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This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the July 3, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Business Giant Retires
Jim Carnes, outgoing CEO of the Sarnoff Corporation,
has always stood tall in Princeton business circles. Literally and
figuratively: A few years ago Sarnoff Corporation was celebrating
its 50th anniversary, and its successful spinoff from GE Corporation,
which had acquired Sarnoff along with its original parent company,
The keynote speaker at that event was Jack Welch, CEO of GE, who already
was well known as Neutron Jack, a cutthroat corporate type. Photographer
Craig Terry and I tried to maneuver Welch, a feisty sort at about
5-feet-7, into a photo pose with Carnes, easily 6-feet-3 or 4. Welch
said no way — we would make him look like a midget compared to
Carnes. Terry and I both figured he was just kidding, but we couldn’t
So, dressed in my business suit best, I immediately got down on hands
and knees on the floor between Carnes and Welch. "Go ahead, Jack,"
I said to GE’s top dog. "Stand on me. We’ll make you look almost
as tall as Carnes." No, Welch did not walk all over me to get
to the top, but he did pose for the photograph.
Last Wednesday, June 26, I was at another party with Carnes, and Carnes
stood tall again, this time receiving well wishes from the Princeton
Chamber of Commerce on the occasion of his retirement from Sarnoff.
This time Carnes was joined in the spotlight by several people who
had no fear of looking small in his presence.
Craig Lafferty, CEO of the United Way, thanked Carnes for his years
of service to the United Way, including the time Carnes joined the
rest of the staff on a retreat, and ended up on opposite sides of
the same log with Lafferty. "Here we were — two guys of the
same stature trying to trade places on a log," recalled Lafferty.
"I need to bring a giant thank you to the big guy."
Kristin Appelget, incoming president of the chamber and at 6-feet-1
only a few inches below Carnes, read a letter of congratulations from
her colleague on the West Windsor Township Committee, Mayor Shing-Fu
And Michael Hierl, president of the Pacesetter Group and active in
the Princeton Chamber, recalled Carnes’ service on the boards of Thomas
Edison State College, Rider University, the American Boychoir, Technology
New Jersey, and Prosperity New Jersey, in addition to quiet support
of a variety of other charities. "The big guy, Jim Carnes, is
a larger than life community leader." As you heard the tributes
you would guess that Carnes would be the big guy even at 5-feet-7.
Here at U.S. 1 Carnes has always been a favorite because he has never
been one to duck when the questions came his way. Carnes would not
only return calls when he had something to say, but he would also
return them when he didn’t have anything to say, or had something
to say but couldn’t say it.
So for everybody of any stature whatsoever, I began
to wonder what it took to be a big guy. I picked up a few clues at
the going-away party:
Carnes made it clear that — while he will come back to town once
in a while as a consultant to Sarnoff — retirement for him is
not a euphemism for moving to a new job. He and his wife, Nancy, who
also just retired from her position as assistant to the dean of the
graduate school at Princeton University, are moving to a new house
being built on a golf course in "Happy Valley," Pennsylvania,
otherwise known as State College, home of Penn State, from which Carnes
graduated in 1961 and where he served until recently as president
of the alumni association.
Golf, he told his audience at Prospect House on the Princeton University
campus, is one of those crazy games. On one day you can go out, shank
your drive, hit your second shot into the woods, get stuck in a sand
trap, and then finally get to the green and four-putt. But on other
days, you can go out and really stink.
After hearing the praise for his volunteer work, Carnes pointed out
that his activities were largely self serving. At Sarnoff, he said,
"we believe that a strong community is necessary for us to run
a good business." Sarnoff’s community support helped create an
environment to which good people would be attracted.
"My personal involvement is also self serving," he continued.
"As I participated on those boards, I watched other people operate.
I listened to people like Craig Lafferty at the United Way, George
Prewitt at Thomas Edison, and Bart Luedeke at Rider. Everyone is a
role model. I give a little but I get back a whole bunch."
going-away reception the cloud in the sky was Governor Jim McGreevey’s
proposed corporate tax increase. Business people in the audience were
wondering how much more the state’s businesses could take — already
some companies were reported moving to more favorable economic climates
in other states.
Carnes acknowledged that concern: "The governor’s new plan for
corporate taxes will probably solve our traffic problems here in New
Jersey," he said. "But don’t get me started."
Instead Carnes talked about the recent bright spot in Sarnoff’s recent
interaction with government — West Windsor’s June 20 approval
of Sarnoff’s general development plan for an expanded research and
technology campus. "At times things got dicey," the outgoing
CEO acknowledged. "You’ve all heard about NIMBYs. We discovered
`bananas:’ Build Absolutely Nothing At All Near Anything."
"The last two years of working with West Windsor were a learning
experience, and I mean that in the most positive sense," Carnes
said. "Any plan such as ours is a balancing act between jobs on
the one hand and congestion on the other. Our plan includes a provision
for a right of way dedicated to bus-rapid transit. We are right at
the forefront of that."
As this went to press the governor and business interests were still
wrangling over taxes. Maybe we could get Carnes and McGreevey together
to hammer out a compromise. If it will help, I will get down on my
knees again and give the governor a chance to stand tall next to Jim
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