This fall I have been at three terrific conferences, each having GE CEO Jeff Immelt as a key speaker. From Arthur Page, to the Harvard Business School Centennial, and last week, at the Business for Social Responsibility Conference, Jeff provides tailored comments that are candid, audience-specific and provocative.
I got the most from Jeff's BSR speech, so I will share those comments here. Let's call this one: 'Doing well and doing right.' He focused his comments on five key points.
- Jeff talked about the current economic crisis as a 'reset,' not a standard business cycle. Three things will come from this: Specific industries will be restructured within the next 6-12 months (ex. the financial services industry), the intersection with government and business in the U.S. and Europe will change for at least a generation and now we are in an era of transparency that is profoundly different than even six months ago. 'That companies need to stand for something beyond the bottom line is profound.' said Immelt. 'We are in an emotional, social and economic reset,' he continued.
- People are afraid, especially regarding financing and credit. We need strong leadership now to reinstill confidence in people, especially our employees. 'We need to teach our people to compete,' especially in the areas key to the economy -- energy, healthcare, education and financial systems. These pillars, he said, play a central role in a reset world. It is critical to turn the fear, via strong leadership, into self confidence.
- Corporate social responsibility must be strategic from the core of the company, and then move outward. In the end, he emphasized the 'corporate' part of CSR. It needs to make money for the corporation, or it will not be sustainable. Within CSR he talked about the critical areas of governance, transparency, building trust and innovation. He mentioned that GE is spending over $6 billion on R&D in the recession to stay ahead of competition and to be customer focused and socially relevant.....of course he mentioned the company's investments in environmentally and socially-focused new products and services -- clean energy, water, access to affordable healthcare, with their foundation focusing on helping develop new engineers in key cities where they have large operations.
- Engagement. It is critical to fully engage with key stakeholders -- employees, customers, governments, NGOs, even with people who 'make you feel uncomfortable.' Discussion and relationships are critically important in a reset world.
- Globalization. In a global world, everything is interconnected and will only become more so.
Companies and their leadership must get the first four things right -- understanding we now live in a reset world, that we must regain our confidence, that we must act in a socially-responsible way, that we need to be fully engaged in our work as well as committed to solving today's and tomorrow's challenges -- doing these well sets up a company to compete successfully in a global economy and in an ever-increasing interconnected world.
Competitiveness. Trust. Confidence. Great people. Technology to help solve the world's biggest issues. That is how GE will march forward in a reset world. Great insights for companies, large and small.
- Carol Cone