Jeff Immelt was the 9th Chairman of GE and served as CEO for 16 years. He has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s. During his tenure as CEO, GE was named “America’s Most Admired Company” by Fortune magazine and one of “The World’s Most Respected Companies” in polls by Barron’s and the Financial Times. He has received fifteen honorary degrees and numerous awards for business leadership and chaired the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness under the Obama administration.  He is a Venture Partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), a global venture capital and private equity firm. He is the author of HOT SEAT, a memoir of leadership in times of crisis. Jeff has a B.A. degree in applied mathematics from Dartmouth College (where he played football) and an M.B.A. from Harvard University. He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

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  • Raised in Cincinnati, OH by his father Joe and mother Donna. Both of his parents grew up in the depression. Growing up Jeff said, “I remember when my dad had a great boss, he was motivated, and when he had a lousy boss, he was neither challenged nor happy. The worst kind of boss he always used to say, was one who criticized all day long but never offered solutions.”
  • GE was founded on April 15, 1892, by one of the greatest inventors in history, Thomas Edison. For most of the 20th century, GE had more patents than any other corporation.
  • Jack Welch, deemphasized technology and innovation, and instead focused on management techniques like six sigma. Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology invented by a Motorola engineer named Bill Smith in 1980. It trains managers to be experts (called Black Belts) in improving business processes to reduce product defects.
  • Jeff’s first day as CEO of GE was September 10, 2001. On his first day, he introduced himself, via simulcast, to GE’s 300,000 employees.
  • His second day as CEO was 9/11/2001. “Good leaders absorb fear. They give people a plan. You have to hold two thoughts at the same time.”
  • By the end of his first week as CEO, GE’s shares had dropped 20%, decreasing the company’s market capitalization by $80 billion.
  • Leaders learn everyday — “I’ve always believed an important determinant of success could be found in how one answered 3 questions:
    • How fast can you learn?
    • How much can you take?
    • What will you give to those around to you?”
  • The trifecta: “In your career, you meet only a handful of leaders who have the trifecta of being able to innovate, execute, and develop talent. Omar Ishrak had that.”
  • Jeff was the ultimate grinder, a true believer of GE, he got the “meatball” (the GE logo) tattooed on the left hip. The GE story is extremely personal for Jeff. 
  • Why the “Success Theater” story about Jeff is wrong. “For seven years, 10 times per year, I had a leader from GE flown to my house with their spouse. We’d serve them dinner and then I’d spend 6+ hours with the leader asking them questions, learning about them, and saying, ‘Tell me something I don’t know.'”
  • What Jeff learned from playing football in college at Dartmouth:
    • “When the best player is not caring about the team, nobody will get in line.” The story of Harry Wilson (Russell Wilson’s father, Jeff’s teammate in college) and Reggie Williams.
    • “Football teams are self policing. It’s a series of peer relationships. Failure is not definitive. You have to always think about the next play.”
  • “The best people get 100% of the work done in 80% of the time. That leaves them more time to push boundaries.”
  • How did Jeff get picked to be Jack Welch’s successor?
    • “I was a good peer. Your peers are who promote you. Those relationships have to be earned.”
  • What was a Jack Welch Quarterly Business Review like?
    • “Jack was a screamer. He was spontaneous. He would like at page 7 and then jump to page 17 and ask questions.”
  • Front line obsession – “You have to have a passion for understanding how people work.”
  • Front line managers – “I told them they are more important than me. That have direct access to the customer.”
  • The profession of sales: why it’s noble
    • Amazing sense of urgency – Never waste a minute or let it pass
    • See the company through the customers eyes – “The salesforce sets the culture… I was persistent, dogged…”
  • Good leaders are systems thinkers:
    • Keep your head up and stay engaged at the same time
    • Read books, ask question… “You must be curious.”
  • Sustain excellence: Must be a learner. “Fred Smith (CEO of FedEX) is my leadership hero.”
  • Heart broken over GE: “You can still progress as a human being even when you have a broken heart. You have to keep trying. Even when the efforts don’t seem to be working for you.”
    • “There’s value in a human being in just keep moving. Don’t hide. Don’t disappear.”
  • When you are on top, it is easy to be long on friends. When you hit bottom, there are a select few who reach out. For me, those standouts included American Express’s Ken Chenault, Delta Airlines’ Richard Anderson, and especially Cisco’s John Chambers.
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