If the title of Michael Davi’s new book, “PrivileGEd,” gives you the impression he enjoyed his 40 years at the General Electric Company, you’d be correct. At least for the most part.
A Schenectady native and Mont Pleasant graduate, Davi is proud of the work he did at GE, and speaks convincingly in his book about the long and immeasurable contribution the company made to his family and the entire region. But that’s not the whole story.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, and I wrote about those in the book,” said Davi, who will talk about “PrivileGEd” Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Schenectady County Historical Society. “What’s happened lately is very disturbing to me and many of my colleagues, and even when I was there the working environment wasn’t always the best. It became a financial company, instead of a technology company.”
Davi begins “PrivileGEd” by talking about his family’s long connection with General Electric. Both of his grandfathers worked at GE in a non-professional capicity, as did both of his grandmothers during World War II. All were Italian immigrants.
“They both came to the Schenectady plant around 1925, although I couldn’t find any evidence that they knew each other,” said Davi, whose book is subtitled; “Experiences From My Unusual 40-Year Career with One of America’s Most Iconic Companies.” “My dad’s father contracted cancer and died, leaving my grandmother a widow with children. She didn’t speak that well, but she got a job at GE in the 1940s. Both my grandmothers answered the call during World War II. I think you could definitely call them Rosie Riveters.”
Although his mother and father didn’t work for GE, Davi said he’s got aunts and uncles as well as nephews and nieces that form a family connection to GE for more than a century.
“I felt I had a pretty unusual career at GE, and I also wanted to do more research on my grandparents,” said Davi, who now lives in Niskayuna. “I retired in May of 2016 and I had been thinking about writing a book for the last few years of my career. I wanted to look at my family history and tie that all together with GE.”
After telling his grandparents’ story, Davi begins focusing on his own GE career, which began in 1976 after a little bit of traveling during college.
“My grandfather had settled down in Tampa area, so after graduating from Mont Pleasant, which really helped prepare me because it had the best technical program at the time, I went to the University of South Florida,” said Davi. “I had always been fascinated by the space program, so I knew I wanted to study engineering or some science-oriented field. I also thought oceanography or marine engineering would be interesting, so that’s why I picked a big university like Southern Florida.”
After two years, however, Davi was hoping to transfer closer to home, and while Union College wasn’t that welcoming, over in Troy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was willing to give him a scholarship.
“Yeah, I got tired of the warmth and eternal sunshine in Florida,” said Davi, laughing. “By that time I had zeroed in on mechanical and space engineering, and in my senior year at RPI I studied mostly jet engines and rocket engineering.”
After graduating from RPI, Davi landed a position with GE with the help of an aunt who was already working there.
“I’m lucky I wasn’t killed or fired in my first year,” said Davi. “On my second day, I was sent to a wildlife preserve in New Jersey because we had a DC-10 cargo plane that had gone down due to a bird strike. Luckily no one was killed, but there were rumors going around that the frequencies in the engines were attracting the birds. So I was working with some of the top people in the company trying to figure out why the engine noise was attracting seagulls. We concluded that it wasn’t the engines attracting the birds. It was so quiet yet bigger and faster that it got too close to the birds at the end of the runway before they could fly out of the plane’s path. It was very unusual work I was doing but very fascinating.”
Davi says his book is a positive piece of work, and he hopes it might steer younger people into a career in engineering. But he also addresses the down side of the corporate world, including the impact former CEO Jack Welch had on the company.
“I didn’t have too many complimentary things to say about him,” said Davi. “The biggest thing I didn’t like about him was that it was about profits at all cost. He turned GE into a financial company instead of a technology company. I am a bit of a hypocrite. I enjoyed when the stock went up, but he took all that money away from the things he needed to keep improving the factory and the products.
“The media gave him great honors, but his management style was by conflict and confrontation,” continued Davi. “People feared him, and he always had an adversarial relationship with the union. I didn’t want to make this a negative book. I want to hopefully inspire younger people to have STEM careers. But I had to mention some of the reality. If not for Warren Buffet’s loan, GE may have gone bankrupt.”
WHAT: A presentation by Michael Davi on his new book
WHERE: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, March 28
HOW MUCH: Free for SCHS members, $5 for non-members
MORE INFO: Visit www.schenectadyhistorical.org or call (518) 374-0263