Recently I’ve been working from home on Thursdays. All employees at the Center now have remote access—it is part of our Continuity of Business plan to keep work flowing even when an event shuts down a building, transportation, or part of the city. On these remote-work days, I tend to dial in around 7:30 and shut down around 7:30, depending on how much personal time I’ve needed through the day. Today that means giving my high school junior a lift to a class at a local college that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
Although I usually I stay in my neighborhood, this morning the Center team has been invited by the MetLife archivist to tour their Boardroom and to talk shop. Since that won’t interfere with my afternoon plans, I took a late-morning train into the city, and do some thinking along the way: Citi used to have some 12,000 buildings worldwide (that number has decreased, but not by how much). We have quite a few art and archival items that we would like to see reproduced and hung around the company to boost morale and educate employees. So I have a marketing task to plan out: how to persuade building management, realty management, and our own art department to agree to mandate that the Center provides Citi-themed reproductions to hang in place of the framed museum posters that dot most of our walls. The project will involve a host of logistics, but before anything else we have to get the internal politics right.
The MetLife archivist is experienced, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. Up on the 57th floor, the Boardroom is astonishing—gilding, carved mahogany, tooled leather walls, elaborately framed portraits of former CEOs–like something out of Versailles, only less tacky. Take a look at a portion of the ceiling:
MetLife is celebrating its 145th anniversary. The archivist, who is also in charge of their art collection, is also about to become a historian. His CEO believes no one needs five years in which to write a 150th anniversary book. We disagreed: the Center produced Citi’s bicentennial anniversary book in less than two years, and it was a harrowing experience. Our director invited him to visit the Center some time to walk him through what that was like.
Once back home, I roughed out a timeline of Citi’s history in California for our colleague in Municipals to use on his upcoming trip to San Francisco. Citicorp, Salomon Brothers, and Smith Barney all had long-standing relationships with the state and the city, but it looks as though Citicorp’s goes back the furtherest: in 1865, it participated in financing the Union Pacific Railroad, and acted as its principal banker. Also: in 1906, after the San Francisco earthquake, it sent a banker cross-country to make arrangements for any sort of help that the bank could give, at a time when all the local financial firms were incapacitated. Tomorrow I’ll work with the archivists to add some pictures. (We provided him with similar material for a trip to Brazil, and he and the mayor of Puerto Alegre went around the city locating places where the photographs had been taken.)
I spent much of the rest of the day on making arrangements for an upcoming event, a reception for Citi alumni. These events have suddenly grown in visibility as the one held in December was mentioned in Fortune magazine, during an interview with our new CEO. I know from experience that these folks won’t be so interested in history as they are in nostalgia. So in a call with a member of the art department, we drew up a list of items likely to appeal to nostalgic Citi alums who worked in the branches: advertisements published during their era, pages from the employee magazines, an old adding machine and old check franking machine, the bank’s first credit card and first ATM card, photographs of local branches, a booklet detailing the move of headquarters from 55 Wall to 399 Park in 1961, and the signage that would have hung outside the branches. Tomorrow and Monday we will work through the logistics of how to move the heavier items and how to display them.