AS MEMBERS OF THE UNIVERISTY'S HIGHEST governing board filed into the Loeb House Cabot Room for their first meeting of the year, they were greeted by an uncommon sight: name tags in front of every seat.

The occasion for the unusual protocol was the seating of the newest member of the Corporation, James R. Houghton '58, chair and CEO of Corning Inc.

The name cards were brought out to key him into the official seating order and hence avoid any uncomfortable moments. Indeed, the placards mark the beginning of Houghton's education in the customs and procedures of America's oldest corporation, whose members arrange themselves in order of decreasing seniority to the left of the president.

"This is one of those wonderful archaic things that I'm sure will amuse everybody," says Corporation member and Geyser University Professor Henry Rosovsky.

The top-secret proceedings of the Corporation, coupled with its unique role as a board of directors involved proactively in the University affairs, mean new members must learn the ins and outs of the governing board before making their presence felt.

Eventually, as the years go by, Houghton will likely move slowly along the table, until he becomes, literally, the president's left-hand man.

For now, however, members of the board say they are pleased with Houghton's arrival--and their new and improved seating accommodations.

"I greatly approve of that," says Rosovsky. "Up until now, I had to look through the glare of the windows, and now I can look at the beautiful old clock."

Houghton's Background

James R. Houghton, known as "Jamie" to most acquaintances, was born in Corning, N.Y. in 1936 into a Harvard family which had founded Corning Inc., the inventor of Corningware glass.

Harvard College was a logical step for Jamie Houghton after he graduated from the prestigious St. Paul's prep school in 1954.

He followed a long line of Houghtons to Harvard College. He was a name on campus before he arrived; Houghton Library, the majestic home of the University's rare book collection was named after his family.

Jamie Houghton's father, Amory Houghton '21, was active in alumni affairs and was the Divinity School's primary benefactor for many years, according to Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs Fred L. Glimp '50. Amory Houghton also endowed the Chemistry Department chair now occupied by Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles.

Upon his arrival, Jamie Houghton lived in Lowell House, concentrated in history and became an active member of the A.D. final club.

During these younger days, Houghton is said to have exhibited much of the same energy that many say they admire him for today.

Contemporaries describe Houghton as "a very energetic young man" who lived a "very colorful childhood."

He has remained an active alum of the A.D. final club. In fact, a picture of Houghton and several buddies from his reunion class still adorns the wall of an upstairs bar room in the club's elegant Plympton St. house.

After graduating from the College, Houghton moved across the river to Harvard Business School. But he found the atmosphere there more difficult than that of the College.

He was forced to withdraw from the school for two years after poor first-year grades, which means at least four "low passes" during that year, according to alumni.

During his withdrawal, he went to work for Goldman Sachs and Co. before returning to complete his MBA in 1962.

A Family Affair

Two years out of Harvard Business School, Houghton entered Corning, Inc., the company founded by his great-great grandfather, where he began a steady rise which culminated in his appointment as chair and CEO in 1983.

Houghton began his financial career in the international sector, serving as European area manager from 1964-68.

He was named vice president and general manager of Corning's computer products division in 1968. In 1971, he earned a promotion to vice chair of Corning's board of directors, with responsibility for international operations, a post he held for 12 years.

Today, the Houghton family owns 15 percent of Corning's stock--worth about $1 billion, according to a recent article in Business Week.

Members of the business community praise Houghton for his leadership at Corning.

"He has a terrific reputation. The company has always been a strong company with a great science and tech base," says University Treasurer D. Ronald Daniel, an ex officio Corporation member and former chief of McKinsey & Company, Inc. "What Jamie has done is build a sense of excitement in the company and the company has run better."

Other Corporation members are Rosovsky, University President Neil L. Rudenstine, Kirby Corporation CEO Robert G. Stone Jr. '45, Harcourt General, Inc. CEO Richard A. Smith '46 and Washington attorney Judith R. Hope.

Former president of the Board of Overseers John C. Whitehead, a former chair of Goldman Sachs, echoes the praise.

"He's one of the leading businessmen in America. He's highly regarded he's been a very successful CEO of Corning and I think its wonderful he's willing to give the time required to be a good member of the Corporation," Whitehead says.

Others say they believe his management style of considering people in business decision will be good complement for the Overseers.

"I think he's manages a large business in a very humane way," says Richard L. Menschel, a Houghton acquaintance since his Goldman days. "Besides the bottom line he has a humanistic approach, considering the welfare of people."

Top managers at Corning who have worked with Houghton over many years say that his good reputation is deserved.

"I've worked with him for over 20 years and he's a great to work with, very principled and extremely organized," says Van C. Campbell, vice chair of Corning.

Campbell adds that he considers one of Houghton's best attributes to be his vision.

Despite the enormous time commitment Houghton has taken on in addition to his numerous other responsibilities, Campbell says he does not believe time will be a problem because of Houghton's organizational skills.

"He's astoundingly well organized, he never forgets anything and keeps everything filed," he says. "I'll walk down the hall and ask Jamie about a something that happened in a meeting in 1979 and he'll find the document from it."

Some, however, say they are concerned that Houghton's responsibilities may be too great.

In addition to his duties at Corning. Houghton is a director of Dow Corning, Corp., Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, J.P. Morgan & Co., Inc. and Exxon Corp. He is also a trustee of the Corning Museum of Glass, the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"He has a lot of demands on his time. It takes quite a bit of time to run a major corporation and with everything else, I'm not sure he'll have enough of that," says a source close to the University.

Another Executive on the Corporation

Houghton's business resume is clearly impressive. But some observers question the presence of yet another CEO, saying it is indicative of the corporatization of the University's highest governing board.

Observers say relations between the governing boards and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) reached a new low last year, after the Corporation rebuffed one of two FAS recommendations on the issue of faculty benefits.

And when Houghton, a CEO, replaced Charles P. Slichter '45, the Corporation's only science professor, it swayed the balance of the board in the favor of the executives.

But those on the board defend the choice of a business executive. In particular, they say Houghton offers a unique perspective as CEO of a large corporation. And they point out that both of the Corporation's other CEOs, Smith and Stone, are in their 70s and will likely step down soon.

"The goal has always been to pick people who are generalists," says Slichter. "He does bring, of course, specific business experience and experience as a manager.... But I would say the most important thing he brings is personal qualities and a mind which enables him to be a generalist."

And despite the fact that Houghton is not a scientist, several observers have pointed to his experience in technology-related fields.

"He comes from an organization, Corning, that is [very much] based on innovations based on science. I'm sure he's with a very [good] perspective on science," Baird Professor of Science Dudley R. Herschbach said last year. "If you looked into...Corning, it's one of those companies that's been science-based for much of the century."

"Jamie is not a scientist but comes from a company whose future is based on technology," Daniel says. "He does not replace Charlie, but his experience managing an intense research company is important."

Houghton brings other types of expertise to the Corporation.

As the University becomes an increasingly international institution, Houghton's experience in international arenas will help enormously, observers say. They note that Houghton has lived and worked abroad, and add that he spent a good portion of his career managing a company in the international sector.

While Houghton was running Corning's international division, its revenue share more than tripled as a share of its overall business, according to Glimp, who served on the international division's board of directors.

Others praise Houghton's deep commitment to the advancement of women and minorities in both the University and the private sector.

"His company was voted one of the best places in the country for women to work, and I think he's extremely sensitive to issues of women and women's advancement and other things that President Rudenstine wants," says Hope, the only woman in Harvard's 359-year history to serve on the Corporation.

A 1991 cover story in Business Week reported that Houghton "turned work-force diversity [at Corning] into a personal crusade." As a result of two company-wide teams he created to address the issue, Corning hired more black and women executives than ever while attrition rates among minority employees declined dramatically.

Despite these successes, some in the University say Houghton's appointment is simply a way for the self-perpetuating Corporation to avoid much-needed change.

"It's more of the same," says Albert F. Gordon '59, a major University donor. "It's a tight little inner club of socially prominent people like Stone...who run the place. What Harvard needs is some serious examination of such areas as faculty retirement."

Gordon adds that he doesn't believe that a reexamination of these areas will occur under the present Corporation.

On a Personal Level

Houghton has clearly been involved in the University for a long time.

Along with his generous donation, he has been treasurer of the class of 1958 for 37 years and has served on numerous committees.

But beyond the accomplishments, friends and acquaintances describe a lively, fun and talented individual.

"He's a wonderful person...a lot of fun...he's alive," says Menschel. "He has a wonderful sense of humor, good judgment and so much energy.

Glimp adds: "He's a very strong, very intelligent man but not like a tough guy."

Among Houghton's pastimes are fly fishing at The Field, the estate he build on Spencer Hill in 1972 and art, as shown by his involvement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Friends say he drives a 1938 Rolls Royce station wagon and is a fan of cigars.

"We can't smoke in the office anymore, but sometimes we sneak off and smoke a few [cigars]," Campbell says.

The cigars may present a health problem, but Houghton has already had a brush with death.

Last year, Houghton stepped off a curb in Williamstown, Mass. and was struck by a car. He now walks with a cane.

"I think he really came close to being killed in that, it was a miracle that he wasn't," Rosovsky says. "I really very much admire the way he has come back from an extremely painful accident."

Daniel adds that Houghton has been "looking much more vigorous" and has even been able to swing a golf club.

Houghton splits his time between homes in Corning and New York City where he lives with his wife of 33 years, Maisie Kinnicutt Houghton '62.

They have two children-James and Nine, a 1988 Stanford graduates.

Houghton's Legacy

It will be years before Houghton's impact on the Corporation will be able to be measured, but his involvement begins immediately.

He has already attended three official functions of the Corporation: two meetings at Loeb House and a Cape Cod retrest, according to Rosovsky.

Another source close to the governing boards speculates that Houghton "no doubt played an important and useful role" in last month's selection of Kim B. Clark '74 as the new dean of the Business School.

Clark is an expert in technology and "strikes me as the kind of person [Houghton] would find very interesting, since he has been manager of a high tech company," the source says.

But his first three months have been on-the-job training. He will no doubt play a larger role as he moves along the table towards the University president.

'Jamie is not a scientist but comes from a company whose future is based on technology.... His experience in managing an intense research company is important.' --D. Ronald Daniel, Corporation Member