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Starting all over at GE … again

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If it ain’t broke, blow it up. That’s the legacy that General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt inherited ... so that’s what he’s doing.

GE enjoys a firm tradition of breaking tradition, and the first three years of Immelt’s tenure as CEO have proved no exception. His predecessor, “Neutron” Jack Welch, had plunged the firm into financial services. Immelt is unloading them. Welch set and met pinpoint earnings targets. Immelt is taking the long view. Welch rapidly rotated managers, like military officers, throughout divisions and regions. Immelt is taking the company back to its roots by growing engineers.

“I absolutely loathe the notion of professional management,” he told an MIT crowd last year. That’s not an endorsement of unprofessional behavior, but a declaration that the best jet engines are built by jet-engine specialists, not developers of microwave ovens. He flips if you call GE a “conglomerate.”

To that end, he’s revitalizing GE’s research-and-development centers, including its legendary “House of Magic” just outside Schenectady, N.Y.

If Immelt’s central idea had to be boiled down to one notion, it’s this:  “We have to make our own growth.” And if that notion had to be reduced to one word, it’s “innovation.”

What does this teach leaders? That you can take risks if your company has faith and conviction, if you know what you’re doing and others believe it. That you can succeed as a throwback to an earlier time.

Immelt himself is a throwback to GE’s first leaders.

For now, Immelt can do the things leaders are supposed to do:  plan, bolster the finances, whip up the troops, invest in customers, under promise and develop new products that will pay off … someday.

— Adapted from “Another Boss, Another Revolution,” Jerry Useem, Fortune.

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