Douglas T. Williams, the Chase Manahattan Corp. executive in charge of the bank's massive systems and operations infrastructure, views himself as a pragmatist rather than a cyber-visionary.
Despite overseeing all of the bank's computer systems and 13,000 operations staffers spread across Chase's worldwide dominion, the 54 year- old Mr. Williams said, "I don't consider myself a technologist."
And while many other bank technology executives look with envy and awe at technology icons like Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates, Mr. Williams said he admires managers like Ric Duques, chief executive officer of First Data Corp., which is in the decidedly prosaic business of processing credit card transactions.
"He's a very successful businessman who just happens to run a technology company," Mr. Williams said. "Institutions get into trouble when they let technology wow them. It's just an enabler, to get things done."
More evidence of Mr. Williams' bottom-line management style was revealed when he was asked to name one of his biggest accomplishments at Chase. He immediately cited his role in helping the bank consolidate its 103 mainframe data centers into just two mega-facilities - in New York and in Bournemouth, England.
"We cut out a third of our expenses in those areas by centralizing," Mr. Williams boasted.
Wringing even more savings out of Chase's back offices will be one of Mr. Williams' primary tasks in the near future, as Wall Street clamors for larger profits to boost the bank's stock price.
This heightened scrutiny coincided with investor Michael F. Price's announcement last month that he had taken a 6.1% equity stake in Chase.
Mr. Price, president of Heine Securities Corp., has a history of taking positions in companies he sees as undervalued, and then pressuring management to cut costs or sell out.
In a nod to the prevailing Wall Street sentiment, last month $121 billion-asset Chase hired noted reengineering consultant Chandrika Tandon to advise it on what will probably be a significant cost-cutting program.
Ms. Tandon has gained plaudits from bank investors for radical expense- reduction programs she has helped implement at Fleet Financial Group, Midlantic Corp., and others.
Mr. Williams' already extensive consolidation experience bodes well for working with hired guns like Ms. Tandon, said Diane Glossman, a bank analyst with Salomon Brothers Inc. in New York.
"Chase has never been on the bleeding edge of technology," Ms. Glossman said. "Hiring Chandrika was not an isolated event, as Chase has had a cost- cutting plan in place for two years."
When asked if expense reductions of the magnitude of the already completed data-center consolidation are still out there, Mr. Williams quickly replied, "Absolutely." He added, though, that Chase has not set a specific target beyond its already stated goal of $400 million in annual operational savings.
An executive vice president, Mr. Williams rose to Chase's senior technology and operations post just this year. He succeeded John Scicutella, who resigned with Chase president Arthur Ryan in 1994, when Mr. Ryan was hired as Prudential Insurance Corp. chief executive officer.
Mr. Williams joined the bank in 1986, after stints at Automatic Data Processing Inc., the Boston Stock Exchange, and Citibank.
In his new position, Mr. Williams reports to Chase chairman Thomas G. Labreque. Craig Goldman, the bank's chief technology officer, reports to Mr. Williams.
"Craig's role has been to force us to understand how changing technology is going to effect the bank as a whole, and how we can marry together various system components to get to a business solution," Mr. Williams said.
As example he cited Chase's pioneering efforts to use Lotus Development Corp.'s workgroup communications software, Notes, for personal computers throughout its organization.
Mr. Williams acknowledged that tangible benefits of deploying Notes were initially hard to pin down. "Craig made sure we had control over the technology's deployment," he noted, "so we didn't have 58 different versions of the software in the 58 countries in which we do business."
Now that Chase seems poised to accelerate its efficiency drive, Mr. Williams acknowledged that it will have to be more selective about which new technology initiatives to fund.
"Where we might have had three major projects going at once, we'll probably now do two," he said.
The bank will emphasize projects that "give customers better access to data," he added.
Chase will also continue to look at outsourcing certain operations that it feels can be handled more efficiently by third parties, Mr. Williams said.
Last year it outsourced all its telecommunications operations to American Telephone & Telegraph Co., and last February Chase announced it had farmed out four of its check processing centers in New York state to Milwaukee-based Fiserv Inc., in a deal worth $460 million.
Outsourcing check processing "will save us a lot of money, but it is also giving us access to new technology," Mr. Williams said, noting that Fiserv will install multi-million dollar imaging systems as part of the deal.
"I don't think it would be wise for us to outsource just for cost savings."
To help build management consensus on such operational issues, Mr. Williams meets with Mr. Labreque and other senior Chase executives every week to discuss tactics and strategy.
"The fact that he reports directly to senior management is an indication of the importance this part of the business should be accorded," Ms. Glossman said.
In addition, Mr. Williams said, he and Mr. Labreque take frequent walking tours of Chase back offices, querying workers on better ways to do things.
"This is a very complex institution, and you can learn only so much sitting around talking to the same people every day," Mr. Williams said.
"Doug is very much a hands-on manager," Ms. Glossman said. "It also helps that Tom Labreque has a technology background; they both understand the issues."
And for Mr. Williams, those are business issues, not technical ones.
"Fifty percent of my job is looking at how the bank is going remain competitive long-term," Mr. Williams. "At a bank of this size, when it comes to managing the day-to-day operations, it just runs."