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):
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.