As a television history buff that grew up watching ABC in the 1970s, I was in my element researching ABC’s corporate history.
Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Six Million Dollar Man, Three’s Company, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Monday Night Football, and Battle of the Network Stars were staple items on my television menu.
My duties for Leonard Goldenson: The Gentleman Giant were threefold. The exhibit’s sponsor asked me to:
• assist with legal clearances
• consult with the Goldenson family archivist on content for the exhibit
• provide editorial comments for the exhibit’s oversized placards describing Leonard Goldenson’s career
During this time, I caught up with a friend that had been working at ABC for about five years. There were the usual questions – How’s the family? How’s your social life? And, as always – What’s going on with work?
My smile was big, like an Osmond’s. My pride, bigger. With excitement tempered by quiet confidence, I told my friend about my latest consulting job involving Leonard Goldenson.
The response: “That’s great! Who’s Leonard Goldenson?”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. I told my friend that Leonard Goldenson’s portrait hangs in the ABC lobby where all the ABC employees walk past it. After all, he’s the founder of the network.
Imagine if my friend was at a media industry event talking with a veteran television executive, a representative from the Museum of TV & Radio, or a Goldenson family member. Embarrassment? Sure. But more importantly, the question would have tarnished the company’s reputation because it would have reflected that the company’s employees do not even know the name of the company founder.
The conversation was a teaching moment for me. A company that does not educate employees on its corporate history risks employees’ ignorance deepening. Corporate history needs to be treasured because the present rests on the shoulders of the past.
Sam Kinison captured this philosophy in a broader historical sense in the 1986 film Back To School starring Rodney Dangerfield. As a bombastic professor of Contemporary American History at the fictional Grand Lakes University – Professor Terguson – Kinison describes his adoration of history with calm sincerity that gives no hint of a comic outburst minutes later.
“I know a lot of people think history is just facts. It’s just information about the past. But not me. I mean, I hold history very sacred. Sacred, the way the farmer looks at the earth and he holds it sacred. The way a Christian takes the bible and he holds it sacred. The way a lot of people hold their marriage sacred. That’s how I feel about it.”
Is your corporate history sacred? If so, what are you doing to ensure your employees feel the same way or, at least, know the corporate history?