Immelt withstands the heat in GE’s kitchen

    Wouldn’t you like to know what’s going through Jeffrey Immelt’s mind these days? You remember Immelt, who used to oversee General Electric Co.’s Healthcare division in Waukesha.

    Immelt became legendary Jack Welch’s hand-picked successor to be the chief executive officer of GE in 2001.

    Since then, Immelt and GE have navigated through some good times and some not-so-good times.

    Welch pretty much threw his boy under the bus in April, when Welch curtly remarked on CNBC’s Squawk Box, "I’d be shocked beyond belief and I’d get a gun out and shoot him (Immelt) if he doesn’t make what he promised now. Just deliver the earnings. Tell them you’re going to grow 12 percent and deliver 12 percent … Here’s the screw up: You made a promise that you’d deliver this and you missed three weeks later. Jeff has a credibility issue. He’s getting his ass kicked."

    Nice. Thanks for nothing, Jack.

    Welch can talk big because he presided over GE when the company – and the economy – were booming. Welch took his golden parachute and skipped out of Fairfield, Conn., just as the wind was letting up behind the economy’s sails.

    Timing is everything. And it isn’t getting any easier for Immelt. GE’s stock recently fell to its lowest level since 1996, trading at around $16 per share.

    Immelt temporarily stopped the bleeding by announcing that GE would apply to participate in the new temporary liquidity-guarantee program operated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), backing up $139 billion in GE Capital debt. (Keep a wary eye on any company with a credit division these days.)

    To his credit, Immelt has kept a cool public persona, even when Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly directed one of his producers to ambush him with a microphone and a camera at a posh restaurant, as O’Reilly sought revenge for comments made by lefty commentator Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. Remember, GE owns both MSNBC and CNBC.

    Once again, Immelt was caught in a crossfire, through no deeds of his own.

    Immelt must have found some relief on Nov. 4. MSNBC dominated Fox in Nielsen ratings during election week.

    Furthemore, Immelt isn’t flinching. He had the audacity to purchase 50,000 shares of GE stock on Nov. 13 to show his confidence in the company. Hey, even legendary investor Warren Buffet is buying GE shares these days.

    So, Immelt, 52, will try to ride out the storm, at least until GE holds its 2009 annual meeting of shareowners on April 22, 2009, in Orlando, Fla. GE gathers shareowners in a different city each year. The company employs more than 18,000 people at 14 sites across Florida, where GE Energy Infrastructure, Technology Infrastructure, Capital, Industrial and NBC Universal each operate facilities.

    Hey, Jeff. Wisconsin must seem like light years away in your rearview mirror right now. But hang in there. And presuming you’re still at the helm, how about bringing GE’s 2010 annual shareholder meeting to Milwaukee? We promise not to ambush you at a restaurant.

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

    Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display