Tuesday, January 27, 2004

United Way donors hailed

Tocqueville Society holds annual dinner

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The ingredients of leadership are the same, whether it's leading a major Midwest city or a major international corporation, says the chairman of General Electric Co.

Leading either requires integrity, compassion and competitiveness, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt told the annual Alexis de Tocqueville Society dinner Monday night.

"It's not easy. It has to be fought for and earned. That's what leadership is all about,'' Immelt, a native of Finneytown, told 300 society members at the Cincinnati Club.

The society, named for the 19th century French reformer, is composed of leaders and big givers to the annual United Way of Cincinnati campaign.

The society presented its 2003 achievement award to Rhoda and Manuel D. Mayerson and William J. Williams.

Immelt, 47, who succeeded the legendary Jack Welch as head of GE a week before Sept. 11, noted that Cincinnati's reputation has been tarnished by racial unrest.

He urged the city to work together "to be the best town in the world, because you can be.''

Change is a constant in business and in cities, he said.

"We at GE feel together we can make a difference. Cincinnati and GE will be different in the future,'' he said.

GE Aircraft Engines, which employs about 7,000 in Greater Cincinnati, has faced serious challenges in the last three years which have threatened the future of the aircraft engine business, he said.

Those challenges have included a decline in air travel after Sept. 11, the SARS outbreak, higher oil prices and the Iraq war.

Despite that, Immelt said, GE is investing about $1 billion annually in its jet engine business to make it grow.

"I want GE to be the premier 21st-century growth company,'' he said.

Immelt has worked at GE for 23 years and his father worked at GE Aircraft Engines for 40 years.

"It's the only thing I've know. I feel I'm the luckiest guy in the world,'' he said.

Immelt had planned to visit Aiken High School earlier Monday to meet with students in the GE Foundation-funded College Bound program, but the school was closed because of snow.

The foundation is making a $180,000 grant to continue the Aiken program.


E-mail mboyer@enquirer.com

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