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2014: Preserving the Unique History of Chambers

Tim Mahoney and Laura Linard from the Baker Library of the Harvard Business School

Laura Linard, director of special collections for the Baker Library of the Harvard Business School, and Tim Mahoney, manuscripts librarian, examine ACCE documents and publications dating to 1914, the year the association was founded. They visited ACCE’s offices April 7 to inspect and catalog the contents of 24 boxes of convention proceedings, meeting minutes, newsletters and photos from ACCE’s past. “This is wonderful material that provides a unique view of American business,” Linard said. “We’d be pleased to add all 24 boxes to our archives.” Harvard Business School maintains its extensive library for the benefit of the scholarly community. Many of its collections involve records of innovative companies and the papers of business leaders who have played a pivotal role in the contemporary global business world. All formats of information, from paper records to audio and video digital files and websites are collected and maintained in a climate-controlled facility for archival-quality storage of manuscripts, rare books and electronic records. Fragile or damaged materials get special handling from a staff dedicated to conserving documents regardless of format.

1930: A Valuable Bragging Contest

At the 1930 convention in Tulsa, attendees heard a brief presentation on the Service Idea Contest, a forerunner of ACCE’s annual Chamber of the Year and Awards for Communication Excellence (ACE) programs. The contest had started the previous year, and was quite popular with members. Proud secretaries submitted 300-word essays about their outstanding work; judges selected the best for publication. The winners of the first contest, which generated 40 “great ideas,” were the basis of a feature article in the New York Herald-Tribune entitled “The Chamber of Commerce Speeds American Business” by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Robert P. Lamont. The second year idea total was 119, reported Judges Committee Chairman John Guild of Kansas City, who advised “that it would make better reading matter, not only in our little booklet, but in all other publicity, if the secretaries will state in their presentations that the Chamber of Commerce rather than the secretary was responsible for the idea, that it was the Chamber of Commerce rather than the secretary who carried out the idea.”

1926: Final Exam Question 1

“Describe in some detail the problems which are likely to arise from an over-expanded membership, and attempt to prove (or to disprove) the thesis that after a certain point in membership is reached the cost in time and money of getting members exceeds the benefits derived from them.”

1926: Final Exam Question 2

“In a certain middle-western city, various bureaus (e.g. credit, traffic, convention) exist independently of  the local chamber of commerce and are inclined to be hostile (certainly they are not friendly) toward it. Account for this situation and describe how, if you were secretary, you would proceed to harmonize the interests of these groups with those of the chamber. Suppose your board should decide to attempt to make these bureaus integral parts of the chamber and place on you the responsibility of leadership in carrying out this decision; how would you proceed? Note: Set up any assumptions whatever and argue from them, taking care, however, to be reasonable in your assumptions and consistent in your arguments.” — examination questions from a 1926 class in Business Organization and Operation at the University of Illinois

1926: National School Update

NACOS News in July 1926 announced the sixth session of the National School for Commercial and Trade Organization Executives. There were 231 registrants. Eight additions were made to a curriculum divided into “fundamental, technical and specialized courses.” Three years of study were now required for a diploma. Fundamental courses included Psychology, Effective Speaking, Social Problems of the Community, Public Finance and Taxation, Marketing and Distribution, Legislation, Accounting and Financial Analysis, Effective Business Communications, Industrial Development of the U.S., and Present Day Economic Problems; first year courses included Program of Work, Meetings and Committee Management, Membership, Publicity, Office Administration, Commercial Activities, Industrial Activities, Civic Activities; advanced courses included Principles of Executive Management, Chamber of Commerce Salesmanship, Problems of the Smaller Community, Problems of a Chamber of Commerce with a Small Staff; Cost Accounting, Credit Bureaus, Public Health Activities of a Chamber of Commerce and more. That same month the Western School for Commercial Secretaries opened at Stanford University in Palo Alto.

1921: The Birth of Institute

Attendees at 1927 InstituteEnlarge

What about a school for the chamber executives themselves? President Taft had called for
such an institution back in 1913. Chamber executives, too, believed that they needed a place
for instruction. Indeed, the American City Bureau, a New York City organization that helped chambers acquire members, had been running a summer school for chamber staff for a
few years.

In early 1921 the National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries began setting up its own school for secretaries. The two-week program first took place in July of that year at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The president of the school was S. Cristy Mead, the secretary of the New York Merchants’ Association and founding NACOS president.

Tuition at the two-week school was $30 in the first year, which represented only about half the cost of instruction. The U.S. Chamber, whose board in April 1921 had formally endorsed the idea of education for chamber executives, agreed to add its financial support to that of NACOS for the school.  Students’ daily expenses for room and board were estimated not to exceed $2.50 each.

The following year the school admitted not just chamber executives but also trade association officials. The program that today is universally known among chamber executives as “Institute” (formally the Institute for Organization Management, provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) had been fully launched. Faced with the united front of the U.S. Chamber and NACOS, the American City Bureau withdrew from the chamber-education field. Other programs, however, would appear from time to time, such as a community leadership summer program at Stanford in 1923 that captured the “active interest” of the California Association of Commercial Secretaries.  — excerpted from Magicians of Main Street, forthcoming book by
Chris Mead, ACCE’s senior V.P.

1919: “Why Do Your Members Resign?

By Robert B. Beach, Chicago Chamber

Why do your members resign? Did you ever catalog the reasons?

1. Because they get nothing out of it.

2. Because they cannot attend meetings.

3. Because they haven’t time to be active.

4. Because they are not interested.

5. Because they have a grievance.

6. Because they object to action taken.

7. Because they cannot afford it.

Put all these reasons together and they reduce to one that contains them all: ‘I am out of touch with the chamber and the chamber is out of touch with me.’” — from a presentation at the 1919 NACOS convention in Indianapolis.

1915: Ice-breakers

“How is acquaintance-making conducted, especially with new members?” This question was discussed at the 1915 convention, and the best answer came from the Minneapolis chamber, which used a series of cards placed on each plate during regular luncheon meetings. Text from three of the cards was shared with attendees:

At the first convention, a year-long discussion was concluded about a “Secretarial Service Bureau which will constitute a continuous exchange-center for the data and information from time to time required by commercial secretaries.” Because of the expense of the project, it was suggested that the service bureau be administered by the U.S. Chamber and governed by a seven-member committee, with four members from NACOS and three from the U.S. Chamber. A U.S. Chamber representative spoke at length of his agreement to the plan, which was unanimously approved.

1915: Survey-Membership Campaigns

“A high percentage of organizations have determined definitely to eliminate future impulsive campaigns with spectacular features, in which the prospective member receives the impression that he is being invited to join the organization merely to help someone win a hat or an annual baseball pass. One secretary after another states that the member who does not understand what he is expected to do for the Chamber, will be neither a valuable nor permanent asset.”

“The proportion of new members secured in a campaign who later do not qualify is probably due not so much to the flurry during which they came in as to the lack of assimilative effort made by the organization during the first year or two of his membership when his mind is in a particularly impressionable attitude toward the organization.”

1915: Survey-Committee Size

“The tendency is toward smaller committees; five and seven are commonly mentioned. An interesting tabulation by one secretary shows that the percentage of attendance at meetings is greater in a committee of nine than in committees of any other number. As the size of the committees increases, the attendance percentage decreases.

Many are in favor of a committee containing about nine men. If the committee is smaller than that it is not representative, and one man with strong views is apt to control it. When a committee becomes larger, the sense of personal responsibility of each member decreases.”

1915: Survey-Salary Expense

“Fifty cities reported the percent of total general expenditure devoted to salaries and wages.
The average percent thus derived in 41, the highest in any case being 80, and lowest 19. The high figure occurs in a city having a population of slightly more than 50,000, and lowest in a city
of 20,000.”

 

Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives

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