Computer systems were in their infancy when Robert Townsend started working with the New York City Financial Information Services Agency (FISA) as a contractor in the 1970s.
“I had the luxury of growing up with the industry,” he said. “It was a lot more fun when things broke, actually.”
As an IBM employee, Townsend helped build New York City’s first financial system. FISA recruited him as a database manager in 1980. Townsend advanced so quickly through the agency that he became deputy executive director four years later.
Ultimately he spent more than 30 years at FISA, watching the agency more than double in size and taking on a range of responsibilities, including management of the centralized personnel system NYCAPS and payment for pensioners from five different city funds.
These new responsibilities represented several steps in the right direction for FISA as it integrated related systems under one roof. Previously these systems were scattered across the city, which led to inconsistencies.
One of the most challenging projects Townsend managed was rebuilding the city’s massive financial system in a year and a half.
Townsend, who retired in December, said he enjoyed shaping the agency’s direction. “I wanted to be the one to influence things or have things go the way I wanted them to go,” he said. “My mother told me that you had to get yourself in a position to do that. She was right.”