I had the honor of interviewing Julie Untener, Vice President and Chief of Staff to the President and COO of National Cash Register (NCR), Corp. during this month’s Women in Leadership Signature Series event. Especially interesting was our dialogue about NCR’s culture. I grew up in Dayton, OH, the birthplace of NCR, and thanks to my stepfather who was an NCR employee, some of my happiest times were spent at Old River Park, the 133-acre park dedicated by an earlier President of NCR for the exclusive use of its employees and their families. We had picnics in the park, went paddle boating in the lagoon that circled the park, and swam in the famous pool that could accommodate 5,000 at one time. We didn’t go on summer vacations; we went to Old River Park!
Old River Park in its day was a manifestation of NCR’s cultural beginnings and one of the elements within those beginnings studied by pre-eminent scholars on the topic of organizational culture.
The Birth of NCR
Each organization has a unique history — a unique story. NCR’s culture has been strengthened over its 140-year history through its unique story that has been crafted into a narrative. For example, valuing employee well-being at NCR began with its founder, John Patterson. In its earliest days, Patterson re-situated his desk on the factory floor to better understand the growing issues with product defects. The reasons were clear once he saw the dark and stale air conditions the workers endured in the factory. Consequently, NCR had the first floor-to-ceiling windowed factory in the U.S. that allowed light and clean air to flow to the factory floor. He also instituted NCR-provided healthcare, healthy meals, suggestion boxes, and other amenities for the employees. Later would come Old River Park for recreation and large-scale company picnics. All this employee-centric programming became known as the first Human Resources department in the U.S.
NCR’s customer-centric focus began with its very first customer. Two owners of a local establishment wanted to keep their bartenders honest and track each transaction. NCR’s solution – the cash register! John Patterson went on to create the first sales program, the first sales training, and two mottos that would drive success into the 21st century: “Treat every customer like they are our only customer,” an internal mantra still used today and “Get A Receipt” to promote end user expectation of accuracy in each commercial transaction.
Leading Through Innovation
Another fascinating story that underscores NCR’s values began the morning before the Great Flood of 1913, the worst flood to impact Dayton and the entire Midwest in the 20th century. Patterson was awakened early the morning before the levies would break with a premonition that disaster was about to strike the community. He gathered his leadership team early that morning, used factory whistles to warn Dayton residents, and within 24 hours had re-purposed the entire company into the Dayton Citizens Relief Association. They used the factory to build flat-bottomed boats for rescue efforts and broke into various sub-organizations to feed, clothe, and meet the needs of the rescued citizens. Today, the “NCR for Good Campaign” provides approximately $5 million each year to meet the specific needs of communities where employees live.
NCR’s Common Language and Legacy
Culture enthusiasts will be watching to see how the narrative built over NCR’s 140-year history will carry forward. Very recently, NCR Corp. announced the names of its two publicly traded companies as it approaches its deadline to split. NCR Atleos will oversee the company’s ATM unit, while NCR Voyix will support its digital commerce operations. Another important element to influence and strengthen a culture is the use of language that is symbolic of its beginnings and resonates with its members.
Most notable in the announcement is that the name “NCR” lives on in both companies and all that the name represents to its employees, shareholders, and NCR watchers like me!