Oral Histories

Joyce Hergenhan

Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change

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: So how important is this communication?

Hergenhan: Totally, it’s totally important. Why is it important, how can you leverage? Things are transparent now. If you start talking about the New

Media, that it’s instantaneous... It’s unbelievable. I mean, the combination of Sarbanes-Oxley and the New Media has totally changed communications. It’s just amazing, because Sarbanes-Oxley, and I'm on a corporate board of directors, and it’s amazing what Sarbanes-Oxley makes a corporation do. Of course the New Media is just absolutely amazing. 15 years ago, who'd have thought of telephone cameras, or YouTube, or video streaming or any of this stuff? I was just thinking the other day about the whole Hilary Clinton thing where she said that she was dodging bullets in Bosnia. She was telling the world she was dodging bullets in Bosnia, and some TV network pulled out a clip of that very arrival in Bosnia, which was all sunshine and flowers and cheerfulness and within hours, probably less time, it was on YouTube and it was being e-mailed around the world, I think everybody must have gotten multiple copies of that, and just think how long ago none of that would have been possible? So that just shows why telling the truth is so important, because there’s very few places to hide anymore.

Interviewer: That is. Well, we’re sort of in wrap up phase here and what haven’t we talked about? Is there anything that you would like to talk about or like to tell the next generation or perhaps 20 years down the road a researcher might be...

Hergenhan: Twenty years down the road, I can’t predict or imagine what communications is going to be like. I mean it is moving forward exponentially. It’s like, you know, camera phones to iPhones to these little computers that cost $300 and they are just as good as a big computer, all the functionality, all the speed. It’s just text messaging, right? I am sorry that little chirping is my Blackberry saying I am having messages. I can’t predict what it’s going to be like 20 years from now because 20 years from now. Twenty years ago I never would have predicted. Twenty years ago we were just getting faxes. You know at the office and I was yelling at people, I had some consultants who didn’t have a fax. I made them get a fax because it was so annoying that they didn’t have a fax. So that’s how fast. I mean I grew up on a manual typewriter. And hot type. You know those old typesetting machines. You know with the pressers roaring. I mean it was just, and that wasn’t that long ago. It was the era of hot type. No computers.