Monday, December 29, 2014

Charles Albert Coffin -CEO - Biography

Charles Albert Coffin (31 December 1844 - 14 July 1926) was the cofounder and first President of General Electric corporation (President 1892-1912, Chairman 1913-1922).He was born in Fairfield, Somerset County, Maine. He moved to join his uncle Charles E. Coffin at his shoe company in Lynn, Massachusetts at the age 18, where he spent the next twenty years and established his own shoe factory named Coffin and Clough in Lynn.

In 1883, another Lynn businessman, Silas A. Barton wanted Coffin to start an electric company based on an existing firm from New Britain, Connecticut, finance it and to lead it.In partnership with an engineer, Elihu Thomson, Coffin  renamed the company to Thomson-Houston and made it a strong competitor to Thomas Edison's companies. The company further set up power plants in the South, including two in Atlanta, Georgia to run the electric lights and electric streetcar lines.

General Electric was formed from Thomson-Houston and Edison's companies and Coffin was its first chief executive officer. The company was tested quickly during the Panic of 1893, but  Coffin negotiated with New York banks to advance money in exchange for GE-owned utility stocks. In 1901 he established a research laboratory for the company, the first industrial research lab in the US.He supported the work of GE engineers in the adaptation and development of the Curtis steam turbine which greatly advanced electric power generation. He retired from the board in 1922. He had large amount of GE stock and at the time of his death in 1926, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Electrical manufacturing was Coffin's second career after his successes in shoe manufacturing. In 1883,
Silas A. Barton, a Lynn businessman, proposed bringing to the city the struggling young American Electric Co. of New Britain, Connecticut, whose major asset was the inventive genius of Elihu Thomson. A businessman was needed to supplement Thomson's technical skills. Coffin was prevailed upon to take the post. He led the new company, Thomson-Houston. Negotiations in 1892 led to the formation of General Electric, and Coffin became its first chief executive officer.

Coffin  was remembered by his associates as  a gracious gentleman and delightful companion. He never ordered any of them to do anything, preferring to rely on his powers of suggestion. He also graciously sought and welcomed suggestions from those around him and then only made  decisions on key questions.
Customers and competitors knew him as both the outstanding statesman and the outstanding salesman of the electrical manufacturing industry. He took a personal interest in major negotiations, often writing business proposals to important customers in his own hand. At tense meetings, he knew how to relieve the pressure with an appropriate anecdote, and how to add the key words to bring matters to a successful conclusion.
His arranging of finance during the crisis year of 1893,  saved the company and made possible its rapid recovery and growth during the remainder of his tenure. He left the company in a strong and wide-ranging excellent condition and gave the charge to  Owen D. Young.

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