Why does Jeff Immelt personally manage the GE brand?

Every month I sit down with my advertising team to review all the ads they are proposing to support our overall company brand. I have been doing this since I became CEO and, in that time, have seen dozens of ads, most of which I love and a few, that I didn’t.

So why would I spend hundreds of hours over the years to review all of these ads? I would imagine that our advertising team asks themselves that question at every one of these reviews. The answer is that owning, protecting and nurturing the brand is one of most important jobs of a CEO.

I have strong views and occasionally suggest a few new lines, or shots or ideas. I am not particularly artistic, but I do know what we stand for. I have a great appreciation for our creative talent in GE and our agency and their ability to tell our story.

If it were up to me, I would make our products the hero of every ad. I think a locomotive is beautiful … but that is just me. Recently, my team convinced me that an ad called “Childlike Imagination” would register with the outside world. This is an ad of a young girl bragging about the wonder that her Mom creates at GE. They were right.

A new ad is called "The Boy Who Beeps" and it is terrific storytelling by our team and our longtime creative partners at BBDO. I won’t ruin it for you but it isn’t the typical story about industrial technology or people. It’s about what we call the “industrial internet” and the outcomes that companies like GE can produce for families, friends and communities. I think the ad team used the word “metaphor” about a dozen times during our screening.

So for a guy who grew up selling our products, it wasn’t what I usually look for in our ads – big, powerful GE turbines, engines or blowout preventers – that are invented, built and sold by our people around the world. I always ask myself in these reviews, what would one of our customers take away from this ad about GE? Would a utility executive, an airline CEO or a hospital administrator want to do business with us because of what he or she just saw on Thursday Night Football or on Squawk Box? Does it tell a deep industrial story of efficiencies, savings and productivity that usually get customers excited?

At first, The Boy Who Beeps didn’t check these boxes for me. But, in watching the ad and others over the years, I have come to realize that sometimes I need to listen to the team … I am not the audience. I have learned that a company like GE also has to put a human face on technology and demonstrate that our products are an important part of everyday life. And it helps to understand that our customers are people too. So an engaging, emotional story like The Boy that Beeps is another way to reach them -- and to say something larger about GE’s culture and people. Another new GE ad, "Ideas Are Scary", doesn’t show a single GE product or service. But it demonstrates that GE people are determined inventors and entrepreneurs who love good ideas, regardless of their source. For a company to stay relevant for 135 years, our ads need to make people think of GE in a whole new way. Both The Boy Who Beeps and Ideas are Scary do that extremely well.

Our brand is worth close to $50 billion. That’s real money. Every decision I make must support the long-term health of our brand, including which ads to run. It must trump other shorter-term considerations. Few others in the company have as broad, or as passionate, a point of view on this as the CEO. While I review every ad, I encourage our team to be different. Working together, we tell a meaningful GE story to the world.


Why do I find the time to teach?

Five years ago I set up a trust in Calcutta for the retired teachers of the St. Xavier's Collegiate school. I spent 15 years in that institution, from the age of 6 to 21. After a 150 years the building blocks of any institution like this must be its teachers.
If I have any claim to leadership today, there is no greater debt I owe than to these noble souls.
And here's the reason : good teachers pass on useful knowledge, great teachers build character. And the outstanding ones create leaders.

My first accidental brush with teaching began when I was 18. And I have never forgotten what it taught me. One evening a distraught, hardworking corporate executive arrived home asking my professor father for help with his daughter who had failed to clear her ICSE prelims. The demon subjects were the sciences, which the pater didn't dabble in. He asked if I could help out, with my new found love for numbers. The parent grudgingly agreed to give it a shot. I found my ward had a brilliant mind but with a block for maths and science. All I did was to clear the block. The kid cleared all her papers with over 80%

The first lesson I learnt : Expand the mind. It will never return to its original configuration.

However, the generosity of spirit defining a teacher is not restricted to a classroom. My debit balance kept piling up after I entered the workforce. Two amazing bosses taught me more than any management program could have in a lifetime.

My formal tryst with teaching began at 28, when I was asked to address a classroom full of post graduate students at IIM Bangalore for 3 hours. Somewhat nervous, I began by overloading the session with graphics and videos. In the break the prof in charge of the department  gently told me "maybe they want to hear what YOU think. Maybe you want to hear what THEY  think"

The second lesson I learnt: its not about the content, stupid.

The years rolled by, the classrooms morphed into MDPs and the campuses spread from Melbourne to Paris. I was asked to teach business owners and CEOs at one extreme, and drug addicts and orphans on the other.

And the lesson has never changed ever. If every session can help them think differently about themselves, they will never be the same people again. As individuals, as colleagues, and as leaders.

This is my debt. This is why I need to pay it forward. This is why I teach.

Here is someone who exemplifies this sentiment