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Every business has a distinct internal culture, says James F. Welch, senior vice president and general manager of the American Express Travelers Cheque Operations Center in Salt Lake City.

But the best corporate cultures are those whose values evolve to shrink the gap between value statements and corporate reality and where productivity and fun co-exist, Welch said during a lecture Wednesday night at Westminster College.Using the term "culture" interchangeably with "values," and drawing on his years as an executive with General Electric, American Airlines, Chemical Bank and American Express, Welch explained his theories of corporate culture to an audience of about 200 students, faculty and guests.

Corporate culture, Welch said, comes from people's ideas and values and is a self-steering mechanism driven by customer and employee feedback.

As a corporation grows, and as the world's business and economic realities become more sophisticated, a healthy corporate culture becomes indispensable.

"No single head can contain the information and skills that are necessary" in today's business world, and "the whole notion of leaders and followers is increasingly coming under fire," Welch said.

That doesn't mean that leadership is breaking down - but it could if leaders don't recognize the value of contributions from the corporate culture, he said.

Welch, who in a week will retire from the American Express post he has held for the past nine years, was the sixth and last speaker in Westminster's 10th Annual Weldon J. Taylor Executive Lecture Series, sponsored by the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business.