Sunday, October 17News That Matters

Jeff Immelt Oversaw the Downfall of G.E. Now He’d Like You to Read His Book.

At the same time, Mr. Immelt writes, Mr. Bolze engaged in “unyielding politicking” and launched an overt campaign to replace Mr. Immelt as C.E.O., while abandoning his day-to-day operational duties. “His main concern seemed to be self-promotion,” Mr. Immelt writes, and “his behavior had become self-serving to the point of outrageous.” Not firing Mr. Bolze, Mr. Immelt writes, was “a terrible mistake, maybe the worst I ever made.”

(“Many clearly have different perspectives on this chapter in G.E.’s history,” Mr. Bolze, now an executive at Blackstone, said in a statement. “Jeff’s narrative simply doesn’t align with the facts.”)

The leaders who replaced Mr. Immelt don’t fare much better in the book. John Flannery, who took over for Mr. Immelt, “created a culture defined more by victimhood than by a sense of purpose.” That came as no surprise to Mr. Immelt. “Flannery couldn’t make a decision,” Mr. Immelt writes. “He was ponderous and always needed reams of data before choosing a course of action.”

Mr. Immelt, who received more than $200 million in compensation during his time at G.E., developed a thick skin as C.E.O. Yet even as a wealthy executive who hopscotched the globe accompanied by an extra empty plane, he was never able to escape the long shadow of Mr. Welch. Wall Street had come to expect the extraordinary from G.E., and no matter how he tried, Mr. Immelt could never revive the company’s stock price. Eventually, even Mr. Welch, who handpicked Mr. Immelt as his successor, lost faith in his protégé.

In the book, Mr. Immelt recounts how badly it stung when Mr. Welch went on CNBC and said he would “get a gun out and shoot him” if Mr. Immelt missed his earnings target. “When you lead an organization the size of G.E., you accumulate a lot of ‘friends in name only,’” Mr. Immelt writes. “I hadn’t thought Jack Welch was one of them.”

G.E. is a shell of its former self, but Mr. Immelt has concocted a series of second acts. As a partner at a venture capital firm, he is advising up-and-coming companies. And as a lecturer the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Mr. Immelt — a consequential figure in the history of business, wherever you lay the blame — is imparting his wisdom on the future leaders of corporate America.

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.