* The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess

Following the 2005 ICCF Congress in Villa La Angostura Neuquen, Argentina the question was, "Who is Michael Millstone?" When there was no candidate to fill the vacant Financial Director position on the Executive Board he stepped forward and offered his services. As the ICCF-U.S. archivist I've worked with him in his position as a tournament director in the USA championships. But, along with others, I didn't really know him. I took this opportunity to invite him to do an interview to introduce him to the ICCF community and was delighted when he instantly agreed. Following is the result of this email interview.
-- J. Franklin Campbell

IM Millstone

Interview of IM Michael Millstone (USA)
ICCF Financial Director &
Direct Entry Coordinator

by J. Franklin Campbell
(posted 6 November 2005)

  1. What is your background with ICCF? What volunteer work have you done for ICCF in the past? What are your goals as a player? I understand you will be playing in an upcoming Olympiad on the USA team.

    Even as a child I was always interested in chess, but never really considered it more than a passing hobby until I graduated from high school. I joined the United States Chess Federation (USCF), and played a few OTB tournaments but quickly discovered that I don't have the patience to sit across a table for hours on end. Correspondence chess seemed a natural fit for me. I tried a section or two through USCF but soon desired the international experience and flavor that ICCF provides. I'm not exactly sure when I joined ICCF, but the 8+ shoeboxes of postal cards attest to my consistent play over the years.

    When I started playing correspondence chess some 25 years ago, my goals were to achieve an IM title. I received that in 2003. At this year's Congress, when I was introduced to George Pyrich, it was explained to me that he was instrumental in the creation of the SIM Title. I jokingly cursed him for that. Let me explain - having achieved my lifetime goal of IM, I figured I could sit back, relax, and truly enjoy my chess games without worrying about achieving norms and titles. There is no chance I would ever get close to a GM title, so I was in a comfort zone. Now the SIM title was created and there may be a possibility . ever so small, but now it is back to the grindstone. I do have one SIM norm and am struggling to get the last point I need in Chessfriends Rochade 5171 - 15th Year Anniversary http://www.rochade5171.org/jubi/turnier.htm. Unfortunately, my last two opponents are incredibly strong. One of them, Angel Acevedo was awarded the Grandmaster Title at this year's Congress and has a slightly superior position. I was pleased to be on hand for his award and congratulate him warmly. I considered the DMD, but he appears very fit and I feel I would fall first.

    Perhaps it is just me, but I am still humbled to be in the company of Grandmasters - their accomplishments are quite inspiring. Maybe it takes another 25 years to get a SIM Title, maybe with all my new duties, I'll never achieve it - but the journey is worthwhile.

    I was honored to play in my first Olympiad (OLYMPIAD XV - Preliminaries - Section 2) for the U.S. and am looking forward to joining with fellow teammates in this year's 17th. I love the notion of team competition and welcome the opportunity to joust with fellow chess players.

  2. What is your personal situation, i.e. what is your job, age, marital status, where do you live, anything special you can tell us to give us a better understanding of just who Michael Millstone is and what kind of a guy is he?

    I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. My parents loved to travel and frequently took me and my two brothers on many trips around the world. I believe that contributed to my global perspective.

    All I ever wanted to do was fly airplanes. All the money I earned from odd jobs while growing up went towards flying lessons. On my 18th birthday, I took the examinations for Commercial Pilot with single, multi-engine, instrument, and instructor endorsements. My intentions were to fly for the airlines. Unfortunately, a small medical setback prevented me from being granted the top medical certificate needed and I was forced to redirect my career.

    Still wanting to be around airplanes, I enlisted in the United States Air Force, where for my entire career (until retirement), I was involved in Space and Satellite Systems (think of satellites as airplanes flying really high and fast).

    The Air Force was wonderful, taking me all over the world on business and pleasure. I have had the opportunity to live and work on 6 of the world's seven continents and if Dinand starts to do some real work, perhaps I'll get my 7th. Personal note: I met Dinand Knol at this year's congress and am grateful for all his patience and education he provided me. In turn, he got to call home (al la ET) and chat with his family using my satellite phone.

    Anyhow, after I retied from the Air Force I continued with various positions also in the Space and Satellite career field with one brief stint outside the norm - I like to call it a "Career Sabbatical."

    After the dot com crash in the late 1990s, my wife and I moved to Las Vegas where I took up several positions in the casino industry - finally ending up as a casino supervisor. I was always fascinated with the industry and wanted to learn it firsthand - from the inside. A truly invigorating experience, but also with its downfalls, so after three years I returned to my original career field and a position in Virginia.

    While at Congress, I found out my wife had just purchased a house for us in Leesburg, Virginia (about 50 km northwest of Washington D.C.). So, for as long as we are here, if you are traveling through the Washington D.C. area, please look us up. I am a BBQ fanatic and have an oversized BBQ that is usually on at least 6 days a week, rain, snow, or shine.

    My wife Debbie and I have been married for 15 wonderful years next June. We both enjoy reading, and traveling, listening to music, and many sports. In the past, we were both addicted to Volksmarching and while living in Germany we really took advantage of the many events and walked lots. Most weekends, I would usually walk one or two marathons (52km) and was really getting into shape. Sadly, there are not as many events in the U.S. and I have a list of excuses that prevent me from enjoying this sport more.

  3. What is your background and experience that qualifies you for the work of a Financial Director? Do you have educational and/or work experience in this area?

    Well, educational wise - I believe I'm qualified. I have a Master's Degree in Business with majors in both Finance and Accounting, and am currently pursuing (about 68% complete) a PhD in Business with a specialty in organizational management. I have also taught business and investment courses at the college level.

    Experience wise - perhaps less since my chosen career field isn't necessarily aligned with accounting and finance. However, as a manager for more than 15 years, I have supervised many sections and work groups including financial planning and budget responsibilities. In two different companies, I have had sole responsibility and authority for annual working budgets of over $1 million (USD).

  4. You have taken the additional position as Direct Entry coordinator. John Knudsen has described this as a full-time job. Do you anticipate being able to perform both jobs, or will you be recruiting additional people to help you? I believe John is already acting as a consultant, based on his work as the former DE director, but perhaps you have other people also lined up to help.

    Notwithstanding all politics and opinions surrounding the Direct Entry (DE) program, I note two things: 1) it was approved by Congress, and 2) I think it is critical to recruit new chess players to ICCF.

    I view the DE program as one of the major responsibilities of the Finance Director (FD) and how it is ultimately setup and managed will certainly be my responsibility. John has done an incredible amount of work and has provided me excellent opinions and recommendations. John and I have spoken several times and it will be his decision how and to what extent (if any) he wants to continue in the future. John is an example of one of the many tireless volunteers who has given more than expected to make ICCF function as great as it does.

    I have already had some excellent qualified people volunteer to help and shortly I'll be forming a DE working group to implement the DE program. My thinking is that some (many) of the things that John was having to do manually could be integrated into the web pages and performed automatically. Along with that, I've been actively searching for reasonable payment systems and am meeting with several bank managers to look into merchant accounts and explore payment methods in multiple currencies.

    Another idea I'm toying with (and will be running this by the Marketing and Public Relations Commissioner) is possibly tying some elements of the DE program into both offices. Since we are targeting new members, perhaps we can do more than facilitate their entry into a couple of tournaments. We want them involved in more tournaments and to get affiliated with their National Federations. Perhaps a periodic automatically generated e-mail from the President or National federation thanking them for participating and offering suggestions and directions for joining or future participation. Just some random thoughts on the long flight home.

  5. How did you get involved with Ruth Ann and the financial work you did for ICCF before Congress?

    About three years ago, I was inclined to start giving back to this wonderful organization. I had contacted Ruth Ann and chatted with her about different ways I could help either my federation and/or ICCF. She suggested a start in directing tournaments and referred me to several organizers. Since then, I have been directing some Thematic Tournaments for Leonardo Madonia (who runs the excellent Thematic Tournaments office) and Master Norm tournaments for Daniel Finkelstein as the Title Tournaments Commissioner. I added some Team Captain duties as well and was looking for a bit more.

    When John announced his resignation from the DE position, I thought this might be an excellent opportunity to step up even more. I expressed my desire at first as a Direct Entry Assistant with the caveat that if anyone else was interested in the position, I would gladly assist him or her. Ruth Ann accepted my offer and told me she would relay that to the EB. In the meantime, she began sending me some general and background information so I could be more prepared for the duties.

  6. Apparently you were not nominated for office, but given the lack of candidates you stepped forward and volunteered during Congress. Can you give us the real story of what happened? Why did you decide to commit yourself to such an important and time-consuming job? I've heard conflicting reports about whether or not you had already volunteered for the job before Congress started.

    Continuing from the previous question, although early in 2005 I was ready to start working on some DE issues, I invariably ran into situations where the FD needed to make a decision. Of course, you all know what happened there. So, until Congress, I continued to read, correspond, and formulate some initial plans of how to successfully revitalize the DE program.

    In late summer, I guess Ruth Ann realized that the finances weren't going to get finalized for Congress so she started to delve into the matters of collecting, preparing, and transitioning all the books to the new FD. By the time nominations were due and nobody had volunteered, panic started to slowly set in. That was when Ruth Ann suggested I should consider attending Congress.

    So I started to do the research and as many of you realized, this was no easy trip to plan. Although I must say that the organizers did a great job of attending to many of the transportation and logistics details - making the journey much smoother.

    My initial intentions were to attend, meet and interface with as many people as possible. By attending, this would allow me to evaluate the DE position better and understand the expectations of the Member Federations. Never did I think for one moment that no one would step up to assume the responsibility of such an important position of Finance Director.

    Little did I know that if nobody volunteers, the EB can nominate anybody. I had toyed with the idea and briefly discussed the possibility with several delegates including Ruth Ann and Max, I never considered the remaining sequence of events possible. Thomas Edison was once quoted, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." And here it was staring me in the face.

    Max submitted my nomination, I was asked to provide a verbal CV which I did, then the delegates voted and I was chosen. From my perspective, the entire process was over in about 3 nanoseconds. And while there was some consternation later from some people, my view is twofold: 1) Ruth Ann has (and still is) performing a tremendous and time-consuming service of retrieving and recreating the books to have financial reports in time for Congress. No one asked her to do this and her acknowledgement of the problem and selfless devotion to ICCF to fix the situation is even more admirable. Add to this that her duties as NAPZ Zonal Director and it becomes almost overwhelming. 2) I didn't notice anybody stepping up to the plate (an old American baseball saying) to assist Ruth Ann and I didn't see any nominations for FD. Since I couldn't do the DE job effectively without direction and input from the FD, and no one wanted the position and here we are today.

  7. I was excited to see that you actually attended Congress this year. This indicates a high level of interest and commitment to the future of ICCF, given the time and money you spent to be there. Why did you go all the way to Argentina to attend this Congress? Was this your first Congress?

    This was my first Congress in person. I felt it was necessary to demonstrate a commitment to the Member Federation that I was serious about accepting responsibility. Plus, I was completely selfish. Here was an opportunity to visit a fabulous country, represent my country, and meet two world champions and the honorary ICCF president. Well, I got two out of the three and I'm sure I'll meet up with Alan at some opportunity. I was saddened at Med not being able to attend, but we have communicated already and we may even get together at some time before next congress. Even better was to meet some of the sharpest minds and tireless people who do so much for ICCF, often behind the scenes. I don't want to name names for fear of excluding anyone, but just being around these people would give anybody the inspiration to do more for this organization.

  8. Though I'm sure there is still much work to do, what are your preliminary conclusions about the financial status of ICCF?

    I'm going to hold off on offering an opinion of the financial status other than what was offered at Congress. Ruth Ann is going to continue to work the books and try to get an accurate end of 2004 audited report. Then we will be working the 2005 end-of-year invoices and hopefully achieve a smooth transition towards the end of this year or early in 2006.

    This might be a good place to provide my business sense and rough plans of conducting business. I am going to run this office very much like a business, mindful of costs and efficiencies with two basic premises: 1) I am very process oriented - meaning that I don't like a lot of ad hoc process and procedures. I (and the various groups I form) will define and implement processes for most (if not all) things we do. This allows for consistency in execution, accurate measurements, and visibility into activities. As I'm a big proponent of continuous improvement, having sound processes in place allows improvements to happen. Plus, it also allows for a smoother or seamless transition when officials change. 2) Customer focused - from my position I recognize three customers - a) first is my boss, Med. Med needs to have the vision and provide the direction. My responsibility is to follow his lead, provide him with all the necessary information for him to do his job successfully, and basically, make him look good, b) The Executive Board. The EB provides focus and oversight. From my perspective, nothing I do should be invisible to the EB, and c) The Member Federations (through their appointed delegates) - my real customers.

    To me, communications is one of the most vital elements of success in this type of organization. To that effect, I'm working on a comprehensive communication plan that will address the following four parts:

    • What information should be disclosed?
    • Who receives this information?
    • How often?
    • Via what method?

    I was reminded that some financial information needs to remain somewhat confidential; however, I think this will need to be defined and published in the overall communications plan.

  9. I'm not clear on the purpose of auditing the annual financial reports. Could you clarify what this process is and how it affects your work?

    Proper oversight is essential to me. I don't want to work in a vacuum and my customers should expect (they should demand) that proper auditing and safeguards are documented and in place. Everyone should feel secure about our financial state at any time. My goal in 2006 is to put such measures in place to successfully quash any financial crisis rumors (unless they really exist).

    I will be reviewing the current audit procedures and will provide any recommendations for improvement to the EB. I'm also considering the establishment of a financial investment committee under the FD office to separately evaluate, recommend, and measure investment performance of ICCF funds.

  10. Do you have any final words for the readers who are anxious to learn something about you?

    Although I have an overall perspective of the role and responsibilities I'm faced with, I will continue to learn and educate myself on the nuances of the job. I'm thankful for all those who have expressed confidence in me and will work hard to meet your expectations of the FD.

    One last thing - in regards to the TCCMB. Although I think it is a wonderful forum for the exchange of thoughts, opinions, and ideas, I will probably excuse myself from getting embroiled in discussions through that format. I will periodically read interesting threads as it will probably present itself many excellent ideas and possibilities for improvements. Please don't be offended if I don't respond to the board. If you want to offer any suggestions, ideas, or questions specifically related to the FD office (preferably of the constructive nature), please e-mail me directly. Many of you have my personal e-mail address and I should get an ICCF one shortly.

    If you have gotten this far, my many thanks for all the support I have received and I look forward to serving all of you in terms of excellent service.

    Warmest Regards and Amici Sumus,

    Michael Millstone
    ICCF Finance Director
    Direct Entry Administrator
    International Correspondence Chess Master
    Overall Good Guy (or so says my wife)

© 2005 J. Franklin Campbell, All Rights Reserved.

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