For seventeen months, Deirdre Latour (@deirdrelatour) has been the lead communications strategist rolling out one of the biggest US business stories of 2016: the corporate headquarters move of Fortune Global 25 company GE (NYSE:GE) to Boston’s burgeoning Seaport District. On Wednesday, November 9th, she will, for the first time, share that story directly, as keynote of PRSA Boston’s C-Suite Conversation with Deirdre Latour at The NonProfit Center of Boston, just one block from South Station.
In anticipation of her presentation, we wanted to know why she thinks GE’s move to Boston will be good for the company as well as our region. PRSA Boston President Loring Barnes catches up with GE’s busy global communications leader:
LB: You’re a College of the Holy Cross alumna, so welcome ‘back’ to Boston. I’m going to jump right in: What are GE’s goals for being a leader in the Greater Boston community?
DL: We really want to become integrated within all facets of the community and before too long, be known as an important value-add neighbor. The fact that the GE Foundation is headquartered in Boston gives us a solid anchor from which to build out our philanthropic investments in STEM education for local public schools and to support innovative responses to urgent public health challenges. We just announced our latest foundation grant to fund opioid addiction response resources at Boston Medical Center within a $15 million dollar healthcare pledge overall (Boston Globe, Metro, Oct. 10, 2016). Through our actions, we want to convey that GE is here to make positive contributions to Greater Boston, in part through investments in innovation to drive solutions.
LB: GE’s corporate communications is located in NYC, Boston and Washington, DC. You’ll be speaking to an audience of public relations professionals. Are you hiring?
DL: We really are in good shape. We run lean and mean and of course with the use of technology where we located is less important than the capabilities and connectivity that we provide. GE is in 180 countries, and this is the communications team that got us here so we really didn’t have a need to rebuild it. Of course, I always love to meet new talent!
LB: You will be speaking the night following what feels like an interminable and bruising presidential election. What will US journalism look like as we head into 2017, and in your view how will this be reshaped by this electoral process?
DL: It’s really a shame, but journalists have been denigrated and even traumatized throughout this campaign. In too many cases, reporters have become the story. While video, audio and digital content will continue to be king for PR and media alike, I think the journalism landscape will look very different coming out of this election. It will be interesting to see how some of the big networks are reshaped.
LB: What is the biggest misconception of GE in your view?
DL: I think any organization of our size – we employ 330,000 employees across 180 countries – gets saddled with the label ‘big business’ meaning large, inefficient or monolithic. But what is big business really? It’s the people who believe in innovation to make our world a better place. 125,000 of our employees are here in the US. This workforce brings diverse perspectives, education and ideas to a singular mission of driving change. GE offers an environment of urgency for bright minds; these are people who are drawn by the energy of innovation and who are determined to make a difference.
LB: Do you think GE’s personality will change with its move to Boston, and if so, how?
DL: It already has, and definitely for the better. Whenever you change your physical surroundings, the process of relocating requires that you shed excess material things and you think fresh about what you want to do differently. For GE, I think we consciously didn’t transport any sediment of bureaucracy that likely built up over time simply from years of being in one place with a consistent operational routine. Any move is disruptive, but that’s proven to be good for us. It’s exciting to be reinventing what a corporate headquarters looks and feels like. Our CEO (Jeffrey Immelt) is working in a very visible, centrally located office. He likes it as do our employees. For anyone with the ability to compare, they would have to say that the GE in Boston feels faster, leaner and more engaging. Our new Fort Point neighborhood, with so much building going on around us, truly fits the sense of transformation that is happening within our company.
LB: Let’s talk about your career journey a bit. PRSA Boston will be your first speaking opportunity in the city, and to other public relations practitioners since this big news and GE’s subsequent arrival. You’ve had a meteoric rise from your early days on the agency side (Porter Novelli, then Edelman). How would you appraise your career path?
DL: Yes, I never thought I would be as senior in my professional role as I am. I came into GE not knowing how little I knew, but I was fortunate that this company incubates learning and gives every employee the opportunity to reach and grow. While I benefited from that, I really never had a master plan to advance my career. I just worked hard in the moment and the rest happened as a result.
LB: What would you tell your 21-year old self about how to shape a successful and fulfilling public relations career? Is there an insight or lesson you wish you knew then that you want to share now?
DL: I would say, be kinder to people. Assume that people are coming from the best place and that they have their own context for how they approach problem-solving or work in general. Things don’t have to be done your way to get accomplished.
LB: By virtue of directing a global communications function, you have a 24/7 job. What do you enjoy outside of work to recharge or take a break?
DL: I think everyone needs boundaries to protect personal time. I have a great team that helps me to accomplish this so that I can be present with my family. When I’m not traveling, reading for work or otherwise busy with my kids, I’ll turn on HGTV. I love interior design, home décor, photos of architecture and fashion and anything having to do with the arts. Where I’m in New York, I love Broadway! I’m a huge ‘Hamilton’ fan.
LB: Important questions to wrap this up. Yankees or Red Sox? Has the GE move influenced your pro sports allegiances?
DL: Oh I’m definitely loyal to Red Sox from my days back at Holy Cross. I watched David Ortiz’s last game and I was sad. He’s really been such a beacon, not only for baseball but also as a humanitarian. We’re going to miss him. I probably shouldn’t mention this but by marriage, we watch a lot of the Ottawa Senators because my husband is originally from Canada.
LB: We won’t tell the Bruins. One more chance: Starbucks or Dunkin?
DL: Starbucks. Remember, I’ve been in New York for twenty years.
LB: Thank you for your time, Deirdre. We’re looking forward to hearing more about your vision for GE, some of the insights you’ve gained as a communications professional that inform your work today, and to offering this opportunity for more people to meet you and your PR team.
DL: We’re looking forward to it.
Early Bird Registration to the November 9th Program can be found HERE (payment via Eventbrite).