GE boss stresses growth,
July 4, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
'The most admired companies
of this generation are going to be companies that can drive growth,"
says General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt, who visited Chicago
to talk innovation. "That's where I want GE to be."
all you cost-cutters out there. Listen up. GE is the bellwether
business of our generation. GE popularized leading-edge business
concepts like Six Sigma, 4E's, Differentiation and Work-Out. Under
Immelt's predecessor, the legendary Jack Welch, GE proved American
corporations can speak candidly, confront reality, compete to
win and perform beyond expectations.
On Welch's watch, GE
grew into a $152 billion powerhouse, through mergers and cost-cutting.
Welch's latest book, Winning, is a must-read for anyone who wants
to succeed in business.
"When you lead
a company, you have to use your own words," Immelt says.
"I loved working for Jack Welch. I put things in my own vocabulary.
There is no business person with more energy than Jack Welch,
but 2005 is different than 2000, and different from 1995. We have
to go forward into the future."
Immelt isn't resting
on Welch's laurels. He's staking his own course. His focus is
on technology, innovation and growth.
"When you look
at the growth rate of the company, it's already 8 or 9 percent,
which is more than our historical average," Immelt says.
While productivity is always going to be important, Immelt sees
organic growth as mandatory.
How do you achieve
a culture of innovation?
"It takes leadership,
starting at the top, but more importantly it takes funding,"
Immelt says. "You have to reallocate funds so that you are
constantly funding those things that are going to change the future
for your company and your customers."
Immelt is a big Chicago
fan. He's employs 2,400 workers here. "Everybody wants to
live in Chicago," he says.
But he worries about
Illinois' reputation. "This is the tort capital of the world.
Every company knows that," Immelt says. "People love
living here, but as a state, Illinois is not as competitive as
some other states."
Immelt has positive
words for Gov. Blagojevich's plan to attract the U.S. Department
of Energy's $1 billion FutureGen project. The plan would create
the first zero emissions, coal-based power plant. "We would
work shoulder-to-shoulder with him," Immelt says. "Illinois
is a natural. You've got both the coal, and you also have great
utilities that can utilize it."
Immelt has an eye on
the bottom line, too, but he's willing to take appropriate risks.
He's led his company
into the "eco-imagination" initiative. He sees opportunities
in technologies that avoid fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency
and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Using GE's technology prowess,
Immelt believes he can create business and environmental wins.
"We came up with
a theme: 'Green can be green,' " says Immelt, illustrating
his point with GE's technology for coal gasification, hybrid locomotives,
water desalinization and recyclable plastics.
Immelt thinks GE "can
make money. Our customers can make money, and things are going
to be better for the environment."
Immelt only becomes
tongue-tied when asked which GE innovation is his favorite. Like
a parent who loves all his children, Immelt pauses.
He's excited by GE's
opportunities in personalized medicine and coal gasification,
but it's clearly a forced choice. GE simply teems with technology
opportunities. Immelt seems fascinated by them all.
work for GE?
Maybe that's why Immelt
is confident when asked why today's college grads should work
"Because you can
live your dreams," Immelt says. "GE has the scale to
create the future. There aren't too many companies that can."
Yet Immelt worries
about American competitiveness.
"We've got to
keep focused on innovation. We've got to keep focused on education,"
he says. "This is a country that graduated more people with
sports exercise degrees than electrical engineers. That's not
lining us up to compete with China. That's not a winning hand
in this world of global competition."
That's something worth
pondering this Independence Day.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.