When Louis Chênevert was named president of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) in 2006, his mentor, Chairman of the Board George David, described him as a quick study with “remarkable skills at learning.” David said, “I think that’s one of the most important challenges in life. People need to rise to new things, new situations, new fact patterns, and to learn from what has gone before. Louis is just awfully good at that.”

As a Director’s Advisory Board member at Yale Cancer Center (YCC) since 2001, Chênevert has been a dedicated student of cancer research and treatment, asking probing questions of faculty members and helping plan the YCC component of the new 14-story Smilow Cancer Hospital that is rising on Park Street, as well as the cancer biology research center envisioned for Yale’s recently acquired West Campus.

“People talk about interdisciplinary research and the multidisciplinary care of patients. Louis really grasps it,” said YCC Director Richard L. Edelson, M.D., the Aaron B. and Marguerite Lerner Professor of Dermatology. “He understands the importance of having all the services for cancer patients in the same place, rather than dispersed throughout the medical center.”

With his interest has come financial involvement. Chênevert and his wife, Debbie, were tapped as co-chairs of the Campaign for Smilow Cancer Hospital, along with Jonathan and Jody Bush and Marvin and Helaine Lender. In July of this year, several months after Chênevert’s appointment as CEO of UTC, the company announced a $1 million gift to the cancer hospital. The Chêneverts also are making a personal gift of $540,000 to fund facilities in pediatric oncology and a patient room.

Having studied Yale in depth, Chênevert applied a business logic to the goal of helping cancer patients, while making his philanthropic decisions. He was moved by the impressive contributions of Yale School of Medicine scientists and physicians, beginning in the 1940s with the development of the first chemotherapy agents by pharmacologists Louis S. Goodman, M.D., and Alfred G. Gilman, M.D., Ph.D., and thoracic surgeon Gustav E. Lindskog, M.D. “Yale has a superb track record of finding new ways and different methodologies to treat the disease. There are some real home runs in the family, which is why there is confidence in the institution to bring it to a new level,” he said during an interview in his Hartford, Conn., office. “Now with Smilow Cancer Hospital plus the new research center, the tools are there. You have the people, you have the tools, you can attract the talent.”

Construction of Smilow Cancer Hospital began in 2006, and the 497,000-square-foot building is expected to be complete in late 2009. The hospital will house 112 inpatient beds, outpatient treatment rooms, expanded operating rooms, diagnostic imaging services, therapeutic radiology and a specialized Women’s Cancer Center with a reception area recognizing UTC’s contribution. The hospital is named in recognition of the generous support provided by Joel E. Smilow, a member of the Yale College Class of 1954, and his wife, Joan.

The West Campus research center is one of a number of programs planned or contemplated for 450,000 square feet of research space already occupying the 136-acre complex in West Haven, former home of Bayer Pharmaceuticals’ North American research headquarters.

United Technologies is a global corporation with business units that produce Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, Sikorsky helicopters, Carrier air conditioning and heating systems, Otis elevators and escalators, Hamilton Sundstrand aerospace and industrial systems, UTC Fire and Security protection services, and UTC Power fuel cells. It had revenues of $54.8 billion in 2007 and employed 225,000 worldwide, including 27,000 in Connecticut, making it the state’s largest private employer.

“[Supporting cancer research and treatment] is a high priority, because every week some of our employees have to deal with the devastating news of a diagnosis, either for themselves or for someone in their family,” Chênevert said. “I lost my Dad to cancer and Debbie lost hers,” he added. “Many of the cancers today can be cured because of the great research that has been done, and I think there are a lot of opportunities to find more cures with this new cancer center. Certainly the integrated facility creates a more patient-friendly environment. It’s all about science and research, and it feels very good.”

UTC made approximately $20 million in gifts to nonprofit organizations in 2007, including $5 million in Connecticut. It has raised more than $90 million over the last 15 years for the United Way, and its U.S.-based employees volunteer more than 65,000 hours of their time each year.

Smilow Cancer Hospital will house inpatient and outpatient services for Yale faculty physicians and community practitioners at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, one of 41 comprehensive cancer centers recognized by the National Cancer Institute for exceptional clinical care and scientific research.

According to YCC Director Edelson, Chênevert is on to the next challenge and has focused their discussions on matters well beyond the brick-and-mortar issues surrounding the hospital’s construction. This is good news, Edelson said, and it makes Chênevert a formidable ally in the battle against cancer.

“This is a man who identifies what’s important to him and makes it happen,” he said. “Louis is looking for the ultimate victory, and he understands the steps that need to be taken to get there. He has the big picture, and the big picture is defeating this disease and bringing the very best care to the patients who are served by Yale Cancer Center.”