CSR professor to discuss changes at GE

Lisa Kannenberg has been a history buff since she was 7.

Lisa Kannenberg has been a history buff since she was 7.

“I took a trip with my parents from my home in Wisconsin to New York City,” said The College of Saint Rose history professor in an e-mail interview earlier this week. “En route we went to every possible historical site, and ranged as far south as Virginia (Monticello) to Boston (Paul Revere). I was hooked.”

Kannenberg’s fascination with history also includes the labor struggles of the 20th century, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Schenectady County Historical Society she will present a lecture called “From the ‘Art’ to the ‘Science’ of Management at General Electric.”

Included in her talk will be a discussion of former GE president Ralph Cordiner, who took over in 1950 and led the company through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.

From the ‘Art’ to the ‘Science’ of Management at General Electric

WHAT: A lecture on GE history by College of Saint Rose professor Lisa Kannenberg

WHERE: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $5 for non-members

MORE INFO: 374-0263, www.schenectadyhistorical.org

He began the decentralization of GE which, according to Kannenberg, ended the Schenectady plant’s central role as the incubator of new products and ultimately drained the plant of product lines and jobs.

Kannenberg is currently working on a book based on her dissertation, “Progress and GE: Labor, Management, and Community Relations in Schenectady, 1930-1965.”

“I’m not crazy about the guy,” she said, referring to Cordiner. “This book is not about success or failure, but change. Change for the better? Worse? It depends on your perspective.”

As far as most General Electric workers in Schenectady were concerned, the change was not good.

“Cordiner devised and implemented GE’s decentralization project,” said Kannenberg, who is currently serving as interim chair of the History and Political Science Department at Saint Rose.

“It was intended to offset 1950s concerns with corporate growth (“bigness”) by breaking down facilities into smaller units and dispersing them from their historic locations in the northeast to points south and west.

“By doing this, GE could grow even bigger. He was “successful” in the sense that GE did indeed grow bigger and more profitable, but the cost to communities like Schenectady (and Lynn, and Bridgeport, etc) was extreme and negative.”

Kannenberg grew up in West Bend, Wisconsin, and got her four-year degree and master’s at UNC-Charlotte, and then her Ph.D at Rutgers University in 1999.

“I’m a former electrical industry worker and union activist,” she said. “I’ve been interested in GE, as a leader in the industry, for a long time.”

Kannenberg has taught courses on U.S. history and women’s history at Saint Rose, and is also on the graduate school faculty there, teaching topics such as historiography and the history of reform. She recently served as the coordinator of Saint Rose’s Women’s Studies Committee.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].

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