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September 27, 2018

Wendy Harris: 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

Written By: Staff

Wendy Harris

Wendy Harris
COO and GM, Commercial Operations, GE Healthcare
BSECE ’90, MBA ’99, UW-Madison

Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Wendy Harris is among the engineers we will honor in 2018 at an Oct. 19 banquet.

Wendy is passionate about human health. During her 28-year career with GE Healthcare, she has been a member of the executive team for nearly two decades, making a difference in roles throughout the country that include service, sales, marketing and operations.

We are honoring Wendy for her industry leadership in healthcare technologies, workforce diversification, and women’s health issues.

Recently, we chatted with her about everything from her memories as a student at UW-Madison to her career and hobbies. Here are her responses to some of our questions.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?

We just launched GE Healthcare as a separate stand-alone company. In the past we were part of GE as a large industrial company. While that was great, it also sometimes restricted our ability to grow in the healthcare space. I really believe in GE Healthcare and our ability to shape our own destiny and run a very large “startup” company. I have been a part of growing GE Healthcare over my 28-year career; I have grown several businesses and started new businesses at GE Healthcare. I have seen firsthand how our technology saves lives. I ran our training organization for seven years and was responsible for making sure that doctors and nurses know how to use our great GE technology. Technology is only as good as you can train people to use it.

Why did you choose engineering?

I was always interested in math and science and how things work. When I was young, I would build things. My dad was a builder, and my mom was a UW graduate. I really enjoy structural concepts, engineering and geometry, so I think engineering was a natural fit for the way I could apply math and science as practical applications in the world.

What was your favorite engineering class?

I met my husband in Statics and Strength of Materials as a sophomore here at UW, so that has to be my favorite class. He’s a chemical engineer from UW-Madison and that happened to be one of the classes that all engineering disciplines take. That class was a great overview of all the engineering disciplines. I also like the fact that it brought a lot of different engineering disciplines together and you got to learn what different people were interested in. I also happened to be really good at it!

How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career?

It really pushed me to be competitive and make sure that I bring whatever I can to not only understand the material but do better than my peers. I think that was a good lesson for me; the world is a competitive place. Just being exposed to a lot of people at Madison who are really smart people was a good wake-up call for a small-town girl. It was a way to make sure that you’re grounded in life and the caliber of talent in this world: You’ve got to work at it, you’ve got to be on top of your game at all times.

Who has played the greatest role in your achievements?

I could probably name professors and teachers and a lot of people at GE Healthcare, but I would also say my husband has been very supportive. Without him, I really could not have accomplished what I have done, particularly with our four children. So having four children and being an executive—it’s not always easy to balance all of those things. He also supported me through breast cancer treatment and through every new career decision and move.

Is there anything else that you would like us to know?

I come from a strong UW Badger family. My mom was one of the first women in the business honor society at UW. My husband and I both are engineers from UW and were very well prepared for success. My daughter is at UW-Madison as a biology major, hopefully going to be a med student. She does research in labs at UW Hospital, so I get to go back and see her be successful at UW-Madison. My second child ended up going to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, but at least we got an engineer! We definitely have the science and math push in our family, and two more children—one is a sophomore in high school, and one is an 8th grader—so hopefully we’ll get another Badger or two out of the last two. I try to brainwash them early! I love UW and am honored to be a part of the UW alumni, the ECE alumni board and one of the recipients of this award.