Abstract: How Oral History Captured the Process of Disseminating a Corporate Culture: The Fidelity Investments Oral History Project

Richard B. Thau and Susan Keats


If, according to Emerson, an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man, then Fidelity Investments is the lengthened shadow of Edward C. Johnson 2d. When he founded the firm in the 1940s, it marked the continuation of a Johnson tradition of family-owned businesses and innovation that began with dry goods retailing in nineteenth-century Boston. After more than sixty years, Fidelity appears to embrace many of the same values instilled in the company by its founder in its earliest days. The Fidelity oral history project, which began in 2002, is a rich source for understanding the content and transmission of the company's culture. While written sources offer a window into how workers see a company's culture and how that culture influences their actions and behavior, oral histories offer additional insight into the ways in which corporate culture is perceived. This paper addresses two components of Fidelity's culture: integrity and the primacy of the customer. Interviews reveal that employees trace the origins of the values to the Johnson family and the firm's private ownership, and that these values help provide a foundation for a culture that is transmitted across generations, continents, and business lines by management and workers alike.