March 18, 2019 • History Factory
This post was written by a former employee, Zenobia Kozak, before her departure from History Factory. We wish her the best of luck.
As History Factory embarks on its 40th anniversary, you may wonder if it’s choosing to “celebrate” or “commemorate” four decades as a pioneering heritage management firm. What’s the difference? According to History Factory founder Bruce Weindruch, “It’s the economy, stupid.” As he has observed firsthand, clients typically take a sober, objectives-focused approach to anniversaries during periods of downturn. In contrast, economic growth means corporations are ready to party—celebrating milestones with more pomp and circumstance.
So what else have we learned through our 40 years in business and hundreds of corporate engagements? In that time, we’ve weathered no fewer than five periods of economic downturn or recession. Each period led to difficult decisions within our organization and certainly within those of our clients. An interesting pattern emerges when you overlay the past 40 years of the U.S. economy with the adaptation and evolution of History Factory. Here are four key takeaways from our experience:
History Factory was founded in 1979 during a period of “stagflation.” That said, we had clients, and we had work to do. As the economy recovered, corporations had new challenges besides navigating the recovering market. Rebuilding trust and loyalty among employees and consumers became a priority. Reinvigorating the corporate story became an important and worthwhile investment as companies worked to regain trust and re-engage individuals. Clients looked to History Factory to gather and retell their stories to produce corporate history books.
As the business world regained confidence following the 2008 financial crisis, our clients again sought our help to gather, organize and share their stories—but interest shifted away from more traditional formats (i.e. the book) to more dynamic and modular applications. Our StoryARC™ methodology, an innovation born out of History Factory’s efforts to weather the economic storm, benefits organizations by analyzing and accepting crisis points in their history. Ignoring or whitewashing the most difficult aspects of your corporate heritage is the fastest way to obliterate your company’s credibility.
Extended periods of economic expansion are the stable grounds on which large capital projects are built. Corporations find themselves relocating or building new corporate headquarters to accommodate growth. During these stable periods, corporations are not only investing in their facilities and physical infrastructure but also educating and engaging a new and expanding workforce. These two factors commonly converge as a call for a corporate exhibit. The corporate exhibit takes the form of a dedicated space within new construction where corporations can curate and display their corporate story, in an effort to inform and engage employees as well as their customer base.
However, as the law of physics (and economics) defines: What goes up ultimately must come down. A growing number of exhibit clients typically tell us that we are riding the wave to the end of the economic cycle and a downturn may well be around the corner.
During the lengthy peacetime expansion of the 1980s, History Factory recognized and seized the opportunity to develop a more user-friendly archival database program (known then as the “Heritage System”) to help meet growing demand for archival management and access. Our engagement with The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago yielded the 2009 launch of our next-generation cloud-based archival management software, LuminARC.™ Making investments in new technologies during periods of growth helps us prepare for the next phase in the economic cycle: the downturn.
When times are uncertain, markets are plummeting and our clients are getting nervous, it becomes a priority to safeguard assets. There are valid concerns that trimming a workforce, selling a facility, liquidating assets, etc. may lead to irreversible long-term losses. Nobody wants to be the person responsible for throwing out the treasured archives or letting valuable institutional memory walk out of the door. While protecting a corporate archive may not seem high priority, recovering from a recession-driven “archival trauma” could prove far costlier, in terms of real dollars as well as public relations. Having the necessary tools and technology on hand to carry out archival management is key.
The uncertainty of Brexit for the U.K., increased trade tariffs between China and the United States, and markets plummeting on the back of the current trade war make for uncertain times. It is likely that a recession is just around the corner, based on established economic cycles.
Anniversaries come and go, whether the economy is boom or bust. Despite economic uncertainties, History Factory is ready to celebrate our 40th year and continue to turn challenges into new opportunities for our clients. We were founded in 1979 on the unique insight that heritage could be a powerful tool beyond the museum and archive. We pioneered an entirely new industry. This vision for the strategic application of history runs strong and true from Day One to Year 40. That’s where we find ourselves today: leading the authentic content revolution!