One of the more unusual parts of my job at Monsanto is managing the corporate archives. I have some help here – the archives are catalogued, sorted and stored at a local university in St. Louis. But most of what lands in the archives passes through my office, and my office often resembles an estate sale before the sales agent has everything organized.
At times I feel like I’m working in Monsanto’s attic.
Family members of deceased retirees often bring envelopes and boxes of materials for the archives, and sorting through them and determining what gets stored is often an exercise in learning American commercial and even cultural history. And I’ve come across some rare and unusual things – a letter from the son of Monsanto’s founder, writing about his father’s death; correspondence with Walt Disney; old company magazines; all kinds of items with the old company logo (a lot of which we refer to as trade show “swag” today); and photographs, hundreds of photographs, of sales meetings, award ceremonies, company picnics, and retirement parties. And photographs showing field trials of corn, soybeans, and cotton.
You quickly learn what events and memories have been important to Monsanto employees over the years.
The work Monsanto people do with their colleagues: If I’ve seen one photograph of a field sales office team posing together, I’ve seen a thousand. And working at trade shows. And teams presenting scientific papers together.
The work Monsanto people do with their colleagues that’s in service to other people: United Way events, work with charities like the Red Cross, taking their boats to help rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina and helping farmers recover from disasters like a hard freeze in Mexico and a typhoon in the Philippines.
And partnerships, dozens of them. The collaborative gene has long been in the company’s DNA, whether it was exhibits at Disneyland and Disney World, conservation projects in Brazil, improving the quality of seed used by farmers in Africa, donations of seed, projects to protect watersheds, prairie restoration efforts, or giving extensive tracts of land for expansion of parks. And a lot more.
I get to hear stories, too. One retiree was preparing to go into an assisted living home, and he didn’t have room for some of the mementos of his working days. He sat in my office for two hours with a box, telling a story about each item he handed me. What was amply clear was how proud he was to have worked for Monsanto.
I see the relics of things that didn’t quite work out, too – the investments that looked like they would be successful but didn’t turn out that way.
But the common element I find over and over again is this: Monsanto employees take great pride in their work. They know it’s important work. They know it’s work that’s easily misunderstood and mischaracterized, and sometimes deliberately lied about. But they are proud of what they do, proud of what they accomplish, and proud to be part of an enterprise of people they like and respect.