Jeffrey Immelt’s Ideas on Renewing America’s Competitiveness

As we approach this Independence Day in America, my cooperative spirit pushes me to share Jeffrey Immelt’s ideas about how to renew America. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE is one of America’s stewards of leadership and innovation and I highly recommend that you view his talk given in late June 09 at the Detroit Economic Club.

JeffImmeltAmerica has a myriad of economic problems, not the least of which is it has moved from a technology-driven manufacturing economy to one that is services oriented. We are known as a country where CEOs are viewed as short-term speculators, which has been re-enforced by our “leadership” in the financial global meltdown. There is something seriously wrong when “a mortgage broker is pulling down $5 million a year while a Ph.D. chemist is earning $100,000.”

Jeff thinks the US needs to create an industrial renewal as follows:

1. Invest in new technology

2. Win where it counts in Clean Energy and Affordable Healthcare

3. Become a country that’s good at manufacturing and exports

4. Embrace public/private partnerships

5. Encourage leaders that are also good citizens

During this recession, GE has not reduced its R&D expenditures, which are pegged at 6%, while the US average is only 2% of sales. In 2008, GE exported $19 billion and plans to increase exports each year. GE is partnering with local government to fix the US educational system by investing at inner city schools to improve math and science since only 4% in the US study engineering, which often produces innovators.

GE has two great initiatives to stimulate innovative product development: “eco-imagination” and “health-imagination”. Eco-imagination focuses on alternative, clean energy development and renewable energy products as well as making better use of traditional energy sources. One initiative is a GE + Duke energy coal degasification plant project. America is like the Saudi Arabia of coal supply! Through innovations in health research, GE will launch hundreds of new products in the next few years to reduce the cost of healthcare, particularly in areas like infant care and mammography.

GE invests $1B per year in training. One way this has paid off is that their educated locomotive teams reduced the time it takes to manufacture a locomotive from 100 days to 20. Jeff’s talk is full of these examples of “can do”, which I think is missing from America’s fabric in these tough times.

GE practices what it preaches: it changes with the global demand for its products. Over 50% of what GE produces today didn’t exist 10 years ago. GE will introduce more new products during this recession than any time in its history.

Big business needs to fund small businesses to invent and in the supply chain to compete globally. He states that as “Business leaders we are responsible for the competitiveness of our own country.” This comes from a free marketer and Republican. I wish more of our country’s leadership felt this way. The US is at a competitive disadvantage globally since the private and public sectors are often at odds and do not cooperate like they do in most other countries in the world! The US needs to welcome government as a catalyst for leadership and change. Look at all the creativity and innovation that came from NIH and NASA over the years. The government can be creative and foster cooperation!

I’ll conclude by sharing that Jeff is practicing what he preaches: GE is investing $100 million to develop a manufacturing lab near Visteon Center in the Detroit metro. This will provide 1200 professional jobs to start. Jobs will focus in three areas of innovation: advanced manufacturing technology including applications in aviation and energy products; software applications such as the smart grid; and a training program for information technology. GE is working with the public sector in Detroit and drawing talent from MI universities, in addition to the local work force.

I hope more of America’s leadership adopts Jeff Immelt’s attitudes and practices so America can once again feel proud. US competitiveness will only improve as we become a more self confident society. America’s consumer spending is not going to pull us out of this recession: this alone is not sustainable! America’s business investment in technology, innovation and value-added manufacturing will.

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