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Web 2: Help Me Interview Jeff Immelt

By - September 28, 2009

Jeff Immelt is the CEO of GE, one of the largest enterprises in the history of the world. Let that sink in for a moment, it’s not a trivial concept. One of the largest enterprises ever devised by mankind – General Electric. The Microsoft, nay, the Google of the 20th century, and not content with that success, Immelt and his team of hundreds of thousands of employees is bending toward the task of once again redefining the nearly 150-year-old company.

Witness this speech, recently delivered to the The Detroit Economic Club (Immelt was announcing a new R&D initiative in Detroit that will bring 1100 new jobs to the devastated Detroit economy). In it, Immelt does not pull punches. From the text:

I am proud to work at GE, a great American company since the 1800s. Since I joined the company in 1982, GE has earned $230 billion – more than any enterprise in the world. We have paid $130 billion in dividends to our investors – again, more than any company in any country. Today, we have over 300,000 global employees with about half here in the United States.

We are the oldest remaining company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is not because we are a perfect company; it is because we adapt . Through the years, we have remained productive and competitive. We have globalized the company, while investing massive amounts in technology, products and services. We know we must change again. When the current economic unraveling began, many hoped it was merely a harsher version of past cycles. But now it’s clear that a serious and difficult transformation is at hand, not just another turning of the wheel.

I met with Jeff in his office last week in New York, and I found him engaged, thoughtful, and totally aligned with the theme of this years’ Web 2 conference (Websquared). I’m pleased and very honored he’s coming and speaking with us, and I seek your questions and input on what you’d like to hear from him.

Meanwhile, a few more zingers from his speech:

As a nation, we’ve been consuming more than we earn, saved too little and taken on far too much debt . Growth in research and development has slowed. Our country has made too little progress on some of the defining challenges of our time – like clean energy and affordable health care. Our budget and trade deficits have reached levels that are clearly not sustainable.

While some of America’s competitors were throttling up on manufacturing and R&D, we de-emphasized technology. Our economy tilted instead toward the quicker profits of financial services. While our financial services business has performed well, I can’t tell you that we were entirely free of these errors. We weren’t .

What has been the impact? Unemployment is at the highest point in 26 years. And, as a percentage of S&P 500 earnings, financial services expanded from 10 to 45 percent over a quarter-century. Compensation systems have fallen out of balance. You know something is wrong when a mortgage broker is pulling down $5 million a year while a Ph.D. chemist is earning $100,000.

Average real weekly wages have declined since 1980, meaning that we have been unable to provide a rising standard of living for the majority.

Leaders missed many opportunities to add to the capabilities of America. In 2000, the U. S. had a positive trade balance of high-tech products. By 2007, our trade deficit of the same products reached $50 billion. We have already lost our leadership in many growth industries, and other new opportunities are at risk. Trust in business is badly shaken,and it is going to take awhile to get it back.

This is unacceptable. Our country was built on great undertakings that brought out the best in government and business alike. But that kind of vision, that kind of focus on essential national goals, has been missing.

This is not a man who pulls punches or, apparently, plays politics. GE has significant businesses in healthcare, energy, consumer electronics, finance, transportation, media (NBC Universal), and more. Immelt’s presence at the premier Internet conference is a statement about how the Web and the World are merging. So what do you want to know from him?

Others we’ll be interviewing on Day One (and I’ve asked for your help):

Evan Williams

Brian Roberts

To come: Carol Bartz, Qi Lu, Aneesh Chopra, Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Miller, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Tim Armstrong, Tim Berners Lee, and more. Amazing lineup.


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13 thoughts on “Web 2: Help Me Interview Jeff Immelt

  1. coxy says:

    Nowadays, when someone at GE has an idea, does an energy saving light bulb appear over their head and take about 2 minutes to reach it’s full brightness?

    You can’t rush a good idea.

  2. Gary Bloomer says:

    John, Here’s my question for Jeff Immelt:

    Jeff, I’m a Brit living in the US. I came here 10
    years ago to live a better life. I work in a
    non-profit and I seem to know more about customer engagement than the average Wall St. trader. I blog about relevance, salience, significance, and persuasion in marketing. What must US companies do to re-engage their customers, to relight the fire of connection between consumers and solutions? How can companies such as GE give back the feeling of pride from seeing the words “Made in the USA” on products?

  3. Ethan Bauley says:

    I’d ask if he will step up and lead in terms of redefining incentive and compensation structures, now

    That is: if he can’t do something to realign the mortgage broker/chemist issue you quoted above, who can?

  4. Carlo says:

    I would ask him what will be GE commitment to help NBC win the next Olympic games right bid against ESPN and what his view is on that. Also considering Chicago 2016 and Obama engagement for the Copenhagen bid.
    Carlo De Marchis from Italy

  5. How many domain names does the entire GE group of companies manage — and how many of these are keyword domain names (such as weather.com), how many are brand name / intellectual property oriented names (such as ge.com) and how many (if any) fall into neither of these categories?

    In the long run, do you expect most people to type weather.com into their browser, or do you expect a sizable amount will continue to take a detour using a “one-size fits-all” search engine like google.com to type in “weather”?

    Do you have any plans to further extend your online reach using other keyword domains?

  6. What is one action step everyone/anyone can take to “green” the planet? What changes has he made/is he making in his own life to this end?

  7. Chris Gomis says:

    If I had the opportunity, I would ask the following questions to any CEO of a global company.

    Many CEOs like yourself, tout Nationalistic pride and mourn the loss of America’s preeminence.

    “Our country was built on great undertakings that brought out the best in government and business alike. But that kind of vision, that kind of focus on essential national goals, has been missing.”

    You hint at vague or statistically insignificant notions that GE is try to do its part. (1,000 new jobs in Detriot)

    The next minute you’re expounding on being a grand global company. I find these pronouncements self-promoting sound bites at best; intellectual, unsustainable imbalances (to borrow an economic phrase) at worst.

    Sure there is a lot of good to come of having a global workforce. The current downside to American workers is that you’re mostly engaging in externality arbitrage of employee costs. America, nor the world, should be pushed into a race to the bottom.

    How many jobs have you created in America in the past decade vs job creation globally?

    What globalization behavior is GE turning away from because it would directly or indirectly hurt American workers or Americans in general?

    What initiatives is your company creating or participating in to improving the well fair of your employees and the working people of this Nation?

    What is GE doing to correct these employee imbalances globally? What are you doing globally to lift all boats to counter-trend that race to the bottom? (Worker rights, Labor practices, Social Safety Nets, etc.)

  8. flash haber says:

    But that kind of vision, that kind of focus on essential national goals, has been missing

  9. Arun says:

    How is GE working with human talent needs of 21st century?

    How is it helping US improve and attract more US young talent into invent and innovate, the passion that made America global leader and GE an American global symbol.

    How is GE going to attract more talented immigrants to USA while US legal green card process has stalled and takes ages where as their home counties like India and China are growing and paying well to keep their talent backhome. More professionals frustrated with US immigration policies are leaving to attractive home countries tired of waiting in US.

    How is GE’s huge investment in wind power paying off?

  10. To clarify my question(s) above a little more: I would say that neither “ecomagination” nor “healthymagination” are keyword names — even though the second string contains a keyword string. My question about keyword domains asks only specifically about single word keyword domain names (like weather.com). My gut feeling is that keyword domain names will probably be at most 1% of the GE domain name portfolio (in number — but will probably be of far greater significance from the perspective of search, information, etc.).

  11. Sam Penrose says:

    Jeff, the two biggest challenges facing America are health care and clean energy. In both areas Congress is making crucial decisions right now, and you have billions riding on the outcome. How are you lobbying? Who is getting your donations, what are you telling them, and how are you working to shape public opinion?

  12. Claudia says:

    I would like to ask Mr. Immelt to please step down as advisor to the White House and therefore to America.
    I would also ask why he closed the light bulb plants in Ohio to move them overseas, and how many he plans to open in China and India next year.
    Because the new bulbs drive a need for Mercury to run the plants and is an active ingredient in the new bulbs he’s mandating for the US, what will GE do about the Mercury and unclean Super Fund sites that are still polluted here in this country and how will he prevent even more contamination in the world’s waters once his reach is Global?
    When will you be leaving the Advisory board, Mr. Immelt?

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