KPMG LLP, the audit, tax, and advisory firm and U.S. member firm of KPMG International, had recently launched its “Higher Purpose” initiative. Like many other organizations, KPMG knew that connecting the firm’s work to the successful outcomes of its clients—and having a broader impact on society—was highly motivating. The successful initiative, which was profiled in a Harvard Business Review article in October 2015, in part focused around leveraging the firm’s history in fresh and story-driven ways that would engage its people.
The challenge? KPMG’s history had traditionally been portrayed as a chronology of the mergers and acquisitions that have fueled its growth. Moreover, the nature of KPMG’s business does not naturally yield a tapestry of evocative and highly illustrative stories.
The History Factory was called upon to create a solution, to be showcased at its annual U.S. Partners’ Meeting, that used KPMG’s brand heritage to showcase and support contemporary messaging. For the first time, authentic stories from the firm’s past would tell the unified KPMG story and demonstrate how a sense of purpose has always been part of KPMG’s culture.
The History Factory began with a series of working sessions with KPMG’s HR team and stakeholders to align ourselves with their needs and expectations. We then conducted an extensive research program, during which we developed a comprehensive understanding of KPMG’s history up to the present day. We sent researchers across the United States to conduct interviews and find artifacts; we also gathered artifacts and stories from KPMG member firms in Europe and Australia.
The History Factory excels at unearthing previously unknown stories and artifacts from a client’s history and using them in a way that supports current messaging. One of the more notable discoveries was the 1911 ship manifest from the RMS Lusitania where founding partners William Barclay Peat and James Marwick agreed to merge their firms while sailing across the Atlantic on the famous ocean liner. The History Factory team also discovered a thriving retirement community in California established in the 1920s by Marwick. The founder’s quiet act of philanthropy demonstrates unequivocally that the firm has been committed to a higher purpose from the beginning.
The discovery of this rich content fueled our team’s momentum through the scripting and exhibit design. Our exhibit structure was carefully crafted to place emphasis on these new stories and the array of fascinating corporate artifacts we found. Additionally, to ensure maximum exposure to attendees, we designed a structure that could be moved from one location to another during the Partners’ Meeting.
A team of curatorial and production specialists from The History Factory provided additional support during the event. Drawing on the deep research conducted throughout the project, our specialists acted as exhibit docents and tour guides, and gave interviews for the firm’s internal video network. This presence added a valuable human layer to the exhibit experience.
The success of the project could be seen in the attentiveness and enthusiasm of those touring the exhibit at the Partners’ Meeting. Among the most popular artifacts were firm ledger books from the 1890’s and correspondence from former U.S. presidents. Groups of attendees frequently gathered around the cases and posted photos to social media. Material gathered during the research phase was also used in an opening video created for the Partners’ Meeting. Several leaders of the firm requested that the exhibit be made available for other firm events. Just as importantly, the process was not overly burdensome for the client. KPMG wrote of The History Factory’s team that “their focus, sense of teamwork, and attention to detail turned what could have been a very stressful experience into a successful and memorable one.” KPMG now has a unified narrative of its history, and unique images and artifacts that are interesting and relevant to today’s firm.