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Meet 2 modern-day GE giants

GE 125th Anniversary

Meet 2 modern-day GE giants

Walter Robb, Ivar Giaever rose to prominence in very different ways
Meet 2 modern-day GE giants
GE scientist Ivar Giaever (left) accepts the 1973 Nobel Prize in physics as the king of Sweden looks on.
Photographer: Courtesy miSci

EDITOR'S NOTE: In week nine of our series on General Electric's 125th anniversary, we take a look back at the distinguished careers of two of the company's brightest minds of the modern era.

Walter Robb and Ivar Giaever were two of General Electric's brightest lights during the second half of the 20th century, but they didn't always see eye to eye.

When Robb took over as chief technological officer at GE Global Research in 1986, Giaever, a physicist and 1973 Nobel Prize winner, figured it might be time to take that teaching position the people at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute had offered him.

"When Walt came in and took over at the research center, he was saying how everyone at GE should be working on present GE products, not future ones," said Giaever, who began working with the company in 1954. "That kind of killed me, so I left a short time later. But then when I started running my own company, I realized that Walt had the right idea. Research is way down on the list. You have to make your profit first."

Robb, who says he's always valued research and still does, remembers things a bit differently.

"With Ivar, he was a Nobel Prize winner, so we just let him do his own thing," Robb said. "When I was in charge, I was just hoping he'd be helpful to other scientists who were struggling with things and weren't nearly as smart as he was."

Giaever, a Norwegian immigrant and one of two GE scientists to win the Nobel Prize, and Robb, a chemical engineer whose business acumen surpassed his scientific prowess, rose to prominence in very different ways. Here are their stories.

RELATED: Walter Robb: 'I always had a warm spot for GE'

RELATED: Ivar Giaever: 'I never knew you could get paid for doing research'

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