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Commentary: At BMV, obscurity is sign of success

May 5, 2008

There are professions in which you are never noticed until you screw it up-the center of a football team when he snaps the ball over the quarterback's head, the business assistant when he or she brings the wrong set of papers to the closing, and the bus driver who-after 20 years of safe driving-rear-ends the rock star's limousine.

Included in this list is the CEO of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Do you remember Joel Silverman, former commissioner of the BMV? You should. In 2005 and for most of 2006, he was chastised in a newspaper somewhere in Indiana practically every week. Silverman did not create most of the problems at the BMV; they were awaiting his arrival. I remember when I first met with newly elected Gov. Mitch Daniels in his small transition office on East Washington Street to discuss how I could be helpful to his administration. In those cramped and sweaty temporary accommodations, with aides fussing about, he looked frustrated and harried when he said, "Indiana has a lot more problems than I thought, and you can be of great assistance. Here's an area where I really need some help. How about taking over the Bureau of Motor Vehicles?"

My first impulse was to jump out the window. Later, when the governor announced Silverman's appointment and mine to another post at the same press conference, I looked over at Joel. He had a big smile on his face-oblivious to what lay ahead. I remember thinking, "Boy, this guy drew the short straw."

One of Silverman's more controversial moves was to close two dozen license branches. Citizens took up arms. Thousands of them attended public meetings denouncing the closings. Exacerbating the BMV problems was a $23 million computer system that suffered chronic memory lapses and other maladies. Silverman and the governor were under siege. Many of the state legislators noted Silverman's demeanor and commented that he was sometimes arrogant, secretive and just plain rude. It got personal. Finally, Silverman ran out of gas. He resigned in October 2006.

Do you know Ron Stiver? Oh, you never heard of Ron Stiver? He was appointed director of the BMV upon Silverman's resignation.

Stiver graduated with honors from DePaul University and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Before joining the BMV, he served as commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development. At DWD, he oversaw a $975 million state agency charged with ensuring that Indiana employers have a competitive and flexible work force to compete in the global economy. He quietly operated that agency with a budget surplus while improving service levels. He also implemented nationally recognized reforms, including payment of unemployment insurance by debit cards and workplace literacy training initiatives.

Before his stint at DWD, Stiver worked at Eli Lilly and Co. in finance, sales and marketing. Stiver's time there is one more example of Lilly's ability to recruit and train the very best, including other Daniels appointees Chuck Schalliol, Neil Pickett and Ryan Kitchell.

I worked closely with Stiver in joint efforts to lure businesses to the state. He was completely reliable-competent and cocksure but soft-spoken. When we discussed the BMV opportunity, I counseled him to accept the challenge.

The governor, without mentioning Stiver by name, in his 2008 State of the State address, cited the BMV average visit time-8 minutes 11 seconds-and the customer satisfactory rating of 96 percent. He crowed, "If our people can fix the BMV, they can fix anything." My take is that not many people could have fixed the BMV, but Ron Stiver did.

Good news for all concerned, the position of head of the BMV has again taken its place among the list of important professions being routinely performed exceedingly well in relative obscurity. Thanks, Ron.



Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal.To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com
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