Charles F. Knight, chairman and chief executive officer of Emerson Electric Co., will deliver the Hatfield Address on "American Industry Approaching the Millennium" Sept. 26 at 4:30 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium of Rockefeller Hall on the Cornell campus.
Cornell President Hunter Rawlings will introduce Knight. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Knight is the 1996 Robert S. Hatfield Fellow in Economic Education, the highest honor Cornell bestows on outstanding individuals from the corporate sector. He is a Cornell alumnus, earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1958 and an MBA in 1959. He also was a member of the Cornell football team.
In 1973, Knight was elected chief executive officer of Emerson, making him at the time the youngest CEO of any billion-dollar U.S. corporation. During Knight's more than two decades of leadership, Emerson's sales have increased approximately tenfold, to $10 billion in fiscal 1995, and net earnings have likewise increased by a factor of ten, from $86.7 million in 1974 to $907.7 million last year.
Emerson's long history of yearly increases have come from sales of industrial products like air-conditioning and refrigerator compressors, process controls, power tools, power transmission equipment, industrial motors and drives. To keep Emerson's sales and earnings increasing, in the last year Emerson has invested more than $350 million on new product development. The push in new product development is part of Emerson's change from cost-reduction to growth mode, which came after forecasters concluded that continual gains from cost-cutting at Emerson would be marginal.
A great deal of cost-cutting came about in the 1980s, when it became apparent that foreign labor rates could produce appliance components and other products at much lower costs than Emerson. The company shut down 30 high-cost plants, shifted production to less costly locales and got out of the defense and construction businesses.
By surveying Emerson's 70,000 employees every two years, Knight is intent on keeping in touch with those on the assembly lines. The survey seeks answers to such questions as, "If you were starting over, would you go to work for this plant again?" and "Is the plant manager doing a competent job?"
Knight's management and leadership abilities have been saluted by major business magazines: Industry Week ranked Knight as one of America's best chief executive officers in its biennial survey (1987, '89, '93), and a Fortune survey of Fortune 500 executives scored Knight as one of the 10 most effective business leaders in the United States.
In between his corporate responsibilities at Emerson and his board membership for Anheuser-Busch and IBM, among others, Knight maintains an active civic calendar, supporting various organizations in Emerson's corporate home of St. Louis.
The Hatfield Fund for Economic Education was established by the Continental Group Foundation to honor former Continental Chairman Robert S. Hatfield. The fund supports campus visits by distinguished business leaders, who deliver major addresses on economic issues of national importance. They are intended to serve as major platforms for the exchange of ideas between the corporate and academic communities.
Hatfield Fellows since the program's inception in 1981 have included Hatfield and chief executive officers of such companies as AlliedSignal, Corning, Procter & Gamble, GE, General Motors, DuPont, IBM, Kodak, Ford, Xerox and Hewlett-Packard.
Prior to his Hatfield lecture, Knight will meet with students, faculty and staff throughout the day. Emerson endowed a professorship in manufacturing management, held by Richard Conway, and funded the development of the Emerson Manufacturing Teaching Laboratory in the College of Engineering.