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GE wins Hesburgh Award

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, April 2, 2009

General Electric (GE) was awarded the Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Exemplary Ethics, Environmental, Social and Governance Practices on Wednesday evening.

Chief Financial Officer of GE Keith Sherin, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1981, said it was a “privilege” to accept the award on behalf of his company.

“I have to say I am enormously proud of this young man,” said Hesburgh as he shook hands with Sherin and presented GE with the award.

Second year MBA student Heather Burns, who nominated GE for the award, said she chose the company because of its “transparency and integrity,” and because of its work in all four areas that the award measures: ethics, environmental, social and governance practices.

“GE has exhibited all of these characteristics and serves as an example for countries around the world,” Burns said in a speech at the award presentation. “GE not only has a vision for today but a vision for the future and improving that future for all of us.”

Sherin then spoke on how he views GE as exemplifying the characteristics of the Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Exemplary Ethics, Environmental, Social and Governance Practices.

“For us, ethics starts with a tone from the top. In our company, every GE leader knows that it’s one strike and you’re out,” Sherin said.

“They have to create a culture of compliance … to make sure everybody in the organization can follow the rules,” Sherin said.

He said to help create that culture the company has a manual outlining the expectations of the company, which is translated into every language that the company operates in.

“With 180 billion dollars worth of revenue and 300,000 employees … we’re not perfect by any means,” Sherin said.

GE also makes environmental issues a priority, said Burns and Sherin. GE helps convert over 200 billions gallons of water into drinkable water everyday, said Burns.

Within the company, GE has reduced its greenhouse emissions by eight percent and reduced its energy usage by 30 percent, said Sherin.

Sherin also emphasized that GE gives back to its community

“Our employees and our retirees volunteer over a million hours a year,” he said.

In addition, Sherin said in terms of public service, “Probably the biggest agenda we have is education.”

He said GE has partnered with school districts in the GE community to achieve systematic changes. For example, GE is currently working with 97,000 students in Louisville, 50,000 in Atlanta and 1.1 million in New York City, with thousands of others in cities across the country.

By working with school districts as a whole instead of partnering with one school, GE can make a bigger impact, he said.

“2/3 of students that are in these districts basically have either free or reduced costs lunch programs. These are kids in the cities … who need the help of the school just to get lunch everyday,” Sherin said.

A major goal of the project was to develop a common curriculum for the entire district, Sherin said. He also said GE has gone around the world to figure out what math and science standards are needed “to compete globally.”

“98 percent of the schools have adopted the common curriculum,” he said. “They are teaching at a world class standard.”

After implementing these changes, they are starting to see an improvement in scores, Sherin said.

For example, math scores are up 19 points in Louisville since 2005, he said. Sherin also said GE is a company committed to Notre Dame

“We love to recruit here. We recruit 30 to 40 students every year. We wish we could get more,” he said.

“Every time I come out here it reminds me what an incredible institution this is and how proud I am to be a part of it,” he said.

“You are part of one of the most influential and sustainable organizations in the world, Notre Dame.”

“We’re really proud of our long term relationship with this University,” Sherin said. “I’d like to just say thank you very much. It is my privilege to be here.”