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August 11: Harry J. Pearce

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When we picture high-powered attorneys or the leaders of major corporations, we often think of the stereotype presented by Hollywood – someone who got their start as a brash twenty-something with East Coast roots, fresh out of an Ivy League college. However, as is often the case, such stereotypes are inaccurate, and the real version is much more interesting.

Born August 20, 1942 in Bismarck, Harry Pearce worked his way up the legal and corporate ladder to the pinnacle of the business world, elected chairman of Hughes Electronics Corporation and vice chairmen and director of General Motors. However, Pearce’s work goes beyond the high-stakes corporate boardrooms, extending to philanthropic societies, where Pearce has tirelessly promoted cancer research and increased educational opportunities for minorities.

Pearce earned his Bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1964. Following his military service, Pearce began practicing law in Bismarck, eventually establishing his own law firm, Pearce & Durick. While in Bismarck, Pearce established himself as a leader, serving as municipal judge and assisting in the rewriting of the North Dakota Criminal Code. His legal prowess soon caught the attention of General Motors, which enlisted the North Dakotan to be in charge of worldwide product safety issues. Pearce rose through the ranks of GM, eventually being named vice chairman in 1996. He would lead the effort of GM to pursue ‘clean’ technology and was at the center of GM’s turnaround in the 1990s.

Even though he retired from General Motors in 2001, Pearce continued a close relationship with Montana-Dakota Utilities where he served on the board of directors. In 2006 he was named chairman, a position he held until he stepped down in 2019.

In recognition of his tireless efforts, in both the board room and with charities, Governor John Hoeven awarded Harry J. Pearce the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award on this date in 2004. Hoeven commented that “Harry is a brilliant role model, inspirational business leader and humanitarian who attributes his professional achievement and personal compassion to his North Dakota heritage.” Hoeven continued, “Throughout his career, he has always reached back to his North Dakota roots. He has been a strong advocate and supporter in moving North Dakota’s economic development efforts forward, preserving our quality of life and maintaining our education system as the best in the nation.”

Dakota Datebook by Lane Sunwall

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"Harry J. Pearce 1942-", State of North Dakota http://www.governor.state.nd.us/awards/rr-gallery/pearce.html (accessed July 7, 2008).
"Hoeven Presents Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award to Harry J. Pearce", State of North Dakota http://governor.nd.gov/media/news-releases/2004/08/040811a.html (accessed July 7, 2008).
"MDU Resources Names Pearce Chairman of the Board", KXnet.com http://www.kxmb.com/t/oil/35029.asp (accessed July 8, 2008).
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Rauschkolb, Dick, "Our Distinquished Graduates: General Ronald R. Fogleman and Mr. Harry J. Pearce", Association of Graduates of the United States Air Force Academy http://www.usafa.org/Heritage/DG/2001DG.pdf (accessed July 7, 2008).

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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