Information professionals recount their early career experiences.
This time: Peter A Kurilecz, Director at ARMA International
How I started – Or what a long strange trip it’s been.
It’s hard to believe but it has been over 30 years since I started my career in records and information management. But before I start reminiscing about my career please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Pete Kurilecz, native-born Texan who recently moved back to Texas after living in Virginia for the past 16 years. I have two degrees in History, and hold three certifications (Certified Records Manager, Certified Archivist and Information Governance Professional). I have two children both of whom live in the United Kingdom. My daughter graduated from Newcastle University and Kings College London. She currently works for the International Refugee Trust. My son is in his final year of reading history at Christ’s College Cambridge and like many young people is not sure of what he wants to do after graduation (sounds like someone I know). If you are a subscriber to either the Archives-NRA or Records Management UK listservs you’re probably going “oh! you’re that guy.”
History has always been a passion of mine since I was a young boy. You would always find a book in my hand, even if I was walking down the street. I studied history at Vanderbilt University graduating in 1974. Following graduation I applied to and was accepted into graduate school. The program I eventually graduated from intrigued me because they offered course work in archives administration. I thought, “how cool would that be to work with original historical material”. More interesting than teaching, which was the only other option available. Part of the program was to do an internship at an archive. I spent my internship in the Dallas Public Library’s local history collection. Following completion of the internship I was offered a position there as the archivist for the Historic Photograph Collection.
What a fabulous position to hold. The collection had more than a quarter million images (negatives, transparencies and prints) primarily of Dallas and North Texas. Since this was pre-PC days (1980-84) I developed a visual index file that allowed researchers to access the collection without having to view the original materials. I also developed several exhibits that from the collection that attracted thousands of visitors. During this time I was a member of the Society of American Archivists and the Society of Southwest Archivists.
Towards the end of 1984 I decided that it was time to change my career’s direction. This is when I discovered records management. I had realized that although I enjoyed working with archival material it did not afford me with the ability to support a family; another path I had started by getting married. Records management offered me greater opportunities, and so I found employment with a major oil and gas company located in Dallas, Texas where I lived. At the same time I became a member of ARMA International, a group that I have belonged to now for 30 years. (more about ARMA later) With this company I achieved a number of firsts, among them my first retention schedule, transferring thousands of cubic feet of records from San Francisco and Amarillo, selecting a commercial records storage vendor and provide support for lawsuits and tax audit. The last one was a real challenge as I had to locate and retrieve original invoices that totaled more than $250 million dollars. Failure to produce them would mean paying the full tax on the invoice. In the end I located the records (thanks to inventory I had done previously) and was able to save the company an estimated $25 million dollars.
In 1986 I applied to take the Certified Records Managers exams. These exams (multiple choice) test the candidate over 5 knowledge areas; Management, Records Creation and Use, Records Systems, Storage and Retrieval, Records Appraisal, Retention, Protection and Disposition. After successfully passing the first 5 exams the candidate then sits for Part 6 which consists of case studies. To learn more about the exams visit http://www.arma.org I successfully passed all 6 exams receiving the designation in 1988.
In 1988 I relocated my family and I to Houston Texas where I took a position with Enron and later Aramco Services Company (ASC). The latter is a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco. With that connection I completed two business assignments in Saudi Arabia (1993 and 1995). Working at ASC I was slowly moving in to the world of electronic records and unstructured content management. I was able to implement a network based system that allowed users to search for inactive records (paper) held in our facility while at the same time we were able to associate those records with the corporate retention schedule. But my work was not just limited to records management I also supervised the Word Processing Unit, Forms Management and Purchasing. The latter involved all corporate purchases with a value of less than $2500. After 7 very interesting and worthwhile years at ASC I relocated once again this time to Richmond Virginia.
In Richmond I joined a systems integrator that was designing and developing an electronic document/records management system for a large state agency. This at a time when there were no off the shelf programs. We were also conducting records inventories for the agency and developing records retention schedules from the inventories. The company also worked with a major health system to inventory their records and create retention schedules. Unfortunately as happens not infrequently contracts ran out and were not renewed. The company laid off employees and eventually it was my turn. Time to find a new position.
Fortunately I found work with a contractor but I ended up commuting each week up to Washington DC where I worked at federal agency. There I developed a functional requirements document for one of the agency’s departments that was looking to automate their prime business process.
Overall I’ve been employed by 9 different employers over the past 30 years the most recent one being IBM. I never would have imagined 40 years ago that I would end up being employed by IBM. The key takeaway from this is that at each employer I gained new skills and was able to expand my horizons, meet new people and experience new geographical areas. Changing jobs may not be for everyone, but for me it was critical for my career. I don’t think I would have ended up at IBM working with the customers I did if I had not worked at some many different employers
So to play off of the title of this piece, “yes it has been a long strange trip”. In the archives and records management profession one never knows where they will end up. You may stay with the same group for your entire career slowly moving up while others may follow in my path working at a variety of organizations. There is no one way to grow your career. I’ll close with this anecdote. Yogi Berra, a famous American baseball player, would invite people to come visit him the guests would ask “well how do I get there?” He would tell them the route and close with “when you come to the fork in the road, take it”. Basically it means that if faced with a choice, make it and don’t second guess yourself. My career has consisted of a series of forks in the road, and I’ve never regretted the decisions I made at each fork.
Peter also has a keen interest in Photography. To see his images go to- http://www.flickr.com/photos/pak152/sets