At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. I’ll present the interview, a couple of questions at a time, throughout this week. Click to see all the articles in this series.
The Insider: Jay, what do you think are your top accomplishments at FamilySearch?
Jay: When you're the CEO of an organization the organization's successes are your successes, the organizations failures are your failures. You don't succeed and have the organization fail. That also means that at some level anything that you call a great success wasn't your success. So there are things I'm really proud of, that FamilySearch has done in the last ten years, but it would be wrong to call them Jay's success or the things that Jay's done. One of the things that's sometimes a little hard to control is that—if you'll let me just babble on for a minute—is being CEO is a really visible thing and I get a lot of compliments. I wish I could translate the thanks that I often receive, to the people that actually deserve the thanks. The organization works because of all the people in it.
Some of the things I'm most proud of the organization in the last ten years:
I think we've really come to a new understanding about our role within the ecosystem of family history and how family history works. I have a diagram that has a little pond. It's got the sun and the soil, the water, the animals, all those elements are part of an ecosystem. None of them are the most important. All of them are required and needed for that whole ecosystem to occur. I think FamilySearch has really gotten their head around our role in the ecosystem. It’s got non-profit archives, societies, consumers. The consumers themselves can be professionals or avid hobbyists. They can be people who spend 20 hours at this, and really ought to call it a part time job, a serious avocation in terms of hobby, all the way to beginning people. And of course commercial organizations and commercial companies of all sizes from public companies like Ancestry to a brand new little company. Understanding and comprehending that ecosystem, learning to play within it, learning what our roles need to be and what we don't need to do so others can do—I've really been happy with how the organization has done that.
I've been very happy we've been able to execute and deliver the digital records that are coming out. Last year we published over 300 million digital records, which is more than we had at the start of the year, so we more than doubled the digital records. That's just really cool. I think that's awesome.
The help world: We delivered 35,000 help requests in 2002 and we delivered 11.5 million interactions in 2011. Now that's some cool growth in terms of really helping people and executing a model that works in 12 languages and that's cool. Again, did I do that? No. Don [Anderson] and all kinds of great people, thousands actually, made that happen.
The tree that's going to become public this year.
The framework I talked about at RootsTech: I think we have resources to help accomplish and partners that want to accomplish and so forth and an ecosystem that I hope will bring that to bear. I will be so happy if that occurs.
So those are all things that I don't think I would take credit for but I'm really excited happened in the last ten years.
Insider: Dennis, what do you hope will be your top accomplishments at FamilySearch?
Dennis: Jay was here ten years. If I'm here ten years, what would I look back and say “gee, what did we do?”
First of all, we've got lots of records that we need to get available. We're just scratching the surface of with the records that we have today. We're got teams out there with cameras collecting more images every minute of every day. We've got to make sure that that flow of what's coming in and what's getting digitized and available to people, we've got to keep that going. One of the things I'd be happy about is if we were making a dent in that, if we could say that we can see the point at which we were going to get this done. There is a finite number of records that we're dealing with right now. Whether that's North America or other places, there's still a finite number. It seems inconceivable that we could do it, but we will do it. We’ll get it done. So I'm hoping that we'll make a sizable dent in that.
One thing is, I hope we'll have an experience for our patrons that is delightful, that they enjoy it, and they’re not frustrated by it. Those of us who've been around a while have been frustrated by technology. We need to be moving beyond that. We need to be having experiences that are enjoyable and attracting. That would be another area of success.
Another thing, our efforts have been historically North America and English countries because that's where we have the interest. That's where we have the records. You can track that back a little further, but it goes right back to Europe and England and Scandinavia. That's where Americans came from. Some came from further south, but there are only a few places. We have members of our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that are all over the world and the growth is in Latin America and Asia and Africa and in some cases Eastern Europe and into what was formerly the soviet Union. We've got to do some more work to make sure that when they feel the desire to find their ancestors they can come on our site and we can help them.
That can be different because here we're very focused on names and places and dates. Many of these people focus on relationships. We go to Africa and we've got people who can't say when they were born. They don't know how old they are. But they understand the relationships and oral histories. So we've got a large team right now collecting thousands and thousands of oral histories in Africa. It’s a different culture. We need to be respectful of that. They're still part of the same mission. So I will feel success in ten years if we've really been able to go beyond this English North American-centric view and understand that we've got people around the world that feel the same desires and the same needs. We help them and partner with people who can do it better.
Sounds a little grandiose, doesn't it? We've got ten years to do it.
Thursday: FamilySearch’s biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses. Dancing elephants and spinning plates. The Insider challenges the CEOs to index the 1940 census.