#GLS14 Jeffrey Immelt – CEO of GE

Jeffrey Immelt

Mr. Immelt has held several global leadership positions since coming to GE in 1982, including roles in GE’s Plastics, Appliances, and Healthcare businesses. In 1989 he became an officer of GE and joined the GE Capital Board in 1997.

Mr. Immelt has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s, and since he began serving as chief executive officer, GE has been named “America’s Most Admired Company” in a poll conducted by Fortune magazine and one of “The World’s Most Respected Companies” in polls by Barron’s and the Financial Times.

Mr. Immelt was the chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Interview with Bill Hybels

  • When you have something that is the most important thing you’re working on, you just don’t delegate that.\
  • There has never been one moment when any job in the company is been beneath me.
  • When did you become self-aware that you were a leader?
  • I had great parents. I grew up as an athlete. That taught me great skills.
  • From the time I was an early age I wanted to do my best without losing sight of the person I wanted to be.
  • It takes a good combination of self-confidence and self-awareness.
  • A leader can’t be afraid of accountability.
  • When you entered the workforce at GE did you have a plan to differentiate yourself from the other 300,000 employees?
  • The plan is never to become CEO. I wanted to learn to be a manager and a business person. I got lucky.
  • For me it was always about the work, it was never about the career. It was about creating things.
  • At GE we can create the future.
  • Your peers decide how far you go.
  • If you’re of a giver than a taker then your peers sense that.
  • A leader is more of a giver than a taker.
  • Be around a crisis early in your career. We can’t tell anything about you as a leader when times are good.
  • Leadership sets high standards.
  • Jack Welch chose you to become CEO of GE. How long were you in the CEO chair before the 9/11 crisis?
  • I started on September 7, and 9/11 impacted every area of the company.
  • We live in a volatile time and people aren’t going to be given the luxury to go backwards.
  • The best leaders move forward.
  • I read alot about places where leadership is taught. GE has a facility that is a leadership development university. Can you tell us what happens there? Why is it so important?
  • I lead a company that has about $160 billion in revenue.
  • We invest about a billion dollars per year in training.
  • Leadership only has a certain shelf-life. You have to constantly be tuning up your leadership.
  • We study other companies.
  • We look at leadership as a strategic imperative. But we also look at it as one of the things that can drive the company.
  • We’re a ‘we’ company not a ‘me’ company.
  • How does it make you feel when people leave the company?
  • You never dislike someone more than the 15 minutes they’re in your office resigning.
  • Let’s leave fear out of the workplace. Let’s work because I love what I do.
  • You believe in creating good GE alumnus. 
  • We want people to live their dreams.
  • It’s good that you have a change in leadership.
  • GE is about the institution. It’s not about any one individual. The company comes first.
  • What’s the x-factor for you that makes you want to promote them? And then what’s the opposite quality that makes you want to get rid of them?
  • The differentiator is the willingness to stand apart and buck the system.
  • You can’t run a big company without rules.
  • So few people are willing to stand apart.
  • We don’t expect people to have perfect careers. We expect to learn and get better.
  • Who is the hardest person you’ve had to fire?
  • This person who just had a hard time connecting with the team.
  • Even if a person produces results and does a good job, if they’re not connecting with the team then they’re not going to last long.
  • You’ve put a huge focus on diversity. Tell me about that.
  • If you believe in talent and meritocracy, you must believe in diversity.
  • If people walk in your office and don’t feel diversity, that’s code that they don’t care about people.
  • All white guys don’t have every great idea.
  • You’re conservative and Obama is liberal, and he called you to talk about creating jobs. Tell us about.
  • We live in a time where everyone thinks there’s an angle.
  • The people who were on this counsel really did it because we wanted to help.
  • I’m proud of the work we did on the president’s job counsel.
  • The more we can drive confidence in our society, the better off we’re all going to be.
  • What does it mean to be a huge company and still stay simple?
  • I don’t come to work to go to a meeting. I come to work to satisfy the customers.
  • At some point you’re going to have to create a secession plan. Talk about that.
  • I’ve got a big part in it, but the board also plays a big part in it, so we do as a team.
  • There are things that don’t need to be in the public view.
  • My secession plan is going to be more private.
  • A few years ago you rejected bonus because the economy was bad. Why?
  • I felt like it was a way to be accountable for what was happening in the economy and the company.
  • The constituency you play to the most is not the media, but it’s your own team.
  • Over time you’re going to question my decisions, but you’re never going to question my intentions.
  • The worst thing I could find about you is that you work 80 hours/week and take 12 days of vacation/year.
  • I love my work, and I love my family.
  • My dad worked for GE so I know the power of a GE job.
  • We can’t guarantee outcomes. Though we can look everyone in the eye and guarantee process.
  • No one will ever work harder than GE works.
  • Your wife is a bit more regular in her church attendance than you are. When you do join your wife at church, what would you hope to experience?
  • Being CEO of GE people look to me all the time. So you train yourself to regenerate a couple hours/week to be able to do it again.
  • Leadership is this intense journey into yourself. It’s about self-renewal and reflection.
  • The ability to sit for an hour and be at peace is priceless. That’s what I want to experience at church.

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