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The Power of Heritage with Swire HK Archive Service’s Bonnie Sze

What’s the one thing that motivates you? “The Power Series” offers thought leadership insights from industry experts on the “power” of their initiatives in relation to everyday life. In September, Swire’s Head of HK Archive Service, Bonnie Sze talks to us about the power of heritage.

Who are we?
Why are we who we are today? Where do we come from?

The answers lie in our heritage.
To understand our heritage is to know our roots and identity. It’s what makes us unique as individuals and as communities.

Everyone has their own story. Mine began 27 years ago when I first joined the Swire group as a secretary. Part of my job involved filing and processing company records, and from doing that – often by hand as computers weren’t common back then – I’d developed a deep understanding and interest for our business and history. So when the company decided to establish an archive service unit in 2011, I quickly agreed to help set it up, thinking it’d just be an extension of my original work. Little did I know it would become such a huge, meaningful project: I started with just a computer and a workstation; today, we have a full team and a dedicated space comprising an office, an archive repository and a reading room.
“To understand our heritage is to know our roots and identity.”
Archives are about preserving the past so that we, as well as our future generations, can rediscover it. History is a mirror that shows us our past successes and failures, and it’s in these experiences that we find inspiration for new ideas and the confidence to face tomorrow’s challenges. An archive’s role, then, is to collect and manage these remnants of the past, and provide access to them to anyone who wishes to take a look into this mirror. In a way, it also breathes new life into the historical materials, which we continue to appreciate, reinterpret and pass on from generation to generation.

For a company, an archive houses its corporate memory.
It gives weight to a brand’s identity, which is a powerful asset that sets it apart from other organisations. This idea wasn’t new for Swire; since the 1970s, our London headquarters have been depositing their archives at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in University of London. Our Archive in Hong Kong, however, is the first and only one that we run in-house in Asia, and it’s been a learning process for all of us.

In a sense, our group’s heritage is also part of Hong Kong’s history.
Swire has over 200 years of history and we’ve been in Hong Kong since 1870. Over the past century and a half, the group has undergone a great transformation – from a sugar refinery and a dockyard in Quarry Bay to a giant in property, aviation, food and beverages and more – and so has Hong Kong. Our companies play key roles in developing our region, so we recognise it as our social responsibility to preserve our heritage, by managing and growing our archives for the community. Of course, from an administrative point of view, the Archive also benefits our staff by providing a centralised archives management system for all our operating companies in Asia.
These records offer insights into how life has changed over the years, Hong Kong’s history, as well as our collective heritage and culture. And there have been many surprises as we continue to collect materials, which include historical photos, documents and memorabilia. For example, two years ago we received an old photo album from a staff member’s client, whose father had found it in a flea market in the UK. Previously owned by a foreman at the Taikoo Dockyard in the early 20th century, the album contains never-before-seen photographs of Quarry Bay, such as those of the Taikoo cable cars that used to connect the town and Mount Parker – something we probably wouldn’t realise now! Our collections also boast artefacts like plane tickets from the early days and antique film reels and posters. They all give us a glimpse into what life was like in the past.

We like to invite staff to explore the Archive as a team-building or onboarding activity, to encourage a sense of belonging through the stories about our collective past. This is how we build corporate cohesion. It’s a much more engaging way to connect employees to our company’s values and history than, say, with a traditional orientation session where you sit in a meeting room with a PowerPoint presentation. This is perhaps a way that corporate archives could benefit other companies, too. We often have visitors who tell us that they can identify with our brand and community more after seeing the rich heritage of the group with their own eyes.

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For businesses, a look at the company’s heritage can also provide inspiration. Again, this is about it being a part of a company’s identity; designs and marketing strategies that reflect this identity can send a powerful message about the brand’s legacy. Many of our companies have taken inspiration from the archives’ contents for different projects, and we welcome our tenants to make use of the materials too. Take EY, who moved into One Taikoo Place last year. For their new office, we provided historical images of the neighbourhood as decoration for their meeting rooms, creating a unique ambience that connects their staff members with the area’s heritage. This is a perfect example of old meets new, and how heritage can play a part in the everyday.

History never stands still,
and so it’s an ongoing effort for us to grow the Archive. Next year will mark our 10th anniversary and our next goal will be to focus on providing access to our content in innovative ways. We’ll be moving into a bigger space in Cambridge House, with a new design that incorporates storytelling and interactive elements. We want to create an engaging and fruitful experience, something that people will find interesting, useful and relevant. So, watch this space!

Interested to explore the Archive? Feel free to email the team.

Lessons from history can not only inspire us, but also stop us from making the same mistakes. Read about the Power of Prevention with Adventist Medical Centers’ Andrew Tam.

Do you work at Taikoo Place and want to be featured in The Power Series? Get in touch.
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