GE’s Jeff Immelt Will Fix Uber and Tame Travis

America’s vaunted hi tech companies are too important to leave them in the hands of brilliant, but immature neophytes. It’s time to bring in a leader who knows how to run a hi tech meritocracy.

former GE CEO, Jeff Immelt

The global ride sharing phenom has hit a few speed bumps. With the departure of co-founder and former CEO, Travis Kalanick, the stage is set for a comeback under the right leadership.

The time has come for the bro culture — and let’s include the venture capitalists on the boards — to turn the reins over to mature, steady thinking operators, someone like GE’s former chairman and CEO, Jeffrey R. Immelt. This is a CEO who has been trained for 30 years how to run a diverse meritocracy — without inviting a dystopian revolution.

And not just at Uber, but I predict, what’s in store for Google, Facebook, Twitter, as well.

You might ask, BUT…why not hire a non-bro like Sheryl Sandberg to run Uber?

The reason is simple. Neither Sandberg nor Whitman nor any other hi tech star is interested. Meddlesome VC’s on the board are not an attractive setting for successful CEOs. Just ask Carly Fiorina.

So why would Immelt want the job? Mainly, he’s retired and he knows he can fix the company because he’s done it before.

Silicon Valley’s hi tech companies have rendered entire global industries defunct. Working properly, they are economic forces that enhance life and commerce, but led by misguided if well-meaning managerial neophytes, they are risk prone, as Uber’s and Google’s recent failings show.

GE’s Immelt is the antidote to managerial immaturity. He has dealt with anti-globalism, 9/11 (he became CEO 4 days before), billion dollar pivots, and every human strife known to mankind in his successful stewardship of GE.

I had the chance to interview Jeff Immelt while he was still in the CEO role at GE and his comments suggest there isn’t a better person to guide Uber into the next phase. (interview link bottom).

photo: Uber
  1. Diversity is a secret weapon

“I’m in my 30th year of being trained how to run a meritocracy, how to be open, how to encourage an open workplace. There’s no excuse for people not to be open — no matter what you’ve done, if you can bring it, if you’ve got merit, if you’re winning, you’re going to get promoted.”

2. The world will surprise you even if you’re a major league CEO

“I think the biggest surprise is the world twisted from one of benign growth to high volatility and geo-political risk. In many ways the environment today is nothing like what I thought it would be when I became CEO.”

3. Even with a 100 year success, the company must change

“I had a sense we were more well constructed for an American-centric economy, one that was not quite as volatile. We really started thinking the portfolio had to change to our new philosophy — we only wanted to be as broad as we were deep.”

4. You need to discover what you do better

“We looked at those businesses where we had an essential competitive advantage. I thought about technology, globalization, installed base revenue as being our core competencies. We wanted to keep financial services to more than a third of the company and the financial crisis more or less took care of that.”

5. You may follow a tough act in your career

“When you replace a famous person, you’re always reminded of things he said. I think what really makes great leaders or what made my predecessor great was he really didn’t care too much about history. It’s why today, we think about what’s right for now, not what was right ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.”

6. You may not be good at all things

“I think we used to think if you had good leaders you could be in any business. We want to have good leaders, but we now believe deep domain expertise is critically important. Business has no shelf life.”

7. You can learn from Warren Buffett as long as you are yourself

“I always look at what Warren Buffett is doing. The thing I admire the most is he never follows a fad. His thesis, what he believes in, how he invests, never changes. That is something I’ve tried to do in my own context at GE, stick to a very disciplined box of what makes a great GE business.”

8. You are competing with Google even if you don’t know it

“We’re not going away. We’re paranoid, we’re investing, we’re changing, we’re relevant to our customers and the industries that we serve in. We don’t want to be Microsoft or Google, but we’re inspired by them. We want to be better because of them. I want to be in the top ten most valuable brands. It’s not okay for me to say, ‘Oh gosh, we’re too old.’ That’s not acceptable as a thought for our company.”

9. Hard things are going to be hard

“I’ve done this now 14 years. Anyone that says they think these jobs are easy…these are hard jobs and you have to learn every day. What I love about our company and what I try to match myself is resiliency. We’ve been able to change the portfolio, grow earnings, through three recessions and political unrest. In a very volatile world, we’ve stayed focused, accountable to our customers, our investors, and have this this sense that we’re never as good as we want to be and that no matter what happens we can get better.”

10. Experience will make you better if you let it

“There’s no doubt in my mind, when I talk to other leaders, you haven’t led until you’ve been through a ‘flying close to the sun’ tail risk. Now your investors don’t love you when that’s happening. When you’re in the middle of the crisis you may not understand you’re getting better, and people that are investing in you are a little bit hacked off.”

“You can only tell about people when it’s 15 minutes till midnight and it’s crappy outside and horrible things are happening, then you can tell who’s good, and who can make it and who can’t. I think in my own case, I’ve learned from all the things that have happened over time and hopefully become better.”

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