Sandra Parker is just getting started.
“At a time when I see a lot of my contemporaries pulling back and taking early retirement, I feel like I’m just coming into my own,” says Parker, 54. “I work harder at this job than I’ve worked at any job in my life.”
Named president of the Industrial Management Council some 18 months ago after a nearly a decade as the IMC’s vice president, Parker says the job is the realization of a lifelong dream of heading an organization.
Parker oversees the IMC’s 48 employees and an $11 million budget. The organization provides its 415 members with services such as training programs, employment-referral services and outsourced human resource functions. It also operates a Career Resource Center and conducts employee surveys.
Parker’s plans include continuing to develop the IMC as a free and fee-based employer-service organization. She also aims to increase the number of IMC members, diversify its revenue sources and promote its efforts.
Parker has worked off and on for the IMC for some 20 years, with time out for stints as a human resource executive at Rochester Institute of Technology and Schlegel Corp. She stepped into the IMC presidency at a key point.
Brian Hickey, president of M&T Bank’s Rochester division and a longtime IMC board member, concurs with Parker’s estimate of her work output. But Hickey sees her top value to the organization in the calming hand she has laid over the organization’s previously troubled waters.
Formed in the early 1900s as a subdivision of the Chamber, the IMC was designed to specifically represent manufacturers’ interests. The organization split from the Chamber in 1944, but the Chamber-which retained the area’s most powerful manufacturing firms as members after the split-remained substantially larger.
In the early 1990s, Chamber membership was roughly 3,000, compared with the IMC’s roster of approximately 300.
The IMC for several years had waged a series of turf battles with the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc. Those tussles distressed powerful business interests in the community-such as Eastman Kodak Co., Bausch & Lomb Inc. and Xerox Corp.- that looked to both groups for support.
“Disagreements are fine,” says Hickey, who also chairs the Chamber’s board. “But how can (business) ask for the backing it wants from government if it has serious dissension in its own ranks?”
Most of the open skirmishing between the Chamber and the IMC occurred in 1994, but two years later, hostilities still were evident. Highlights of the fray included the IMC ousting Mooney from its board, followed closely by Gleason Corp.’s withdrawal from the IMC.
Bausch & Lomb had pulled out earlier in the year, and Kodak had backed off of some IMC-sponsored initiatives.
Mooney and former IMC president Arthur Aspengren publicly downplayed the controversy. But a flurry of internal communications from both organizations outlined the IMC’s deep fears that the Chamber was seeking to reabsorb the council, and the Chamber’s chagrin over what it saw as Aspengren’s attempts to muscle in on its territory.
During this period, Parker ran IMC operations and kept a fairly low profile. By the time Aspengren retired and she took over in 1997, the war had devolved into an uneasy truce.
“There were still tensions,” she recalls.
Parker’s genius has been to quell Chamber/IMC differences and turn the groups into true partners, Hickey says. She accomplished this less through force of will than by giving Chamber president Thomas Mooney the room to do what was ultimately in the best interest of both groups and the local business community.
“What Sandy did was compromise,” Hickey says.
The compromise she promoted, however, was subtle because neither the IMC nor the Chamber conceded ground, he adds.
Mooney ticks off a list of initiatives he and Parker have worked on together the past 18 months, and others they plan to undertake in the future.
“I see our organizations as completely complementary,” says Mooney. “There is no difference (of opinion) between us.”
This is in marked contrast to a baleful assessment of the IMC one would have elicited from the Chamber president only a few years ago.
Parker’s chief weapon in finessing such a reversal seems to be an ingrained optimism, a sort of power-of-positive-thinking approach internalized to the degree that even she is not consciously aware of applying it. For example, she claims to have never had a job she did not like or to have worked for a boss she did not like.
Parker says she loved a mind-numbingly dull testing and assembly summer job she had at Bausch & Lomb while she was a college student. “The people were great,” she says.
She also enjoyed an earlier part-time job in a department store.
“To tell the truth,” she says, “I think I would find something to like about any job I’d have.”
In her off hours, Parker enjoys spending time at a summer cottage, bicycling and reading Tom Clancy’s high-tech potboilers and Mary Higgins Clark mysteries. She is the mother of a grown son, and recently has separated from her husband of 30 years, a split she describes as amicable.
A psychology major in school, Parker determined she wanted to work in human resources. All three of her post-collegiate jobs have been in that field.
A Webster native, she went to work for Rochester Institute of Technology after graduating in 1968 from the College of Wooster in Ohio. She spent 11 years at RIT, rising to associate director of human resources.
Seeing the private sector as more likely to fulfill her career ambitions, she started putting out feelers to Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb in the late 1970s. All three politely turned her down, telling her she lacked private-sector experience.
“I couldn’t get a job in manufacturing, which is where I really wanted to be, so I took a job at the IMC,” she says.
The IMC, Parker figured, would provide networking opportunities.
In 1985, she landed a position with Schlegel Corp. Five years later, Schlegel was acquired by British Tire and Rubber PLC and shut down the local headquarters, throwing Parker out of work.
In 1990, former IMC president Jack Hostetler, who had been Parker’s boss during her earlier tenure with the organization, rehired her as vice president. She rejoined the IMC only a few months before Hostetler’s retirement. This put Parker under Aspengren, who set about radically changing the IMC’s structure and mission.
Aspengren saw the IMC sliding into trouble if it remained dependent on an essentially flat base of dues-paying members. He started a series of human resource initiatives to create a revenue stream that would reduce the organization’s dependence on dues. Those efforts included a staffing service run as a for-profit subsidiary and several outsourced human resource functions it could sell to members as value-added services.
Parker credits Aspengren for developing the strategies she has continued to apply, with no small success.
Since 1993, the IMC has moved from being a more than 50 percent dues-dependent organization to one that sees more than 90 percent of its support coming from non-dues sources.
At the same time, Aspengren’s initiatives and the IMC’s attempts to move into areas such as international business-a segment the Chamber saw as its protected home turf-sounded warning bells at the Chamber and sparked the sniping.
And while both organizations by 1997 had backed away from open hostilities, it was not until Parker’s appointment that the Chamber and the IMC again began to work cooperatively in earnest.
Joint projects since have included the SmartDog.org high-tech recruitment Web site and cooperative efforts to sell Kodak’s Elmgrove complex.
For the past six months, Parker and Mooney have poured much of their time into helping create the Rochester Resource Alliance Inc. It is a project Parker believes will have an enormous economic development payback, despite having so far flown under most businesses’ radar screens.
The RRA, created to dole out federal job-training money locally under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership.
The program’s chief function is to hand out $5.9 million to scores of local businesses to fund hiring, training and retraining. In scope, it will be little different from its 1996 predecessor, the Job Training Partnership Act, or JTPA’s 1960s-era antecedent, the Community Employment Training Act.
What Parker hopes will prove a key difference between the RRA and earlier efforts is the current program has been carefully designed to be business friendly.
Another strength distinguishing it from its predecessors is it will combine funds, previously administered separately in isolated city and county programs, into a single concentrated effort.
Business interests have viewed previous federal jobs programs largely as a compendium of make-work efforts and red tape, Parker says. But RRA programs have been designed to direct federal money to areas that business sees as helpful.
So though the RRA will serve public-sector purposes such as moving welfare recipients into paying jobs, it will, in tandem, promote training of high-tech workers and give money to employers who need to sharpen the skills of their existing work forces, she adds.
Whether it will bring the boons the business organization leaders expect remains to be seen. But had Chamber/IMC relations not improved, the measure of cooperation applied to bring it about hardly would have been possible.
M&T’s Hickey notes Parker does not deserve all the credit for the organizations’ dÅ½tente and reconciliation.
“It takes two to tango,” he says. “Tom certainly had a lot to do with it.”
Still, says Mooney himself, “From day one, Sandy has been a delight to work with.”