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Column: Honeywell’s executive chairman sings Atlanta’s praises on visit

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Sept. 29, 2017

Dave Cote, executive chairman of Honeywell, would like to see Amazon come to Atlanta.

A year ago, Honeywell announced that it was establishing a state-of-the-art Software Center in Atlanta near Georgia Tech. It also has located its recently formed Home and Building Technologies business in Atlanta. The company is expected to employ more than 730 software-focused employees by 2021.

“We’d like to see Amazon here because that would attract more software capability to the area,” Cote said in an interview after he spoke to the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Sept. 25.

John and Dave Cote Honeyweel

John and Dave Cote (executive chairman of Honeywell) at Rotary Club of Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But he said Atlanta and Georgia will need to make a case that goes beyond financial incentives. The community needs to sell Amazon on being a center for people with software skills, its lower power costs and being a city where people can move around.

Oddly enough, Cote told Rotarians that his son, John Cote, looked at the whole country before making his home in Atlanta.

“He decided that of all the places, he wanted to live in Atlanta,” said Dave Cote, who added that might have contributed to Honeywell’s decision. “It certainly raised my consciousness of Atlanta. Atlanta is a good city with a great airport and a good business environment. People want to work in Atlanta. And Atlanta is a software center.”

Cote stepped down as Honeywell’s CEO earlier this year after spending 15 years growing the company from a market cap of $20 billion to a $105 billion market cap.

Cote shared his thoughts of leadership with Rotarians:

*You want an independent thinker with the courage of their convictions. People who make decisions and do them in the right way;

*A leader must have the ability to mobilize a group of people, be able to pick the right direction for a company, and then be able to move all employees in that direction.

*When managing a company, make sure you have the right person running the place and a good succession plan. Make sure you don’t do a deal that will kill you. If you do those two things, you are doing well.

When asked about cybersecurity, Cote said that is what keeps him up at night.

“As careful as you are, it’s the biggest known unknown that we deal with,” he said. “I go to bed every night thinking there’s going to be a problem… Maybe someday, there will be software that is more hacker-proof.”

Cote, who will step down as Honeywell’s executive chairman next April, plans to go into business with his two sons.

“We are talking about acquiring a business on the industrial side,” Cote said. “We are going to work together, but I can’t be omnipresent.”

Georgia-Pacific historical marker

The Georgia Historical Society dedicated an historical marker Sept. 26 to recognize Georgia-Pacific on its 90th anniversary as “an iconic Georgia business,” said Todd Groce, president and CEO of the society.

Georgia-Pacific Correll, Hannan Fischer

(Left to right) A.D. “Pete” Correll, past chairman and CEO of Georgia-Pacific; Jim Hannan, immediate past president and CEO of Georgia-Pacific; Christian Fischer, president and CEO of Georgia-Pacific (Special: Georgia Historical Society)

The event, held in front of Georgia-Pacific’s headquarters in downtown Atlanta, brought three generations of Georgia-Pacific’s executive leadership: A.D. “Pete” Correll, Jim Hannan and Christian Fischer, who became president and CEO of the company earlier this year.

Fischer traced the roots of the company to Owen Cheatham, who started a small lumberyard in Augusta, Ga., 90 years ago.

“Using $6,000 of his own money and $6,000 from investors, Cheatham purchased a lumberyard and a small business office to create the Georgia Hardwood Lumber Co.,” Fischer said.

The company survived the Great Depression and World War II, and in the late 1940s, it bought its first West Coast facility in Washington, eventually moving its headquarters to Portland, Ore., in the early 1950s and taking the Georgia-Pacific name in 1956.

“By the late ‘70s, operations were heavily concentrated in the South along the ‘pine belt,’” Fischer said. “It made sense to call Georgia our home state once again, and we relocated our corporate headquarters to Atlanta in 1982. We’ve been here ever since.”

By the way, the Georgia Historical Society honored Robert Brown, a Decatur-based architect who is past chairman of the Georgia Department of Transportation, on Sept. 20 with the John Macpherson Berrien Award for lifetime achievement.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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