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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,

RCA.

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

be sure.

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

Hsueh.

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:

1.) A little self-deprecating humor helps. In his remarks

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.

2.) Look at community service as an opportunity, not a burden.

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."

3.) Look for silver linings in every cloud.. At the Carnes

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

Carnes.


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