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Jeff Immelt Has an Epiphany

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 10, 2009 12:38 PM |

Jeff Immelt

Jeff Immelt

Very interesting how corporate executives get a dose of religion when faced with an American public enraged by government bailouts, increased unemployment, and little credit.

Let’s start keeping a list of those in Washington, on Wall Street, and in the boardrooms who have these epiphanies. Will talk lead to action or are these individuals merely raising the pandering to another level?

A few weeks back in my post, “Chris Dodd Has an Epiphany,” I highlighted that Senator Chris Dodd had just such an epiphany. Today, the Financial Times highlights GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s epiphany and reports, GE Chief Attacks Executive ‘Greed,’:

Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric’s chief executive, said on Wednesday his generation of business leaders had succumbed to “meanness and greed” that had harmed the US economy and increased the gap between the rich and the poor.

Mr Immelt’s attack on his fellow corporate chiefs – made in a speech at the West Point military academy – is one of the strongest criticisms by a top executive of the compensation and business practices that prevailed before the financial crisis.

“We are at the end of a difficult generation of business leadership … tough-mindedness, a good trait, was replaced by meanness and greed, both terrible traits,” said Mr Immelt, who succeeded Jack Welch, one of the toughest leaders of his generation, at the helm of the US conglomerate. “Rewards became perverted. The richest people made the most mistakes with the least accountability.”

Several executives, especially in financial services, have apologised for their companies’ role in the crisis but Mr Immelt’s remarks went further, linking bad leadership to growing inequality.

“The bottom 25 per cent of the American population is poorer than they were 25 years ago. That is just wrong,” he said. “Ethically, leaders do share a common responsibility to narrow the gap between the weak and the strong.”

Is Immelt looking to be on the record on this topic in hopes of scoring points with the American public? Is this merely pandering? Or will Immelt follow this up with action?

Immelt has the bully pulpit? How exactly will he use it? While on one hand, I commend Immelt for raising the topic, talk is cheap if not followed up with action.

What plans will Immelt look to implement at GE? What conferences or symposiums will he host to keep this topic elevated?

Who will hold him and his corporate colleagues accountable?


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