved out to Long Island as well & I pretty much lost contact with John.
It was only a few years ago, in fact, when I discovered an old, unread message in Facebook Messenger from Sonya Fortune, John’s wife of over 25 years!
I never even realized that someone could receive communications from “non-FB friends”, much less where to actually look for them, so I had absolutely no idea Sonya’s message was there, along with a bunch of others.
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 you don’t receive any proactive notification that a message has arrived…much different from how “regular messages” are handled.
When I opened it, I 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 took me a few years to even 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 so 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 very day), but I didn’t call right away. Next thing I knew, he entered the hospital for surgery & 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 novel thought from 40 years ago.
? ? ? ? ?
As always, thank you so very much for listening!