There is no better person to learn the tact of leading a company from than the master of crisis management. When Jeffery Immelt took over as CEO of General Electric, he did so four days before the 9/11 attacks. A tragic event that struck America’s spirit, it also significantly affected its economy. Immelt spearheaded the company through a crisis that cost its insurance business $600 million. The terrorist attack also directly impacted many other sectors of the company, as a result of which he had to aggressively defend GE’s business model.
Around the same time, the US economy was recovering from the Enron scandal that had heightened the scrutiny over companies’ financial statements. It was here that Immelt had to defend the quality of GE’s financial reports. He proposed a complete shift in the company’s traditional format, offering and daring a greater transparency to the market in his first year as CEO. Although GE continued to maintain its traditional shorter formats, a study conducted at Princeton a few years later confirmed the efficacy of Immelt’s intuitive solution of transparency through experiments on behavioural economics.
Immelt spun his magic of crisis management a third time when the United States was crippled by the 2008-09 financial crisis. He played smart here because GE Capital, GE’s financial arm, could not duck from this crisis. He led the company through a joint affiliation with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to create an exclusively owned banking affiliate.
When Immelt took over as CEO in succession to Jack Welsh, he was intent on establishing the fact that he was not merely ‘inheriting’, the company, but was creating his own path; and that he did. GE’s expansion overseas can largely be credited to Immelt.
Immelt very strongly believes that one can become a good leader only when one welcomes change, on a personal and a professional level. In these 20 quotes, there is everything that one needs to know about what it takes to lead a company, but more importantly as Immelt himself stresses, what it takes to lead people.
“Good leaders don’t tell people what to do, they give teams capability and inspiration.”
“The best thing you can give as a leader is a reason to trust. People want to trust. They’re hungry for it. But they’re selective. They’ll only give it to a motivator, a communicator, a teacher, a real person. Someone who in good times and bad always does the right thing.”
“The most important thing I’ve learned since becoming CEO is context. It’s how your company fits in with the world and how you respond to it.”
“There is no real magic to being a good leader. But at the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them.”
“Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It’s about being self-aware. Every morning, I look in the mirror and say, ‘I could have done three things better yesterday.’”
“I love working with customers. Sales has really influenced everything I do. It has instilled in me the important traits of operating with a sense of urgency and listening to people.”
“And people is the most important part of my job. I spend one third of my time on people.”
“Good leaders are very curious, and they spend a lot of time trying to learn things.”
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were days when I went back and said, ‘I wish I’d done this. I should have done that. I handled this the wrong way.’ But it’s always in the motivation of getting better. I’ve never once looked in the mirror and said, ‘Oh boy, can’t do this one.’”
“I think that if you run a big company, you’ve got to, four or five times a year, just say, ‘Hey team, look, here’s where we’re going.’ If you do it 10 times, nobody wants to work for you. If you do it zero times, you have anarchy.”
“Seeing people in person is a big part of how you drive any change process. You have to show people a positive view of the future and say ‘we can do it.’”
“September 11 was horrific, but I’ve been through enough crises before that. I had my own pattern as to how to collect facts, what a leader should do, how to communicate with people, how to set up operating mechanisms to work our way through it.”
“I have learned that nothing is certain except for the need to have strong risk management, a lot of cash, the willingness to invest even when the future is unclear, and great people.”
“I was never afraid of failure. I realized that I was responsible for my own success and that every day offers a new beginning and I was confident in my ability to improve.”
“Surviving a failure gives you more self-confidence. Failures are great learning tools.. but they must be kept to a minimum.”
“In business as in life, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes good things happen to bad people. But over time, if you play long enough, everybody gets what he deserves…good and bad.”
“Values can’t just be words on a page. To be effective, they must shape action.”
“The great thing about human beings, myself in particular, is that I can change.
I can do better.”
“If you can get up every day, stay optimistic, and believe the future is better than the past, those few things get you through a lot of tough times.”
“Work hard with passion and courage. Life is a marathon of contribution. You really must work hard to accomplish something. Find your passion and get good at it.”