GE’s new CEO is settling in

Jeff Immelt talks to Knowledge @ Wharton about predictable revenue growth at G.E. (“We look at a recession as a great time to play offense.”), post-Enron accounting (“We’re all going to have to find ways to live in a world that has more transparency and disclosure.”) and decentralizing the organization ( plans to shift “backroom” functions like legal, admin, etc. to the business centers will no doubt cause a number of professional services firms to panic). All-around great stuff.

Thinking about Immelt reminded me of my very own GE CEO story. My dad worked at G.E. for a number of years, and was a Jack Welch admirer. In the summer of 1994, my dad’s birthday was approaching. When I was in school, he had given me a copy of Welch’s “Six Commandments“ – a list of his rules for running G.E. – from a 1989 Fortune story about Welch. These rules are:

  1. Face reality as it is, not as it was or as it should be.
  2. Be candid with everyone.
  3. Don’t manage, lead.
  4. Change before you have to.
  5. If you don’t have a competitive edge, don’t compete.
  6. Control your own destiny, or someone else will.

A copy of those rules hangs in my office, and I knew my dad had a copy he held on to as well. On a lark, I called the G. E. headquarters office, and asked to speak with someone in Welch’s office. I got a woman named Phyllis Piano (another reason I love Google: a search on her name reveals that she is now the VP/Corporate Affairs and Communications at Raytheon) in the p.r. department who said she wasn’t familiar with the six commandments (I had asked for a signed copy), but would “see what she could do.” I didn’t expect anything – after all, I was but a lowly law clerk at the EFF – why should she call me? – but sure enough, the next day she called back. She couldn’t help out on the commandments, but would a signed book be OK?I think I stammered something like, “uh, sure…”

No kidding – three days later, a book signed by the man himself showed up in my office. My dad was thrilled – following Welch’s lead, dad sent a hand-written thank you note – and that was it. Or so I thought. Welch actually wrote back – wishing dad luck with his business, and again wishing him a happy birthday.

Class act, all around. Good to see Immelt appears to be carrying the torch.