To Serve Them All His Days
Gibson, Stanley, American Banker
EXCEPTIONAL. That's perhaps the best word to describe Eric Watmough, the 76-year-old director of recreational services for the Bank of Boston, who is the exception to a number of generally accepted rules.
Born in Manchester, England, Mr. Watmough came to America at the age of four to grow up as an Episcopalian in predominantly Irish-Catholic South Boston. With only one year of high school education, he rose over the course of his 49-year career at Bank of Boston to become an assistant vice president. Then, six years after retiring, he was called back to the bank to work, and now he is perhaps better known in his new position than he ever was in his earlier career at the bank.
As director of recreational services, Mr. Watmough administers recreational activities that the bank offers at a discount to employees. These activities are determined by a committee of 25 people, a cross-section of employees from different departments of the bank that meets once a month.
"I coordinate the activities they decide to offer," said Mr. Watmough. His budget of $60,000 is supported by the profits generated by the vending machines throughout the bank's system. His tasks include sending out flyers with news of the coming events to some 10,000 New England bank employees. He estimates the number of tickets to buy and contacts the ticket office of the museum, amusement park, or professional sports team in order to buy a block of tickets, usually at a discount. The bank also underwrites some of the committee's operating expenses and up to 25% of ticket costs. It is up to Mr. Watmough to decide what percentage of the ticket costs the bank pays.
"I use my own judgment," he said, explaining if an event is priced too high to attract a large number of lower-level employees, he will increase the bank's subsidy more than he might otherwise to take a little more off the employees' price.
"If it's not a popular event, people blame me, even though the committee made the decision," he laughs. While the home contests of the Bruins, Red Sox, and Patriots are always favorites (Celtics tickets are almost impossible to come by because their home games are nearly always sold out), the committee tries to balance its offerings with important cultural events, such as the major Renoir exhibit this fall at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and a show on China's cultural history at the Museum of Science. The committee also offers special tour packages through travel agencies to popular vacation spots in the United States and abroad.
Many employees look forward to the annual United Way charity kickoff outing, and this year's event was held several weeks ago at a Massachusetts amusement park.
"We rented the whole park. Eric was there from dawn 'till dusk," said Law-rence K. Fish, head of the bank's New England group, who was also among the 4,500 in attendance. "The programs are great team-builders. They create a positive attitude among officers and nonofficers," Mr. Fish added.
Employees desiring to attend an event send a check for their tickets with a return envelope to Mr. Watmough, who collects the money and sends out the tickets. The long-time banker keeps his own books and makes daily deposits into the recreation committee's account at the bank.
Before his job was created, recreation committee members would divide up the tasks of correspondence and ticket purchases between them, and carry out their duties during spare moments on the job. This led to times when supervisors would chance on employees in the midst of calling Fenway Park to order tickets, or opening piles of mail with checks from employees. Frequently, recreation committee members had to explain that, although they were not, strictly speaking, working, they were in fact carrying out a vital function.
Management decided this source of confusion could be eliminated by delegating many of the committee's responsibilities to one individual. …