Speech: Megan Newhouse, 2017 Emerging Leader Honoree

[MUSIC PLAYING]

GARY SHEFFER: Good evening, I’m Gary Sheffer. And I’m with Weber Shandwick but before that, I was the head of communications at GE for about 16 years. And I’m here to introduce Megan Parker Newhouse, who’s your Emerging Leader Award winner this year.

And I want to tell you a story about Megan that I think says a lot about her. This was a few years ago. Megan has been promoted to a new job supporting a very demanding leader at GE. And the role focused on health care. A few days after her promotion, Megan and I were having a mentor meeting in the GE cafeteria. And as we sat down, I asked Megan if she’d had a good weekend. She answered, yes. That she spent a lot of time reading health care trade journals so she could get off to a good start in her new job.

And just to be clear, these health journals weren’t Women’s Health or Runner’s World. I mean Diagnostic Imaging, Health Management Technology, and the Journal of Aging in Health I was horrified, horrified at the fact that she’d spent a beautiful weekend reading these boring journals, and that I had never thought to do so myself.

[LAUGHTER]

I was also very impressed. This story about Megan is one I’ve told many times when I was at GE to new communications hires. It’s a story about the need to become an expert in your business as a way to build relationships with senior executives and become a trusted advisor. Megan, of course, hit an Aaron Judge length home run in her new role. And today is one of the most respected leaders in GE.

If Megan was in the room at a big GE event, then CEO Jeff Immelt would say, OK, everything’s going to be great, Megan is here. And he meant it. GE’s current CCO, Deirdre Latour, describes Megan as “one of the smartest, most talented team members I have ever worked with.” She adds, “Megan is pushing the company to communicate with realistic, direct, and transparent messaging.” And I think it’s really important to note that Deirdre also said, “I love her, and I consider her a good friend.” And that’s just the way people feel naturally about Megan.

As you can tell from the story about the trade journals, Megan is all in on everything she does. She is a proud graduate of Syracuse University. So proud, in fact, that she married a guy named Bob Newhouse.

[LAUGHTER]

Bob, I know you’re watching tonight, and I hope you weren’t in on this scheme from the start. It’s a little excessive.

When I asked her to lead GE’s communications program for new college graduates, a program she herself had only recently graduated from, she became a mentor, a coach, and a friend to our recruits. As a result, I can say without hesitation that there are a couple dozen communicators around the world that owe a great deal of success to Megan, of their success to Megan.

Megan went through a painful time a few years ago as her mother Joan, a respected educator, bravely fought and then lost a battle against multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. Again, Megan was all in, becoming a top fundraiser to find a cure, including by running the New York City Marathon. In 2014, she received the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s Spirit of Hope Award. And the MMRF award citation says it all: “Megan has touched the myeloma community with her strength of character, her kindness, and her embodiment of hope.” I know Megan’s mom would be very proud tonight.

I see many of my friends in the room who have admirably dedicated significant time to developing the next generation of leaders in our profession – Pat, Bill, Keith, Ron, Bill Nielson, Mike. And when I see them here tonight with Megan, I think maybe we have gotten it right. Megan is smart, empathetic, energizing, optimistic, humble, civil. Most importantly, she is a person who has faith in things bigger than herself. Megan sees the world as it is. And as we say at GE, she looks for a better way.

Like Deirdre, I consider Megan a great friend who I can commiserate with about a Yankee loss. And what’s the deal with Joe Girardi, today? I mean I –

[LAUGHTER]

This. And she’s someone I can also learn from every time we talk. Megan was in the room about 10 years ago when I was screaming over the phone at a blogger. Some of you may remember the blog Jossip, which doesn’t exist anymore, but had a bit of an edge. I was screaming at a blogger from Jossip about a post about GE that I hated. And when I hung up the phone, Megan succinctly explained to me the new rules of the digital age, saying, “Gary, there are no rules.” And the student at that moment became the teacher. Megan, thank you for all your help to me, and many others over the years. And congratulations on this well-deserved award.

[APPLAUSE]

MEGAN NEWHOUSE: Thank you, thank you so much to The Plank Center for this great award. You’re not born knowing how to be a mentor. It’s a skill that you develop only after you, yourself have been mentored. And I have been so lucky to have Gary Sheffer as a mentor of mine these past 10 years, both when he was at GE and since he’s left.

And I have a story from the financial crisis. And for those of you who don’t remember the financial crisis, or you’ve repressed those memories of the financial crisis, it was one of those days when we were pretty sure that the world was falling apart. And I had a mentor lunch scheduled with Gary for that day. And I remember, because I went to his assistant Diane, and I said, “Well, look Diane, it’s a bad day. Maybe we should just reschedule.”

And Gary overheard me. And he came out of his office and he said “No way, let’s go.” And for all the demands of his job that day, he spent an hour at lunch helping me. And that’s the kind of person that Gary. So really, any award to me for mentoring, you should just give it to Gary for all that he taught me. And I’m just so grateful that he was able to be here tonight.

I also want to thank my Syracuse University professor, Maria Russell, who advocated for me for this award. Professor Russell literally taught me PR-101, so I am forever in her debt. You know, the first lady of public relations herself said, “public relations is a work in progress.” I like to extend that belief to all of us as well. If we see ourselves as a work in progress, as an opportunity to always get better, our potential really is endless. So, thank you for this great award. I’m so happy to be here tonight with all of you.

[APPLAUSE]


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