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management by doing

Raymond Hutch: Practicing
management by doing

That was an easy feat 24 years ago, when Western New York Computing Systems Inc. was a one-man show. Today, with 120 workers, birthday lunches eat up quite a bit more of Hutch’s time.
Those extra calories pose no problem for Hutch, a 55-year-old triathlon competitor who outdistances rivals in the business arena as well.
A Rochester Top 100 company for the past eight years–and the list’s leader for two years running–WNYCS is on track to hit the $100 million mark by the end of the decade. But financial success is just a by-product, the firm’s founder and president says.
“We’re not driven by numbers,” Hutch insists. “Our mission is first of all do things right for our customers, focus on quality, anticipate their needs and manage the change of those needs. Pull everybody together as a team and make them proud that they’re part of the team, and make them part of our clients’ team(s).
“We don’t go out there every day saying: “OK, we’ve got to sell this much more.”’
Still, sales do flow. Last year, WNYCS brought in $55 million, up from $46 million in 1992. The firm has showed a profit in each year of its 24 years.
WNYCS sells computer hardware, software and support services. In Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo, the company holds franchises with MicroAge Inc., a Phoenix-based computer distributor.
Half the firm’s earnings come from its high-margin data-processing services. That business is growing, as companies large and small turn to WNYCS for their outsourcing needs.
Hutch says he did not build his business by managing.
“I’ve never been one to enjoy managing, and I haven’t attracted managers to the company–so I don’t have people trying to protect their empires and their environments. Rather, I’ve got a lot of doers who like to take care of customers.”
Nor does WNYCS hold much stock in titles, Hutch adds. That fact is evident as James Stefano searches for one to fit his job.
“Let’s say I’m responsible for customer service and quality management, and that I work on large corporate accounts,” he says. “If I’m really desperate I’ll say I’m a director, but that sounds like IBM or something.”
Hutch encourages flexibility and teamwork, says Stefano, a six-year veteran of WNYCS. Indeed, two years ago Hutch reorganized the company into self-directed work teams, with employees from each area of the business–accounting, sales, purchasing, systems support and so on–coming together to work on a client’s account.
“It’s kind of a fluid structure,” Hutch says. “It allows you to be very responsive to change. Our whole goal is to anticipate the needs of our clients and change with them.”
Big changes were afoot last year at Xerox Corp., one of WNYCS’s largest clients. In June, Xerox outsourced its worldwide data processing and computer network services to Electronic Data Systems Corp.
That move was a mixed blessing for WNYCS, which now subcontracts with EDS to do hardware maintenance at Xerox. Although it stands to lose some business from the change, Hutch believes the Xerox decision will sway other firms to turn to WNYCS for their data-processing needs.
“They’ve changed the trend,” he says. “If (Xerox) does it, why shouldn’t other companies of smaller size do likewise? They say: “Gee, maybe I should consider that too.”’
WNYCS does selective outsourcing for a broad range of companies in the region, including Goulds Pumps Inc., Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., and Fay’s Inc. For some firms, WNYCS handles their complete data-processing and computer services.
In fact, outsourcing gave Hutch his start long before the term was coined.
In 1971, more than a decade before personal computers changed the workplace, the buzzword was time-sharing. Companies with large mainframe computers would sell access to the computer to firms that wanted to automate processes such as accounting and payroll.
Hutch had worked for other time-sharing businesses and wanted to strike out on his own. One problem: He lacked the capital needed to buy his own mainframe computer.
Instead, he struck deals with Rochester Institute of Technology and Alfred University to buy extra capacity from their computer systems. He then resold that computer access to local businesses and helped them tap these systems with customized software programs.
By 1973, Hutch had socked away enough profits from this venture to invest in his own minicomputer. Over the next few years, he added more computers to this network and gradually shifted off the university systems.
His firm hit the $7 million mark fairly fast, Hutch says, but dipped and then plateaued at $5 million after a handful of employees left to start up competing businesses.
Then came the 1980s and the era of personal computers. At first, Hutch was reluctant to follow the crowd.
“I stayed away from it longer than most people did,” he recalls. “I waited until 1987, when I finally realized if we don’t get aboard this bandwagon, we’re just going to be passed on by.”
Explosive growth began that year, when Hutch bought the MicroAge franchise for Rochester and started selling computer equipment and supplies. He added franchises in Buffalo and Syracuse soon after.
As his company grew, he also added to the “Penfield campus” of WNYCS offices. The company occupies four buildings–including two historic landmarks–and a warehouse on Baird Road. Hutch plans to consolidate operations within the next year, however, and is looking for potential sites.
Despite his success, Hutch holds no ambitions of stretching beyond boundaries defined by the company name.
“It’s not a good name for outside New York,” he laughs. “And it pretty much describes what our goals and objectives are–just to be the best company we can be here in Western New York and in the computing industry.”
This region is familiar territory for Hutch, who has spent most of his life here.
Born in New Rochelle, Hutch grew up in New York City and Buffalo. He attended Cornell University in Ithaca, studying mechanical engineering for three years. But engineering studies were too introverted for Hutch, so in 1961 he transferred to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
Hutch graduated in 1963 with a double major in engineering and economics, and went to work for IBM Corp. as a systems engineer in Hartford.
In 1965 Hutch moved to Chicago to take a job with Information Handling Services, a firm that transferred documents onto microfilm. In 1967, when the company asked Hutch to open up its Western New York territory, he and his wife, Erika, moved to Rochester.
The following year, he landed a job with General Electric Co. and opened its first time-sharing office here. Within a year, Hutch racked up 22 large accounts, including Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox and every major bank in the area.
GE sold its computer business in 1968. The new owners set up Hutch selling new accounts, but gave him commissionable credit for only four months after each sale.
“You can imagine in a town like Rochester, once you’ve sold all the accounts there are of any substance, you’re going to secondary and tertiary markets with far less volume, and you’re obsoleting your job over time,” he says. “It was not a well-conceived plan.”
So Hutch found a job with Graphic Controls Inc., a Buffalo company that was also in the time-sharing business. Hutch wooed his former GE clients so successfully that Graphic Controls asked him to manage its Syracuse office as well as the Rochester branch.
Things were fine until the company decided to expand beyond this region, opening offices in Detroit, Chicago and New York City. Overextended, the firm struggled along until 1971, when it sold out to a West Coast company that subsequently offered Hutch a district manager position.
By now, however, Hutch was tired of being jerked around by corporate decision makers: It was time to cast his own lot.
When setting up his company’s pension plan 24 years ago, Hutch chose 55 as the official retirement age. He hit that mark in December, but is not yet ready to vacate the president’s seat.
Although his 26-year-old daughter, Kristina, chose a different career path–she is editor of the Rochester Business Magazine–Hutch’s son Erik, 25, is being groomed to take the management reins some five years down the road.
The young Hutch began working for WNYCS when he was a 16-year-old high school student, hefting cartons in the warehouse. At the time, he says, the job held much less appeal than his other part-time job at a local golf course.
Now, Erik Hutch takes a different view.
“It’s such a small company–you can see yourself really making a difference,” he says.
His father hopes to do the same, both in the community now and in retirement.
Through the Rochester Area Foundation, Hutch sponsors the Ray Hutch Family Fund, which supports programs in early childhood education, youth recreation and parenting. He plans to join the Rochester Area Foundation’s board of directors this year.
Hutch also toys with the possibility of joining the Peace Corps some day.
“I’d like to help people directly, if I can,” he explains. “That’s an area I’ll try to do more of, whether it’s in the Peace Corps or maybe locally–there’s plenty of need wherever you may go.”
[Rochester Business Journal Profile, Feb. 10, 1995]

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