We’d just moved into new offices when I wrote for a Week in the Life last year. We’re still here on the 19th floor overlooking much of Midtown Manhattan, though plans are afoot for us to move closer to Wall Street. The new place had better be roomy: word about the Center for Culture and its capabilities has spread throughout parts of the company, so that more retiring executives—or executives moving offices—are sending us their papers. The space on our floor that has the compact shelving, the space in the basement with the unprocessed papers, and the spacious former Corporate Secretary’s vault where our oldest records are housed are all bursting.
We’ve lost some team members. In January, the art curator and in May the head archivist retired and last November a member of our art moving service group moved on. Then, less than two weeks ago, our processing archivist departed for an excellent job at another company. They’ve left some big holes which we are still trying to fill. With our business increasing and the size of the projects growing, we are relying ever more on a strong set of processes and expanding the lead time for starting projects.
Over the last year, we have built relationships with more internal clients that have broad mandates. I’m now working regularly with the team that manages thousands of Citi’s events throughout the US every year, as well as the global branding team, the North American businesses group, and the heads of the bank in the 100 countries where we have an on-the-ground presence. As my client load has increased, I’ve become more of a program/project manager, and less of a researcher or historian. As a result, I’ve expanded my freelance network: where once it consisted of a copywriter, a copyeditor, and a graphic designer, it now include three academic historians, a communications strategist, and a website manager.
I’m also managing a program that has a group of Citi’s former senior executives conducting oral histories with their peers. The intention is to fill some of the gaps in our written records (there was no systematic collection of archival records from 1970s until very recently). Most of them traveled extensively for the bank, and moved every few years to head the business in one country or another. Back in the day, they were recognized as the best bankers in the industry and, if we do this right, what we are collecting will change current analyses of world economic history. One of the things I’ve missed about being an academic was the chance to do original research that would change the thinking in my field—so to have this kind of chance in the corporate setting is both unexpected and important to me as a “recovering academic.” It’s also been great to have the chance to step back into a teaching role, in order to turn top-class bankers into fledgling oral historians.
In the meantime, I’m running the Center’s social media project—blogging on an internal site—through which we’ve begun to make more of the company’s stories known. What catches people’s attention are the pictures—Belgian staffers in tennis togs in 1921, exotic money from Melanesia made up of 60,000 feathers sewn with red thread and elaborately coiled, a piece of the transatlantic cable that operated from New York to Ireland from 1866 to 1966, a chess match between Buenos Aires and NYC conducted entirely by telegraph in the mid-1960s, and the list goes on. There are some 120,000 employees currently using the internal social media site. We’re aiming to have at least 5000 views for every post we write by the end of the year, but I’ve got a lot to learn before we make that happen. A goal of 5,000 may not seem ambitious given the size of our potential readership, but everyone throughout the company is super busy, their inboxes are inundated throughout the day, and many of them speak and read English as a second, third, or fourth language.
The hardest lesson for me to have learned over the last year has been the importance of process. Creating, following, and improving good processes is a royal pain, but keeps the auditors off your back, prevents lawsuits, keeps colleagues happy, and saves time, money, and sanity. I am also rediscovering the benefits of networking outside the bank (PhDs at Work has been invaluable), and to partnering with legal, information security, financial controllers and other advisors within my circle.
Michelle, thanks for the original chance to spend a week thinking about what I do on a daily basis, and to look at how the job and I are evolving over time.