Franck-Alsid DeChambeau Interview (*Edited version in Saved PDF file)
This is file #46, cycle 3. Today’s date is July 31, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Franck DeChambeau who had the idea of the Salisbury Forum. He is going to talk about his background, Salisbury Forum and anything else he wants to talk about. First we will begin with…
JM:What is your name?
FDeC:I am Dr. Franck Dechambeau.
JM:We’ll start a little bit with your background. You were ordained as an Episcopal Priest.
FDeC:Yes I am still an Episcopal Priest. I was ordained in 1962.
JM:You were a curate in Cheshire, Ct.
FDeC:Yes for 2 years from 1962 to 1963.
JM:You were involved in a monastery in Brittany. Would you tell us about that?
FDeC:I was going to join the community at Taiz which is a protestant monastic community in Burgundy in France. Taiz is a small hamlet and it was a dependence of the great medieval Abbey of Cluny. I met the Abbot of the Abbey of Boquen up in Brittany and he said, “Why don’t you come and visit us? So I went up to visit them at the end of my 3 months in Burgundy. I was really very attracted to the Abbey of Boquen and to Bernard Becert who was the Abbot. He was young, active flaming red hair, my age which about 30 at that time. He said, “Go back to your teaching in the US at Marymount Manhattan College See if you can find some other Anglicans (Episcopalians as they are called in the United States) who would be willing to come over and try to establish the first in history Anglican/Roman Catholic Cistercian monastery. So that is what I did.
JM: You did come back to the US and you changed directions. You got a Doctorate in Organizational Behavior.
FDeC:That followed our attempt to establish the community which survived for roughly a year. It was just too difficult a jump so all the congregants left and came back to this country. I taught for four years at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY. I taught seniors Philosophical Anthropology. It was about 1974 and things were changing a great deal. I was not particularly enjoying the experience. My partner Mark (Richard Spoor Ed.) had finished his Masters in Library Science and had become the Director of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was part of Columbia University at this point. He suggested that I go back and do my doctorate. At first I thought I would do it in musicology because I am also a pianist and harpsichordist. That more I talked with people about it, the more I realized I could never make a living in that field. I decided to do it in Organizational Behavior.
JM:When did you get your PhD?
JM:Then you worked in business.2.
FDeC:Well yes, I thought I wanted to stay in the academic world, more in administration, but the more I interviewed around the country in universities and colleges the more I realized that what I wanted to do at that time was not where higher education was in this country. I wanted to move in the direction of executive education programs of continuing education for adults and alternate delivery systems, not just classrooms. Well the universities and colleges weren’t ready.
I said to myself “OK I won’t be happy there in college administration so I am just wondering if I could break into the business world?” I was 37 at that time. This would be a third career for me and I didn’t think I could sell my way out of a paper bag. I had friends who said who had made this transition from academia to business. “If we can do it, you can do it too. We’ll help you.” So they did. It was about 8 months of trying to reframe my skill inventory. WE developed a functional resume rather than a chronological one. You couldn’t sell a chronological resume to the business world as an academic. You had to sell skills that you could use to help businesses meet some of the challenges.
JM:You had to sell yourself so you had to reinvent yourself. Even though you had all the skill sets you needed, you had to reinvent the way to present them.
FDeC. The hardest thing was to believe that once I had put it on paper. Then I had to learn how to convince people “Yes, I can do this.” “Have you ever done it?” “Well, not in your environment, but in a different environment.” I met George Ball who was the Chairman of E. F. Hutton. He said to me, “Franck never had anybody like you here. You know how to ask the right questions and you dig for answers. I don’t know what we would call you and I don’t know what we would pay you?” “I can answer both of those questions.” He said, “I would be interested in your coming here.” That was the opportunity I needed. I said to myself if they are interested, maybe other companies would be interested as well. So I sent out 250 letters and resumes, a functional resume and I got about 50 interviews in the metropolitan New York area. I helped me to hone my interview skills. At the end of all those interviews I decided that E. F. Hutton sounds good. They liked me and I liked them so why don’t I take that one! So I did.
JM:But you had to test the waters to see the opportunities and when you made your choice you were happy.
JM:You also worked for Aetna?
FDeC:Yes, but before Aetna I was the Director of the Organization Planning Consulting Practice at Coopers & Lybrand for 10 years. That was one of the big 8 market firms. At that time they were called “the 8 big” accounting firms. Today there are only 4. Coopers & Lybrand had a very large consulting practice as all of these accounting firms have. They invited me to start and build the Organization Planning Consultant Department in their consulting division. I worked with large banks, investment
houses and telephone companies. Those were my corporate focus. After 10 years there I wanted to move to Connecticut. We had the house in Salisbury.
JM:When did you buy the house?
FDeC:1985 we wanted to live here in Salisbury. My partner Mark was due to retire in 1992 and I could not retire yet as I was too young. I looked around for a position somewhere within reach of Salisbury. Aetna happened to be in the vicinity of Salisbury so I commuted for 4 years between Salisbury and Hartford every day, except when we had a horrible snowstorm. Mark would call me in Hartford and say, “Don’t come home tonight. Weather is too bad. Stay in town.” I was at Aetna as a director in the Internal consulting practice in the platinum department. I was there for 4 years. I worked primarily with pension groups back then. Four years with my being at Aetna, a search firm Spencer Stuart came after me and said, “We have the ideal position for you. Unfortunately for you it is back in New York. We don’t see how you can refuse it.” Fine so I went for an interview. It was a very good opportunity so Mark and I moved back to New York in 1994 so I could take a position as the Director in charge of Human Resources Planning International for KPMG which at that time was another one of the “big 8” accounting firms. I built a consulting practice within that department, hired 6 managers, 2 were pretty much my age about 58. I needed very mature consultants who could get off the ground running, working with various parts of KPMG. We had a wonderful time. I was there for2 years. The same search firm came back to me and said, “We have a marvelous opportunity for you!” When these search firms find you, they just hang on to you. They make their money by moving you around. No you don’t have to go, but they find marvelous opportunities which are hard to refuse. I interviewed with Lehman Brothers. They offered me a position as Senior Vice President of Organization Planning. I hummed and hawed about it. I finally went to Lehman. I was there for 3 years before I retired. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with clients in Europe and Asia and to overcome the challenges of multiple time zones. For example when we wanted to have an international conference call, we had to do it at 6:00 AM because it was 11 PM in Japan. People have to make those kinds of compromises. You are willing to do that so t you can work in an invisible time frame.
JM:With you background I can understand where the idea for Salisbury Forum came from because you have worked in so many different areas and internationally that it would make great sense for you to bring you expertise to the idea of the Salisbury Forum. When Mark retired here, he became involved with the Scoville Memorial Library as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. When did you, Mark and Claudia (See file # 27, cycle 2, Claudia Cayne, Director of the library)) start talking about the forum?
FDeC:That was in 2005. Mark and Claudia had been talking about doing something small, a lecture kind of thing series here at the library. Mark came home and talked with me about it. I said< “Wouldn’t it make more sense, not just a library thing, but we should think about how to involve all the learning opportunities in the Northwest Corner. The places which are interested in learning and in promoting learning would be the schools, the libraries, and different kinds of associations.” I have always been an organizational planner. I have always been a network kind of person, always focused on getting
networks of diverse groups together. I hold that organizational charts is not the vertical lines and boxes, it looks more like a spider’s web. That is the way I draw organization charts. In the early days of doing that we didn’t have software for it. Today we have all this software for organizational charts. But people still draw lines and boxes it seems. It shows important relationships more clearly, but it doesn’t record the reality of how people relate. People relate not by lines and boxes; they relate by interest groups of by challenges that require multidisciplinary responses. Lines and boxes do not show that. The whole thing moved along. Eventually we agreed that I would run it with a task force of community people to think about the whole prospect of what a community forum might look like.
JM:Who would be on that task force?
FDeC:Mark Spoor, Claudia Cayne, Roberta Willis, Bob Estabrook, Dr. Dick Collins, Janet Block, Juliet Matilla, Elyse Harney, and Val Bernadoni . We have several task force half day sessions; everybody seems to agree that it was an appropriate thing to do. Of course there had been a Salisbury Forum a decade or more before. (1936 Ed.) But I didn’t know anything about it. I realized that these people were making sense. AT the end of all our task force meetings, where do we go from here? Obviously some had to spearhead this so we looked around the room. Nobody put their hand up; everybody looked at me. I had retired in 2002. I wouldn’t call it retirement, I stopped working for money! I came home and mark and I talked about it and we agreed OK Frank go for it! It turned out to be a half time unpaid job. I would go out to the atelier about 8:30 in the morning after breakfast and work a good part of the day> I was trying to work out by-laws and choosing board members. I did all the work involved in trying to come up with topics that made sense, putting together a board that would be, not just names, but people who would work responsibly for the promotion of this idea. I also worked on funding and how to get funding, meeting with some local organizations: the banks, the town and the library: all in trying to figure out how to get funding for this thing. It turned out to be a half-time job.
JM:Who were the officers of the first board?
FDeC:The board directors: I was the President, Dr. Dick Collins was Vice President, Cary Fiertz was the Treasurer, (See file #54, cycle 2, Cary Fiertz), and Juliet Matilla was the Secretary. The board members consisted of Kitty Benedict, Val Bernadoni, Claudia Cayne, Walter DeMelle, Wendy Hamilton, Rod Lankler, (See file #105, Rod Lankler) Nina Mathus,Lisa Sheble, Prescott Stuart who was a teacher at Salisbury School, Sarah Wardell, and Douglas Wiseman. That was the first board.
JM:You wrote the by-laws.
FDeC:Yes and incorporated the Salisbury Forum in Connecticut as a non-profit 501(c) 3.
JM:You determined that there would be 2 terms of 3 years each. You could be on the board for two terms consecutively and had to get off for at least a year.
FDeC:Correct some people have left the board after 2 terms and then later come back on. Subsequently Gretchen Babarovic came on the board. She was very valuable. I tried to bring on the
board key people who had varying networks of speakers and people who had broad backgrounds of interests. As the Mission of the Forum states: “The Salisbury Forum takes as its mission to be a community initiative for the exchange of ideas effecting our lives in the community, region, nation and the world. We attempt to achieve this mission buy offering four or five public meetings each year, drawing upon speakers and other experts from the northwest corner and beyond.”
JM:How did you manage your funding?
FDeC:That was a challenge. We started with 4 organizational sponsors; we ultimately added a 5th. There was the Salisbury School, Scoville Library, Friends of the Scoville Library, and The Hotchkiss School, and eventually the Town of Salisbury. All committed to giving $3,000 a year. At every Forum we always had a brochure describing what that Forum was, something about the background of the speaker and we always included a small donation card and envelope. Nina Mathus who came on the board later was our chairman of the Promotion Department. She was extremely valuable. She is a real ball of fire. Nina told us what we had to do to raise contributions from the attendees. At every forum I would point out the donation card and the envelope. Right after the Forum we would accept the individual donations which came through the mail. That is how we funded it.
JM:You did not charge anybody.
FDeC:My conviction was that we would not charge and we still don’t charge 12 years later. What I wanted this to be was an open forum that anyone, regardless of financial capability or education, could participate. I knew that if we charged we would limit attendance of certain groups of people. That is not what I had in mind.
JM:The first talk was Sander Van Ocher at Salisbury Chapel.
FDeC:I expected 25 people: we had 325; they were overflowing the chapel. That impressed me and it also frightened me because how are we going to continue this? That is when we needed Hotchkiss as well because there are only two venues in town. The high school became another venue fairly soon. There were only the 2 in town which could accommodate the people. Very soon after in 2006 we got Dan Rather and we had over 700 people. That was at Walker Auditorium at Hotchkiss. There were so many people they couldn’t sit in the hall; they had to put speakers out on the terrace so the people could hear.
JM:Isn’t that gratifying?
FDeC:It was very nice, yes it was. I think that was the largest number of people we have had at the Salisbury Forum.
JM:There was a need and you filled that need beautifully.
FDeC:It is gratifying to the founder to see that it is still going on, even though I don’t have much to do with it anymore because I am in California a good part of the time.
JM:How did you get your speakers?
FDeC:Yes through networking, very much so. I would spend a lot of time at the computer doing research once we had identified topics. The way we identified topics was through some market research. Nina was helpful with that too. At each forum we would pass out together with the brochure a sheet of paper listing potential topics for future forums and asked for other suggestions as well. Then we would itemize those and look for commonality across subject areas. Then I would sit at the computer and look for experts in those subject areas. I spent a lot of time looking for speakers, but then also on the board we had people like Gretchen and others who knew a lot of people from their work backgrounds. Gretchen had worked for Peter Jennings at ABC for many years. She had a lot of contacts. It was through Gretchen that we got Dan Rather that time. That is how we identified our speakers.
JM: You left Salisbury Forum in about 2010? Why?
FDeC;2010 or 2011 I can’t remember exactly. I was in the first class.
FDeC:I graduated. I had put in my 6 years, but I left. I am the one who forced the term limits so it was time for me to go.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview that I haven’t asked you?
FDeC:Yes, I think there is one thing. One of my initial hopes for the Forum was that there would be greater collaboration between multiple educational opportunities in the Northwest Corner. Now that may have happened, but to my knowledge I am not aware of it. What I see is individual organizations going their own way. You have the Taconic Learning Center, the lectures at Noble Horizons, lectures at Salisbury School, lectures at Hotchkiss, lecturers at Scoville Library, but I don’t see any one optimizing the potential for multiple organizational collaboration. I don’t see that happening. It is fair to say I’m not that involved in the community anymore so I am not sure that it isn’t happening. That was one of my hopes that we could create that opportunity. I think you have had greater impact by collaborating, than you do by doing it yourself. That is just part of my personal philosophy.
JM:Thank you so very much.
FDeC:It has been my pleasure.