General Electric made major business headlines today in announcing that Jeff Immelt will step down as CEO on August 1 after a 16-year run as the company’s chief executive officer.  The announcement was somewhat unexpected and came because of an ongoing CEO succession planning process overseen by GE’s board. None the lees, it was somewhat of a shock to many.

Supply Chain Matters views this announcement with some disappointment.

Succeeding Immelt is John Flannery, a 30-year veteran who has served the bulk of his GE career among the conglomerate’s financial businesses. Mr. Flannery’s most recent position was head of GE’s healthcare unit.

This senior leadership move comes amid a backdrop of increasing pressure from Wall Street and GE investors on a consistently lower stock price of the company’s shares during Immelt’s tenure. A further backdrop has been the presence of private equity ownership of the company’s stock, specifically Trian Fund Management to accelerate cost reductions and boost profits among GE’s core industrial businesses. In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal was quick to cite knowledgeable sources as indicating that Trian was not actively involved in the CEO succession process. We tend to believe otherwise. If not direct, certainly a major influencer to the culmination of today’s announcement.

As a blog focused on global supply chain management, we have consistently admired GE’s efforts both in the company’s global supply chain efforts and IT practices, but also in the vision and current unfolding strategies surrounding the GE Digital Manufacturing and Industrial Internet strategies. Under Immelt’s leadership, GE became to understand that digital disruption was a major threat as well as an opportunity. GE was bold in stating that factories no longer need to be sourced where labor is cheaper, but rather to best service major geographical markets. Instead, they can compete where educated workers can make the most of advanced technology, and where opportunities can be leveraged to shorten supply chains and reduce inventories. The company further understood the various tenets of supply chain risk and of supply chain risk mitigation. GE embraced the notions of Cloud-based ERP technology and was one of the early transformation adopters under the leadership of Immelt and GE’s CIO.

During the second term of the Obama Administration, Immelt served as an influential leader on the Presidential Commission on U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness, adding an important voice both in words and corporate actions.

The notions of GE transforming itself from that of a traditional manufacturing focused company to a software-driven company were noteworthy and gutsy. CEO Immelt was by our lens, a visionary in understanding the implications of digital manufacturing both from an internal operations and external business perspective. We believe that GE will hence forth be recognized as a pathfinder in the notions of connected machines and Internet-of-Things enabled business models.

The bold decision to move corporate headquarters from a tranquil suburban Connecticut to Boston’s seaport district was to spur a campus environment of constant innovation and paranoia on market competitiveness.

In a call with investors, incoming CEO Flannery indicated he will take a fresh look at various GE businesses, establishing stronger shareholder returns as a goal of this broad review. Business media seems to be of the initial viewpoint that Flannery was chosen because of his financial industry experiences in creating value for shareholders.

In its reporting, the WSJ indicated that succession planning included consideration of both external and subsequently four internal executives including the CFO and heads of the power as well as oil and gas business units. As with all things GE, including the succession of former CEO Jack Welch, today’s announcement may serve as the prelude for other senior leadership or other organizational changes to come in the coming weeks and months. Their impact to ongoing initiatives, particularly the Digital Business and Industrial Internet initiatives is an open question.

It is indeed unfortunate that today’s Wall Street and investor environment remains one of a short-term focus and on individual reward.  Icons such as Dupont, Procter & Gamble and others must now constantly respond to such short-term thinking. Missing is a recollection that it took multiple years of internal investment and corporate-wide initiatives by Amazon to create the ultimate retail industry disruptor that the online provider and technology services provider is today. There again, Wall Street grumbled and grew impatient with near-term stockholder returns. Not so much today.

As a manufacturing and supply chain management social platform, we expressly tank Jeff Immelt for his visions, tenacity and understanding of manufacturing and supply chain needs, and that both truly matter in business outcomes.

We trust that John Flannery will take GE to its next dimension.

 

Bob Ferrari

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