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Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company

Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company


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A memoir of successful leadership in times of crisis: the former CEO of General Electric, named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s, shares the hard-won lessons he learned from his experience leading GE immediately after 9/11, through the economic devastation of the 2008–09 financial crisis, and into an increasingly globalized world.

In September 2001, Jeff Immelt replaced the most famous CEO in history, Jack Welch, at the helm of General Electric. Less than a week into his tenure, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and the company, to its core. GE was connected to nearly every part of the tragedy—GE-financed planes powered by GE-manufactured engines had just destroyed real estate that was insured by GE-issued policies. Facing an unprecedented situation, Immelt knew his response would set the tone for businesses everywhere that looked to GE—one of America’s biggest and most-heralded corporations—for direction. No pressure.

Over the next sixteen years, Immelt would lead GE through many more dire moments, from the 2008–09 Global Financial Crisis to the 2011 meltdown of Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, which were designed by GE. But Immelt’s biggest challenge was inherited: Welch had handed over a company that had great people, but was short on innovation. Immelt set out to change GE’s focus by making it more global, more rooted in technology, and more diverse. But the stock market rarely rewarded his efforts, and GE struggled.

In Hot Seat, Immelt offers a rigorous, candid interrogation of himself and his tenure, detailing for the first time his proudest moments and his biggest mistakes. The most crucial component of leadership, he writes, is the willingness to make decisions. But knowing what to do is a thousand times easier than knowing when to do it. Perseverance, combined with clear communication, can ensure progress, if not perfection, he says. That won’t protect any CEO from second-guessing, but Immelt explains how he’s pushed through even the most withering criticism: by staying focused on his team and the goals they tried to achieve. As the business world continues to be rocked by stunning economic upheaval, Hot Seat is an urgently needed, and unusually raw, source of authoritative guidance for decisive leadership in uncertain times.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982114718
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 130,970
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Jeff Immelt was the ninth Chairman of GE and served as CEO for sixteen years. He has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s. During his tenure as CEO, GE was named “America’s Most Admired Company” by Fortune magazine and one of “The World’s Most Respected Companies” in polls by Barron’s and the Financial Times. Immelt has received fifteen honorary degrees and numerous awards for business leadership and chaired the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness under the Obama administration. He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and a lecturer at Stanford University. Immelt earned a BA in applied mathematics from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University. He and his wife have one daughter.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 Leaders Show Up 7

Threading the Needle 9

Stoking GE's Growth Engine 12

Waking to a Nightmare 14

Facing Disaster 17

Absorbing Fear 19

Putting Customers First 22

Chapter 2 Leaders Learn Every Day 27

"Don't Complain-Fix It!" 30

Be Willing to Stand Apart 32

Choose Purpose Over Money 34

See Through Your Customers Eyes 36

Learn to Take the Heat 41

Get a Thicker Skin 44

Valuing Growth 46

Launching the LightSpeed 48

Who's Next in Line? 50

Your Peers Promote You 54

Chapter 3 Leaders Invest in Growth 57

A Time for Change 61

Technology First 63

Protect the Builders 67

Fulfilling the Dreamliner Dream 71

Don't Fall in Love with an Idea 76

Pivot to Grow 77

Seize Opportunity 81

Don't Be Afraid to Act 87

Chapter 4 Leaders Are Systems Thinkers 93

Communicating with the World 96

Green Is Green 99

The Digital Future 107

Competing for Talent 112

Bringing the Team Along 113

Not Finishing the Job 116

Chapter 5 Leaders Persevere in a Crisis 119

Bundle at Your Peril 121

Beware a Cold Snap 123

Darkness Visible 126

Rolling Paper 132

"Let's Get the Money" 133

Fishing for an Anchor 136

The Killer Chart 138

Stepping into Liquid 141

Cutting the Dividend 143

Chapter 6 Leaders Make Big Companies Small 149

Facing Reality 151

Retaining the Best 153

It Starts with You 154

The Soul of GE 160

Reimagining Crotonville 161

Leadership Explorations 163

Valuing Everyone 166

Chapter 7 Leaders Compete Around the World 173

Becoming the Jobs Czar 179

There's Always a Crisis Somewhere 182

Investing in Local Capability 185

Persisting Through Volatility 187

Cementing Relationships 190

Hiring Local Teams 194

China Matters Most 196

A Little Bit of We 204

Chapter 8 Leaders Manage Complexity 207

Creating Incremental Value 209

Pattern Recognition 211

An Aspiration to Lead 213

Private Equity: A Modern Conglomerate? 216

Developing Trustworthy Leaders 220

A Bias for Innovation 222

Constantly Simplifying 224

Operational Transparency 229

Peer Learning & Peer Pressure 230

Chapter 9 Leaders Solve Problems 233

Managing Risk 234

Welcome to the Hotel California 238

Shooting for the Moon 239

Keeping the Lid on Tight 243

Secretive No More 250

Leveling with Our People 251

Activists Abound 254

Sell, Sell, Sell! 256

Mission Accomplished 258

Chapter 10 Leaders Are Transparent 261

A Simple Deal (in a Market We Knew) 263

A Position of Strength 265

A Leader Stops Leading 268

Integrating Alstom 269

Overt Transparency 271

Close the Deal, Lose the Leader? 276

The Business Suffered 278

Chapter 11 Leaders Are Accountable 285

Grooming the Candidates 287

The Home Stretch 291

Valuing the Company 292

Every Job Looks Easy (Until You're the One Doing It) 300

Activist Investors Weren't the Answer for GE 301

A Short Tenure 303

Chapter 12 Leaders Are Optimists 309

Owning Some Mistakes 312

The Case for Listening (Most of the Time) 315

Life After GE 316

Change for the Better 318

Acknowledgments 321

Index 325

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