Larry Small: From Finance to Feathers

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  • David Heenan's chapter on Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small describes Small as a man of many interests who is one of a growing number of private-sector executives finding fulfillment in the non-profit world. The author worked for Small at Citicorp during the early 1970's, and describes Small's background, interests and career in business prior to becoming Secretary in January 2000. While studying at Brown University, Small became intensely interested in learning to play flamenco guitar, a passion that continues, and taking Spanish courses and living in Spain led him to develop his love of languages. Small's overseas work generated his great interest in indigenous tribal art; he and his wife Sandra assembled an extensive collection of folk art, particularly from the Amazon River Basin.
  • Needing a place to display their acquisitions, they purchased a Washington, D.C., apartment and hired the architectural firm of Adamstein and Demetriou to transform the 2,500 sq-ft area into a private gallery. Small began his 27-year Citicorp career in 1964, rising to vice chairman. When he realized he would not become chairman, he contemplated retirement but instead in 1991 moved to Fannie Mae as president. Working in a more focused, less urbane environment, Small transformed the mortgage entity into a more efficient, "well-oiled" financial machine. By 1998 Small planned to retire in 3 years to devote his time to music, art and literature. However, in 1999 Small was approached by Smithsonian Regent Wesley S. Williams, Jr., regarding Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman's departure at the end of that year.
  • Small agreed to be on a panel of management specialists to advise the search committee on what to look for in Heyman's replacement, but in the end, the committee contacted Small himself regarding the position. Even though he would be taking a 90 percent pay cut, Small accepted the offer, saying that during his 35 years in business, he had made a point of getting all his work done during the week so he could enjoy museums on weekends. As Smithsonian Secretary, Small stated that he would be able to enjoy museums during the week, and he was excited that his hobbies of anthropology, art and language were also areas of focus for the Institution.
  • During his Citicorp years, the author had observed Small's perfunctory management style and passion for accountability. As the first banker to become Secretary, Small carried those traits with him to the Smithsonian. He pledged to pursue greater exposure for the Smithsonian by expanding traveling exhibitions and exploiting the power of the internet, and called for programs to boost attendance and promote research programs. The author states that Small introduced tougher standards for the Institution, and made some decisions viewed unfavorably by Smithsonian employees, such as reallocation of National Portrait Gallery space that prompted the resignation of long-time director Alan Fern.
  • Small restructured the Smithsonian into five divisions, and established procedures to concentrate on fund raising, which emerged as one of his skills. He tapped individual millionaires to contribute some of their resources to the Smithsonian and lobbied the federal government to increase revenue to the Institution, while developing partnerships with other museums that pay fees to exhibit loaned items. Small views himself as being successful in balancing business with his love of music, art and languages, and encourages others to pursue multiple roles to bring out the best in themselves.


  • Small, Sandra Roche
  • Small, Lawrence M
  • Fern, Alan Maxwell 1930-
  • Heyman, Ira Michael 5/30/1930-11/19/2011
  • Williams, Jr., Wesley S
  • Adamstein & Demetriou
  • National Portrait Gallery (U.S.)
  • Board of Regents


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Contains one photograph of Small with wife Sandra. Endnotes for the chapter appear on pages 235 & 236.

Contained within

Double Lives: Crafting Your Life of Work and Passion for Untold Success, Chapter 7 (Book.)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




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Amazon River Region


First edition

Physical description

Number of pages :23; Page numbers : 125-147

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