Moving ranks among life’s most stressful events. Now imagine if you had to do it for a 125-year-old company. That was the assignment for General Electric Co. executive Ann Klee, who was handpicked by CEO Jeff Immelt in 2015 to lead an 11-person team to scour the country for a new headquarters.
Klee’s team did the analysis that led to GE selecting Boston, but in many ways that marked just the beginning of her work here. She then helped oversee the actual move from Fairfield, Connecticut, into a temporary home in the Fort Point Channel district, where the company has been since August. Now her focus is on the build-out of GE’s new $200 million complex in the same neighborhood, slated to open in 2019. She’s had to immerse herself in Boston’s famously thorny politics of development, navigating neighbors and city zoning rules.
But don’t expect to hear any complaints from Klee. “I like big, hairy challenges,” she explains. “This is the most fun project I’ve ever worked on — hands down.”
Klee is as unflappable as they come, and Immelt keeps piling on assignments that have made her the local face of the global industrial giant. “Boston is a better, stronger city because we have a leader like Ann here,” says Boston economic czar John Barros, who was the city’s point person in wooing GE and still works closely with Klee. Her profile has grown since GE moved to Boston because Klee also heads the GE Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm. In Massachusetts alone, GE will give out $50 million over the next five years.
She juggles all of this while leading GE’s 2,400-employee environment, health, and safety division. The global group handles worker safety and environmental compliance, including cleaning up legacy contaminated sites, such as the Housatonic River in Pittsfield. Before GE, Klee, 55, worked as a lawyer in private practice and served in senior political positions in Washington, including general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration. If being put in charge of GE’s move seems like an odd fit, it’s not. Klee’s expertise is managing complicated projects. She asks a lot of questions, knows how to keep everyone on track, and makes sure the job gets done on time. “From that perspective, it was a natural for me,” she says.
But finding GE’s next home was never about a change of scenery. “The building and move was all about our transformation to a digital industrial company,” she says. “How do we use this move and the new building to accelerate the transformation of our culture? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a huge impact for a whole generation of GE employees whom I will never meet.”