CONN, HENRY P., native Louisvillian, engineer, executive, author, consultant, philanthropist, devoted Louisville Cardinal fan, and loving husband, father and grandfather, died peacefully on April 24, 2023, at age 82 in his home in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Hank” Conn was a proud graduate of Louisville Male High School (1959) and the University of Louisville (UofL). A gifted athlete and scholar, he utilized his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering (1964), Master of Business Administration (1969), and a Master of Engineering (1972) with natural tenacity, curiosity, and competitiveness to build a legacy of personal and professional success throughout his storied life and career. Known for his humor, intelligence, humility, and passion, Hank’s vibrancy and boundless enthusiasm continue to inspire.
In 1961, Hank married his high school sweetheart and dedicated life partner, Rebecca Conn née Logsdon, and started a family. Their charismatic daughter Leigh Ann was born in 1961 (d. 2011) and riotously hilarious son Phillip followed in 1969. In addition to Rebecca and Phil, Hank is also survived by immensely talented grandchildren Justin and Kristina, who both had him wrapped around their little fingers in Atlanta.
As a young man, Hank joined Ford in 1961 while attending UofL, claiming to walk uphill both ways to and from school and work from his Germantown neighborhood. His engineering education was as grueling as his work, with many stories revealing the difficulty of being a Speed Scientific School student and the “New Kid” at Ford. The power of positive thinking and his “can-do” attitude were core values instilled in those early years that served him throughout his life.
Embracing the challenges, Hank advanced quickly into leadership roles as a gifted professional engineer. In 1968, he was appointed to direct the construction and startup of Ford’s Louisville Heavy Truck Assembly Plant, the largest in the world. After opening, Hank became the plant’s Manufacturing Engineering Manager in 1973.
His early success at Ford did not go unnoticed. Hank’s star was rising in the engineering manufacturing sector, first as Corporate Director of Manufacturing Engineering Services at Allis-Chalmers Corporation in 1975 and then as General Manager of the entire service division of Siemens-Allis, Inc. in Atlanta in 1978. He developed an international network of over 20 facilities that provided installation, repair, field and warranty services on all types of electrical equipment around the world.
Hank’s professional ascension continued. By 1980, he had become the Corporate Vice President of Productivity for TRW, Inc., an aerospace and automotive pioneer. Mr. Conn gained respect as one of the most successful and visible productivity leaders in the nation, having pushed TRW into the upper echelon of Fortune 500’s highest revenue American companies.
In 1983, Hank hit his entrepreneurial stride, partnering with NFL great Fran Tarkenton to form Tarkenton Conn & Company, serving as the firm’s President and CEO. Their partnership, with Rebecca’s guidance, managed and transformed entrepreneurial businesses until Hank joined A. T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm where he served as Vice President. In the capacity of Senior Account Officer for the firm, he applied his expertise in total quality management, business process reengineering, and change management to the mission of helping clients gain and sustain competitive advantage.
Hank became a Senior Executive Advisor for corporations throughout the world and an accomplished speaker on high impact topics. He consulted with US Presidents, CEOs, and executive teams, widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on gainsharing, skill-based pay, self-directed work teams, and other pay and teaming approaches, with a particular emphasis on how these systems fit into world-class operational concepts.
Mr. Conn’s advice on management topics was frequently sought by senior executives in such companies as IBM, General Electric, Merck & Co., Siemens, Phillips, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Motors, Sara Lee Corporation, Bell Canada, AT&T, Rolls-Royce, Frito-Lay, and Federal Express, as well as the U.S. General Accounting Office and numerous others.
Hank authored significant journal-length articles on organizational design, critical capability management, and globalization strategy. He was the co-author of Maximum Performance Management, a best-selling guide to innovative management and compensation practices. He also authored Workplace 2000 – The Revolution Reshaping American Business, which received a glowing review from Fortune and set record sales on its way to becoming a business category best seller.
An alumnus of both the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering and the College of Business, Mr. Conn was a true UofL Cardinal success story. After years of philanthropy to transform the professional lives of young engineers, Hank received one of the university’s highest honors with the Professional Award in Engineering in 1988 and was named Kentuckian of the Year in the State of Georgia in 1996. In 2002, the permanent title of Alumni Fellow was conferred upon Hank by UofL, for which there had only been thirteen awards given to engineering school graduates since the inception of this prestigious program. In 2006, he was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award for the UofL J.B. Speed School of Engineering and addressed the graduates at the commencement ceremony.
In 2009, Hank was named the UofL Alumnus of the Year following his and his wife Rebecca’s pledge of over $20 million to create the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, which advances energy innovations to commercial readiness. As the largest pledge at the time, it allowed the university to meet the Commonwealth’s aspiration for a center of excellence on renewable energy research. The center’s incredible impact is the creation of the largest non-medical research center at the university and convergence of emanant scholars as faculty and theme leaders for research innovation and entrepreneurship. Hank served on the center’s Technical Advisory Board until his death.
From inception, Hank worked hand in hand with the Dean of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering and Conn Center Director to ensure the strategy and mission of the center remained focused on innovation driven entrepreneurship within renewable energy research challenges. His passion to fuel the economy through environmentally conscious innovation continues to drive the acceleration of laboratory innovation and commercialization processes. This emphasis on translational research from bench to market has shaped the center’s nimble, high volume research capabilities and increased the number patents secured and licenses issued to startup companies.
The Conn’s generosity and purposeful benefaction inspired the formation of the Conn Legacy Society at UofL in 2011. The society was established to create an ecosystem around planned giving that forms a legacy at the university. The benefaction of this group makes significant impact on excellence in research, student support, and community engagement for generations to come.
In 2012, Hank and Rebecca established the Leigh Ann Conn Prize for Renewable Energy at the University of Louisville in honor of their late daughter. True to Hank’s entrepreneurial zeal, the biennial award is the only prize of its kind that recognizes outstanding renewable energy innovation coupled with commercialization having clear global impact. It honors excellence and aligns the University of Louisville with aggressive goals for efficacy and performance of renewables and efficiency technologies.
His work yielded incredible entrepreneurial achievements, not the least of which is a systemic change in the culture for successful entrepreneurship in Louisville and the Commonwealth. Hank’s investment in improving the business ecosystem through entrepreneurial vision, systematic execution of strategy, and the cultivation of meaningful resources will resonate for years to come.
Throughout the years, Hank’s outstanding gifts of time and money have benefitted United Service Organization and Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Toys for Tots, Make a Wish Foundation, Feeding America, Josephine Sculpture Park, and many others.
Celebrations of Hank’s life are anticipated in Atlanta and Louisville in the coming months. Details forthcoming.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests expressions of sympathy in the form of donations to the University of Louisville at http://give.louisville.edu/conn or charity of your choice.