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Houghton to Step Down as Corning CEO

Harvard Corporation Member Promises to Spend More Time on Education, Arts

By Todd F. Braunstein

James R. Houghton '58, a member of Harvard's highest governing board, announced yesterday that he will step down as chair and CEO of Corning, Inc., after 13 years at the helm.

The move was not unexpected; a report in last Friday's Wall Street Journal predicted that Houghton would step down this year.

There was speculation, both in the Journal article and in Associated Press reports last night, that Houghton is stepping down because of a near-fatal 1993 pedestrian accident that changed his outlook on life.

Houghton had begun shifting power to his top associates after the accident and recommended yesterday that Roger Ackerman, the firm's president and chief operating officer, succeed him on April 25.

But Houghton dismissed speculation that he was retiring because of the accident, saying that he decided several years ago to step down when he turns 60 on April 6 this year.

"It had nothing to do with the accident...nothing to do with being forced out or anything," he told the Associated Press. "I just figured after 13 years that this was a good time to do it."

Houghton joined the seven-member Corporation, Harvard's more powerful governing board, only seven months ago and all indications are that he will continue his service.

"I think it'll give him more time and probably more of an opportunity to get involved," Geyser University Professor and Corporation member Henry Rosovsky said in a telephone interview last night. "But this retirement is not a surprise, and I'm quite sure that he intended to do this when he joined the Corporation."

Houghton told the Associated Press that he will not become a chief executive elsewhere but will continue working for education and the arts.

"I'm not going to be sitting staring out the window," he said.

As a member of the Corporation, Houghton attends lengthy meetings in Cambridge about once every three weeks. The Corporation plays a unique role as a board of directors actively involved in University affairs. Corporation members are selected for indefinite terms.

End of a Tradition

Houghton became CEO of Corning in 1983, succeeding his older brother, Amory Houghton Jr. '50, who is now a Republican delegate from New York to the House of Representatives.

The business has always been something of a family affair. Houghton's great-great grandfather founded the company, and seven Houghtons have served as chief executive. In fact, Ackerman will be only the third person outside the family to run Corning.

When Houghton took over the reins, nearly 70 percent of Corning's revenues came from cyclical, slow-growth businesses. The new CEO quickly divested units in laboratory glassware, electronics and light bulbs and spent $500 million on high-profit ventures in laboratory services and fiber optics.

Houghton will remain a Corning board member.

This report was compiled with wire dispatches from the Associated Press.

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