Founded in 1928, Elfun took shape under the direction of Gerard Swope, the third president of the General Electric Company. He formed the first Administrative Committee and suggested the name –The Elfun Society. This was a contraction of “Electrical Fund,” a trust set up for investment purposes for GE managers.
The Elfun emblem came from a stately elm tree, under whose spreading branches the organizational meeting took place on July 15, 1928. The elm tree was a landmark on Association Island, located at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. For more than a half century, GE management groups met every summer on the island for fun, recreation, learning and inspiration.
The Society’s motto, “Semper Paratus” (“Always Ready”), conveyed the early mission of leadership, teamwork and recognition. In speaking at the first Elfun gathering, President Swope told the Association Island attendees:
“I have thought it would be fine to organize this group more effectively than we have in the past, not as part of the General Electric organization, but bring the members of this group into a Society which would be their own, which would be separate and independent of the Company, and where we can have an open forum for discussion, where any question may be asked and will bring somebody to his feet to answer it.”
Originally envisioned as a way to develop enthusiasm, loyalty and team spirit, the Society expanded as the Company grew and prospered. For most of the intervening years, Elfun was a management organization whose mission was to keep communication channels open among the Company leaders in an increasingly complex enterprise.
But the mission changed immeasurably in 1981 when Jack Welch, newly named CEO, challenged Elfun to redefine itself for a new global business and social environment. Elfun’s leadership responded to the challenge by reorienting the organization around volunteerism and community service.
With volunteerism its focus, Elfun formed partnerships to enhance its community service efforts. One partnership, with the GE Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm, provided funds in support of Elfun volunteers to help double college-going rates from low-income high schools. This effort brought major recognition, including a Presidential Award in 1994.
Another partnership with the GE Foundation encouraged reading skills among elementary school children. Yet another, with Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), offers service learning trips that bring together Elfun members and Seniors for travel and fellowship.
Elfun’s commitment to volunteerism brought reflected glory to General Electric and was the cornerstone for the formation of GE Volunteers in 2005. That heritage is helping serve GE communities today. Likewise, the formation of the Elfun Community Foundation in 2001 by several past Elfun presidents provided a tax-deductible vehicle for Elfun members to support thousands of volunteer projects around the world. In 2005, this organization became the GE Volunteers Foundation which provides additional funding for GE Volunteers community service projects.
As the Company grew globally in the 1980s and ‘90s, Elfun’s mission of volunteerism led to the formation of dozens of new chapters outside the United States. From the first international chapter in Tokyo in 1992, and with momentum from globalization and changes in membership requirements, Elfun grew in the early 2000’s to more than 50,000 members in 140 chapters around the world.
Once a nearly all-male organization, Elfun over the past 30 years has reflected increasing diversity in membership and leadership. Today membership is open to all.
Elfun continues to be a vehicle for communication and camaraderie. Elfun members also enjoy many benefits – including special discounts on auto and homeowner insurance through Electric Insurance Company, investment opportunities in funds managed by GE Asset Management and medical benefits for Senior Elfuns.
In 2014, Elfun is an organization of global GE employees and retirees committed to helping each other, building the spirit of the “GE family” as achievers, leaders, volunteers and peer-to-peer mentors.
Click here to see the list of GE Elfun presidents who helped create this Elfun legacy.