Oral Histories

Joyce Hergenhan

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

Joyce Hergenhan Biography

Joyce Hergenhan began her career as a journalist for Gannet newspapers, was Vice President and Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Consolidated Edison Company, and eventually, in 1982, landed at General Electric as Vice President of Public Relations.  Hergenhan also served as president of the GE Foundation.  As GE’s senior communications executive, she worked closely with then-CEO Jack Welch during the company’s transition from manufacturing to diversified technology and services. She remained at GE for 22 years, retiring in 2004.

Hergenhan’s professional recognitions include the lifetime achievement award in public relations from Women in Communications (1999) and a lifetime achievement award from Inside PR (2000).


Interviewer: You mentioned Crotonville.

Hergenhan: Yeah.

Interviewer: Tell me about that. How that worked and how you were involved.

Hergenhan: Okay executive education, management education, very, very important at GE. It has an absolute core value at GE that you should always be learning, always be learning, and so a lot of the people we hire directly out of college in fact most of them are hired in the programs financial management program. Business management program, marketing program, engineering a couple different engineering programs and the idea of these programs are that you are learning how to. In addition to having jobs but you also have an educational component to it. That you know your first couple of years there, you are constantly learning. You're on a program for two years in most cases and then as you get more jobs and move up in the organization, there are all kinds of courses at Crotonville for all levels of employees, there's a new management for example. There are courses on communications, effective communications sort of way. There is management and there are three courses that are kind of taking people who are considered the high potential people in the company and take them through these new courses and the first one is the manager development course, MDC. Then the second one is business development, BDC The third one is executive, EDC, and the first one, the management development one, there might be like 6 of those a year, a 6 separate sessions of them. The second one, the business development one, there might be three separate sessions. By the time you get to the executive development course, which is one session a year. So you can see it is really a pyramid thing. And the final one is an easy one. Are people who are probably on the verge of having officers or actually some new officers coming in. So it’s, but there’s always something going on and also some businesses use it to bring customers there. And it’s just, it’s huge. They keep adding dormitory space.  I was there for a retirement dinner a few months ago and stayed over night instead of driving home at midnight in the back woods, and I was amazed that it had been three years since I’d been there that they had these new dormitory rooms. That was really huge.  But it’s like a college campus and classroom buildings. It had a dormitory, a very nice dormitory building. Recreation building. All kinds of public spaces and it’s I think it’s used probably 360 days a year.

Interviewer: And entirely GE?

Hergenhan: Entirely GE.

Interviewer: Wow.

Hergenhan: Except for other companies that will bring customers in there. Otherwise it’s GE.

Interviewer: Let's talk a minute about education, PR education, communications education. Do you believe that this next generation of PR practitioners will be equipped with the core values that are necessary to allow them to ethically resolve these complex problems and issues that corporate CEOs are facing nowadays?

Hergenhan: Well, there are good people in every generation. I don't think values belong to any particular generation. I think that today, I think that people make the mistake of taking too many courses about the practice of PR and not enough courses of substance to learn about economics, or history, or finance or whatever. I know the reason why I, well I got my MBA while I was working full-time at Con Edison, and the reason why I did it was that suddenly I was being responsible for an annual report and I literally didn't know the difference between an income statement and a balance sheet. And so I went off and got an MBA and it was invaluable for me, absolutely invaluable because you learn how to talk the language of business.

I think that people, students, young practitioners, they have to just keep learning, and they have to have just a very broad knowledge of things, or at least a broad knowledge of how to find out things to give them continuing credibility and being on top of the world. I think a child-like sense of curiosity is wonderful. I think it helps. I'm still a child.