It is impossible to go through the list of great men and women who have shaped the direction of the world today through their hard work and determination without coming across Louis Chenevert. He is one of the business world’s most innovative leaders, having left his mark on General Motors, Pratt & Whitney, and, perhaps most notably, the United Technologies Corporation. He is an industrial force, and in this article we will take a look at how he got there and the legacy he has left.
Louis Chenevert’s Background
Louis Chenevert was born in Montreal in Quebec, Canada on June 25th, 1957. He attended HEC Montreal, an institution based out of the business school of the University of Montreal, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in production management. With this foundation in business, Chenevert set himself up to not only be a strong business leader, but also a major force behind innovation in the aviation and technology industries.
Following his graduation from HEC Montreal, Louis Chenevert began his career at General Motors, where he rose through the ranks to be the Production General Manager at its St. Theresa production unit. He spent 14 years at GM, gaining necessary experience in the fields of production, manufacturing, and leadership.
In 1996, Chenevert joined the Canadian division of Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of the United Technologies Corporation (UTC), that specialized in manufacturing jet engines both for commercial and military needs. After only six years, he was elected the President of Pratt & Whitney Canada, a position in which he served until 2006. It was during his tenure as president that Chenevert started thinking of how he could better the jet engines Pratt & Whitney produced to create a product that would be better in the long run.
In March of 2006, Chenevert was appointed as Chairman of UTC, and in April of 2008, he was appointed President and CEO. He would lead the company until voluntarily stepping down on December 8th, 2014. It is at United Technologies Corporation, otherwise known as UTC, where Chenevert gained his prowess in innovation and leadership.
Chenevert at UTC
UTC is headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. The company is primarily involved in the manufacturing and production of equipment in the aerospace and industrial construction sectors. It assembles jet engines, heating technology equipment, and refrigeration and air conditioning technology, as well as helicopters, elevators, and escalators.
As the leader of this multi-billion-dollar company, Louis Chenevert enacted not only leadership of the highest caliber, but also brought in a culture of innovation and imagination to the company. Chenvert was brought to UTC when the American economy was going through the subprime recession, which wiped out other companies in UTC’s industry. It was Chenevert’s business acumen that not only helped UTC weather the storm, but emerge triumphant. Chenevert believed investing in innovation was the only way to stay ahead in the manufacturing industry. While UTC’s competitors continued to address the industry’s immediate needs, Chenevert was thinking about solutions to the problems of the future.
One conclusion that Chenevert came to was that innovation did not come from the company, but from its people. For this reason, under his leadership, UTC implemented an Employee Study Program that funded employees to advance their knowledge in their specialties. This initiative has kept UTC on top.
The development of the Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine by UTC’s Pratt & Whitney subsidiary is regarded as Chenevert’s pet project, which, in the long run, has become UTC’s most valued product. The project took 20 years and upwards of $10 billion, and was not guaranteed to work. Unlike mainstream engines, the GTF engine is made with a turbine that turns quickly while the fan turns slowly, decoupling the fan. This leads to an engine that is more fuel-efficient, 75% less noisy, and produces 50% fewer emissions into the atmosphere. The GTF engine, as a result, has helped address problems ranging from pollution to fuel efficiency to effective use.
Following the production of the GTF engine, UTC was able to design and manufacture high-speed helicopters, which increased its product demand from the commercial and military market. The GTF engine is the highlight of Chenevert’s time at UTC, and shows his innovation throughout the process, from design all the way to implementation. Chenevert brought a strong focus on the future to UTC, and integrated it into the identity of the company, to stand long after he stepped down.
Louis Chenevert’s successor at UTC, Gregory Hayes, has noted that the innovation of the GTF engine led to innovation across the industry. For example, suppliers had to keep up with UTC’s example to match the demand for the GTF engine. The production of the GTF engine along led to a payment of $40 billion to the suppliers, which created a ripple effect that positively affected the economy. Even nearing Chenevert’s retirement, he was thinking of more ways to increase the GTF engine’s efficiency.
Throughout his career, Chenevert held different leadership positions, which played a major role in his accomplishments. Each position gave him perspective that allowed him to successfully lead UTC. Stewardship was perhaps the most important of his ideas when it came to how to lead. Chenevert believed hat the power to do better and come up with better products came from the people who worked under him, and that the CEO’s role was simply to help facilitate their success for the overall success of the company.
Chenevert was an imaginative and focused leader. While other companies were concerned with the present, he was looking at the future and figuring out what he could do to bring UTC to the future. In recognition of his leadership, Chenevert won several awards. He received the Honor Award from the National Building Museum in 2009, and the Person of the Year award from Aviation Week and Space Technology in 2011. Today, Louis Chenevert sits on several boards and is an exclusive advisor for the merchant banking division at Goldman Sachs.