80 /20 Image

80 /20

Throughout most of my 5 decades of employment I have had phenomenal opportunities to take on complex assignments that had never been successfully handled before me. AND, I have never failed. Each of these successes had a common factor that was critical in my successes. That factor will be described at the end of this posting. The following is a list of the more complex challenges I have had: 

1. Distribution of asset value to claimants in the largest bankruptcy to exist in the Americas, up to that time: The Penn Central RR. I had to use a number of intense mathematical tools to address the particular bankruptcy principles of Marshaling and Absolute Priority. These principles had never been applied in such a complex bankruptcy.  The tools I used included Regression Analysis, Linear Programming, Econometric Modeling, Business Model Simulation, and advanced accounting practices. This assignment brought to reality every major tool that I had been taught in obtaining my MBA;

2. Mathematical blending of various types of steel scrap to produce steel in electric-arc furnaces to meet necessary chemistries at the least cost. Tools required included Monte Carlo simulation and Linear Programming;

3. Development of an econometric model to forecast the forthcoming prices of scrap to determine the best purchasing practice for a major consumer;

4. Conceiving and managing the development of the first train crew calling system in the U.S. freight rail industry. Tools required included computer programming analysis and design;

5. Conceiving and programming of a fuel purchasing process across a Class I RR given various dynamic market prices. Tools required were APL programming and linear programming;

6. Development of a Strategic Wireless Perspective for the U.S. freight rail industry for the FRA. The first and only one to be developed to my knowledge;

7. Conceiving and managing the development of a Positive Train Control (PTC) system to prevent train accidents due to human errors. My design became the basis for the U.S. freight rail industry and is now deployed across the country via a Federal mandate;

8. Conceiving and developing the functional and high-level architecture design for an unprecedented, very advanced Virtual CTC (VCTC) train management system for the railroads of Egypt and Kazakhstan;

9. Conceived and managed the design of an Enterprise IT Architecture (EITA) for Kazakhstan's railroad.  To my knowledge, this is the first known EITA effort in the rail industry across the globe. The primary tool used was Business System Planing (BSP) as introduced by IBM in the 60s;

All of the above esoteric assignments were one-of-a-kind as to objectives. But most often the tools used were the result of applying my MBA education in concert with my extensive RR knowledge. But aside from that, one key principle was applied by me that others had failed to do. The principle is commonly known as 80/20. Formerly, it is known as the Pareto 80/20 rule after an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, circa early 20th century.

The rule of 80/20 was NOT one I learned directly in achieving my degrees. Rather, as described in another posting on this blog, (The Art of Mathematics), it was the required use of a slide rule before digital calculators came to market in the early 70s.  I was finishing my MBA at that time. In my opinion, 80/20 is as universal and critical for effective project design and management as the constant 'π' is in mathematics as the ratio of a circumstance of a circle to its diameter. I am not referring to projects where exactness is absolute, e.g., a rocket to the moon. Rather, I am referring to so many management/design projects that are pursuing, but not expecting to achieve, perfection of some calculation(s) that cannot be achieved reasonably. The rule of 80/20 is simply that 80% of an objective can be achieved with 20% of the effort. To achieve the remaining 20% is extremely expensive, if even possible. In each of the above situations I applied the 80/20 rule by making assumptions on the less critical variables that may have some level of influence, but not worthy to pursue (in my analytical mind).  With that said, there was responsibility on my part to test the reasonableness of the assumptions I made, which I did.

For many of the assignments stated above, the first major task was to eliminate variables in the situation that I thought were relatively unimportant ... or which I realized there was no way to evaluate them. That is where my extensive use of the slide rule in my education taught me how to estimate when it was possible. I really can't explain that any better to the majority of my readers that were weaned on digital calculators with 16 digits of exactness ... and for those readers that just used Programmed Function keys to solve a problem without really even knowing the underlying formula(s), then shame on these folks. This pursuit of exactness is what has been destructive in so many situations (IMHO).

The first 2 readers of this posting that would like a free slide rule, I will send you one. Just send an email to [email protected] to make the request.  I will respond also if you are too late.


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