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No cuts expected at Global Research in Niskayuna amid GE restructuring

No cuts expected at Global Research in Niskayuna amid GE restructuring

Research and development facility to take on outside partnerships and research
No cuts expected at Global Research in Niskayuna amid GE restructuring
The General Electric Global Research Road on River Road in Niskayuna is shown in 2016.
Photographer: Peter Barber

NISKAYUNA — General Electric’s chief technology officer said Tuesday that Niskayuna-based Global Research will survive and is being positioned to thrive amid a reorganization that will shrink the parent company.

Vic Abate, a senior vice president in the conglomerate and head of its research operations, said the roughly 1,500 jobs in Niskayuna (including his own) are not on the chopping block, as the parent company reshapes itself.

While a key part of the reorganization is shedding non-core businesses, those new subsidiaries will remain part of the GE family and will need research and development capacity.

Meanwhile, Global Research is gearing up to do contract research for other companies and will pursue academic and government partnerships as a way to keep its corps of engineers and scientists busy.

“Think of it as an ecosystem, and we’re expanding the ecosystem,” Abate said.

He told The Daily Gazette Tuesday that the fundamental structure of the two Global Research Centers creates an asset that is hard to replicate: Any new project can draw from hundreds of high-level researchers working in dozens of specialties under the same roof for the same company. And those men and women can draw on a huge database of knowledge and innovation developed in-house, Abate said, noting that GE has one of the top 10 intellectual property portfolios in the world.

This should prove enticing to companies looking to collaborate on R&D.

Also Wednesday:

“We can bring a ton of insight to solve problems," he said.

Abate used the word “unleash” more than once:

“That's the exciting thing: It really unleashes our history of innovation into new frontiers that we'll have the opportunity to create.”

As General Electric CEO John Flannery presented a summary of the companywide reorganization to financial analysts Tuesday, he pointed to Global Research as an asset that will help the company reshape itself: It is a research system that crosses business boundaries and, for example, yields advances in both gas turbines and jet engines with the same project.

Abate offered another example: adaptation of X-ray equipment designed for humans to use on jet engines.

“We have a bird’s eye view of all the platforms in the business,” he said. With three colleagues who are experts in three different areas — say, materials, combustion and controls — a problem and its solution are much easier to grasp.

Flannery announced Tuesday that Global Research will move under the oversight of GE Aviation. Abate said this is purely an organizational change — he will remain head of Global Research; he’ll just have a different structure above him.

Global Research had been a component of the corporate arm of the company, and its move to Aviation helps meet the company’s goal of shrinking its headquarters and moving control to its component businesses. Aviation’s CEO also will take responsibility for the company’s Additive, Current and Lighting businesses.

Abate said he undertook a reorganization and streamlining at Global Research when he took over nearly three years ago that resulted in 10 research centers being reduced to the two in Niskayuna and Bangalore, India.

The value of a research center, he explained Tuesday, is bringing people from all of the company’s businesses together to do work that transcends any single business. A lot of the research centers that he closed had focused strictly on one business; their researchers were reassigned to that business, or their jobs were eliminated.

Niskayuna and Bangalore also saw some job cuts during that period -- Bangalore more so than Niskayuna, Abate said. Bangalore’s research center has approximately 200 employees, Niskayuna has approximately 1,500. 

In recent years, Global Research has said publicly that roughly 2,000 worked in Niskayuna.

Having reduced its footprint and workforce, Abate said Global Research is now better positioned to function within the restructured company and take on its new role, working with external partners.

Abate offered a takeaway message Tuesday to the employees working on the River Road campus:

“This is about unleashing the scientists. If you’re at the [Global Research Center], you’re going to create things over the next five years that are bigger and better than what you did over the last five because of this new approach. We’re opening ourselves up to the world. That’s exciting.”

Also Wednesday:

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