This column may read like a glowing job reference for Ann Klee.
Maybe it is. Not that she needs my help, but Klee is leaving General Electric at the end of month and she’s already figuring out what’s next. One thing’s for sure: At an age when many people are thinking about retirement, Klee, 58, is looking for her next big challenge.
Her planned departure comes after more than 11 years in multiple roles at GE. She is best known as the conglomerate’s local face. Klee headed the search for a new headquarters that brought GE to Boston in 2016 and managed the renovation of two old Necco buildings in the Fort Port Channel neighborhood that will serve as its new home.
She’s the one who has worked closely with city and state officials, showed up at neighborhood meetings and events, and handed out grants to local partners that support STEM education or address the opiate crisis.
Without GE, will Klee stay in Boston? She wants to. This is where you come in. Klee is the type of talented leader Boston needs. With her resume, she can work anywhere, but she has fallen in love with us.
“It’s a dynamic city,” Klee told me. “I love everything that is going on here — from the economic growth and innovation culture to the food and arts scene and incredible waterfront.”
Well, there is one thing she doesn’t like.
“Traffic,” she acknowledged, “could be improved a little bit.”
Yup, she’s a local, kvetching on cue about congestion.
Jeff Immelt — two General Electric CEOs ago — gets a lot of credit for initiating the relocation from the company’s longtime home in suburban Connecticut, where he got tired of staring out of his corner office and seeing only deer. He wanted to be in a place where he could bump into millennials with bright ideas.
It was up to Klee to find that special location where a company more than a century old could reinvent itself. With the precision of a drill sergeant, she got the job done in seven months, crisscrossing the country and visiting potential sites.
When Klee visited Boston in 2015 with her search committee, she had a feeling our city would be the one. Committee members were intrigued by the Seaport District, with all of its construction cranes, brick warehouse buildings, and gleaming towers. When they walked over the Summer Street bridge, they sensed the vibrancy of an emerging district.
“It felt like exactly the place we wanted to be,” Klee said in January 2016, just days after GE announced it would move to Boston.
Mayor Marty Walsh, for one, will miss Klee as GE’s liaison.
“For me, personally, she was the consistent face of GE,” Walsh told me. “Ann is for me the relationship with General Electric.”
When he first met Klee, he thought she was “tough and to the point” and “no nonsense.”
“I liked her style,” Walsh said.
In a city where people are always coming and going, Walsh said he’s glad to hear she wants to stay. “She would be a great asset,” he said.
Count Attorney General Maura Healey as another Klee fan girl. In her role as head of the GE Foundation, Klee worked with Healey and other community partners to launch Project Here, an initiative that makes substance use prevention education available to every public middle school in Massachusetts.
“She really brought and put her heart into it, in addition to the resources of GE and the GE Foundation,” Healey said. “She’s a great leader because she understands that it’s not about her . . . it’s about everybody else.”
Klee was one of the first GE executives to relocate to Boston, buying a condo on Fan Pier. She travels often for work, but she has really gotten to know the town, especially its restaurants.
Her favorite chef: Barbara Lynch.
Her favorite French restaurant: Bar Lyon. (“My mother was French. We grew up on French food. It has the most authentic French food.”) Klee suggests the quenelle, a light dumpling made out of fish whipped with egg white. “It feels like you’re eating a cloud,” she said.
Her go-to after work bar: Lucky’s Lounge.
While she hasn’t started a search for a full-time job, she has been appointed to the board of Wabtec Corp., a publicly traded Pittsburgh company that provides equipment and services to freight and rail transit, and acquired GE Transportation earlier this year.
Klee, an environmental lawyer by training, knows she doesn’t want to join a law firm. She prefers private sector over the public domain. She has operated in both, having worked a dozen years in Washington, including as general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration.
She revels in details and multi-tasking. At one point, she held three GE roles at once: vice president of environment, health and safety; vice president of Boston development and operations; and president of the GE Foundation. (Three people are picking up her duties.)
Klee likes to be part of a team that builds something. She can see herself as a chief operating officer. Oh c’mon, she can be a CEO. She thinks a startup would be fun. She describes herself as “industry agnostic.”
“I would love to take what I learn from GE and bring it to another company,” she said. “I like taking on big problems that no one else wants to address.”
Boston has plenty of big problems, and I can’t think of anyone better to tackle them. Hire her.