Jeff Immelt – Author of Hot Seat, Former CEO of GE & Venture Partner at NEA

Episode 185

Want to know what goes on behind-the-scenes when leading a Fortune 50 company? Today’s guest Jeff Imlet, former CEO of General Electric and now Venture Partner at NEA, shares amazing stories and lessons from his career. From taking over GE days before 9/11 to leading and pushing innovation, something GE’s DNA wasn’t accustomed to. We also talk about navigating through crises and building the right teams. And finally, Jeff is the Author of the new book Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company. This episode is a treasure trove of lessons for entrepreneurs and leaders looking for guidance and inspiration! Catch it on the #TheKaraGoldinShow.

Resources from
this episode:

  • Enjoying this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow? Let Kara know by clicking on the links below and sending her a quick shout-out on social!

    Follow Kara on InstagramLinkedin – Twitter – Facebook

    Have a question for Kara about one of our episodes? Reach out to Kara directly at [email protected]

  • More links from Jeff Immelt





Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be, I

want to just sort of make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked out knocked out. So your

only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show. So join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, its Kara golden from the Kara golden show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest here. I’ve been a fan of his for many, many years and, and this is Jeff ml, who is the he’s a venture partner now at NEA new enterprise associates. But he was the former CEO of GE, and he is author of his fantastic new book hot see what I learned leading a great American company. And for those of you who are not as familiar with Jeff, as I was prior to getting introduced to him, Jeff, he’s best known for his time as CEO of General Electric. He also followed a gentleman who I read every single thing he wrote, jack wells. So we’re going to talk a little bit about following in those footsteps as well, which is definitely something that I think can be challenging for any leader out there who’s who’s thinking about that out or experiencing that. He’s now a venture partner, as I mentioned at new enterprise associates, and he’s also the author of this amazing book, hot seat, which we’re going to talk a lot about. And his memoir, like I said, is amazing. It recounts his experience in tough leadership as every story on this podcast does. It really goes through the nitty gritty what you learned along the way, because I think just by hearing from people what they did learn and about those challenges, that just makes us better. So nearly four decades working for GE, amazing. And one interesting fact, he was promoted to the CEO of GE four days before 911. So what an incredibly crazy time to go through that experiences, as well as as a new leader running the company that he did. He is also a professor at Stanford. So we’re gonna get to talk to him about that, too. So I’m going to be quiet now for just a couple of minutes and just welcome Jeff

Jeff Immelt 3:07
greencare. Thanks. Great to be with you. It’s It’s an honor as a consumer of hint, and a fan of yours as well. So it’s great to be with you.

Kara Goldin 3:16
Oh, thank you. Well, very, very excited. So let’s, let’s go back even before g so who was Jeff, who was Jeff as a kid? What where’d you grow up?

Jeff Immelt 3:28
So I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, kind of a classic middle class, upbringing. My father was a middle manager at GE. So I knew GE really from worth he worked there. 38 years. So I kind of had a sense for, you know, he made engines and big products and things like that. And I was kind of a I was a, let’s say the merger between like a math nerd and a football player. Those are the two things that kind of shaped my life. I was I was kind of studious and loved science and figuring things out and always loved that. And I was a big team sport athlete. So football, baseball basketball player did that throughout my entire life. I went to college at Dartmouth and I was a math and physics major. And I was a football player. Right. So So I did those two things. When I was in college, I graduated ran out of money. So I went to work for a couple years and I worked at Procter and Gamble and my office mate was Steve Ballmer, Microsoft, Sony, we were a great pals for 22 years old, decided to go back and get an MBA, which I did in 1980. And when I you know, I kind of thought about being a, you know, big company, small company, investor operator. I decided to kind of try To be an operator at a big company, because I figured I’d learn how to be a manager and kind of what the world was all about. And started that path in 1982 at GE, and, you know, kind of the rest is history. So I’d say like, I’ve always loved problem solving, I was never intimidated by figuring stuff out. And I always like working with other people, and working on teams and building teams, and in some way, shape or form. That’s what I did for 40 years.

Kara Goldin 5:27
I love that. Absolutely. Well, I always talk about, you know, team sports, and I don’t think people ever really described it this way, to me as it growing up, but I always wanted to be on a team where there were people who were better than me. Right? And, and I think that, that you’re always competing, but it’s not any fun. If you don’t have people on you, who are really, really great at something that maybe you think is impossible, so I was a gymnast. And so, you know, for me, I was my sports, the things that I was decent at, I can’t say I was Olympic level, but I was decent at vault and at bars. And I don’t even bars but for me, the balance beam was like in the floor exercise, I never could dance still can’t dance. And so I was very, very difficult for me. So but I always admired people. And they were, they were kind of my goal out there. But I always see it in leaders today. It’s team sport and knowing

Jeff Immelt 6:33
what it looks like, you definitely get that in sport, you learn what good looks like you’ve learned how to kind of team. But the other thing is you learn you learn failure. You know, like if you’re if you’re playing like I played offensive line and football, there’s at plays, let’s say in a game, looking if there’s any plays in the game, there’s like 20, at least that you screwed up. But you had to go back to the huddle, you had to get back with the team and learn

Kara Goldin 6:56
from your experiences.

Jeff Immelt 6:58
That’s where some of the things that. You know, it sounds trivial to say that sports is a life shaping experience. But it is a life shaping experience for a lot of things that are quite practical in nature.

Kara Goldin 7:11
Absolutely. So the first chapter of your excellent book, Hot Seat opens a few days before the beginning of your role as CEO of GE, why did you start there?

Jeff Immelt 7:24
Yeah, so you know, Karen, so I didn’t want to write a business book, I hate most business books, because they’re preachy. And I don’t think they’re very realistic. And so what I really wanted to do was tell a series of stories. In my case, you know, I can start with a great story, which is about 911. And again, one of the things I want readers to kind of understand is that we live at a moment in the history of the world where there’s just all these non synchronous events that are taking place all the time. So crisis leadership is really leadership today. And so I think, in chapter one of the book, you trip right into the crisis of 911. You see it through the eyes of somebody that’s been in a job for four days and four days only, and had all these dreams about what I wanted to do with the company and had been through one of most public succession processes in the history of the world. And, and the day I start, this incredible crisis takes place. And it really in some ways, reshaped the generation of people from I mean, we’re, we’re living with this Afghanistan crisis right now. And, you know, you talk about 20 years we’ve been there. And to be thinking about everything that’s happened in business the last 20 years, it’s it’s really staggering. So so I figured that was a good way to start the book, to take the reader right into here’s what crisis leadership feels like. Here’s the decisions I had to make. And, and hopefully captivating the reader to say, look, this is going to be a raw story. It’s going to talk about the ups and the downs. In in, in my case, I started with a crisis, not just for the company lead, but also for the entire world’s world, certainly the US.

Kara Goldin 9:10
Absolutely. And obviously, you were talking about, you’re the CEO of GE, which, you know, definitely lots of things are made by it’s not just about electric, there’s a healthcare division, there’s,

Jeff Immelt 9:24
we had insurance on 911, we owned aircraft, we had aircraft engines, we ensure the World Trade Center, and we cover it on NBC. So basically, we had a third of the company that was immediately impacted by this terrible crisis. And so let’s say two weeks after, let’s say, week after I started, we’re having these nightly kind of crisis calls on how we’re going to deal with the airlines who are all going bankrupt because of course, why aviation? Just shut down. So I would walk into a meeting with 20 people and we’d say look, if we don’t buy A billion dollars at this airlines bonds by 8am. Tomorrow morning, they’re going to go bankrupt. And I listen to the presentation. And I say, Okay, guys, what do you want to do? Me, I don’t really I don’t really know, kind of like all the dynamics, and we’d sit around and talk about it. And I was like you care at that time, I had a vice chairman, who was really experienced and very crusty and real chromogen, but a great guy named Dennis nerimon. And, you know, I’d have everybody leave the room. And I’d say, okay, Dan, is what do you think we should do? And he would say, let’s do this. And I’d say, Okay, we’ll do it your way. Right? Well think about it. But, you know, just billion dollar decisions every day on like, how do we keep airlines alive? What do we do? And, you know, you just have to, you know, what you find is in a crisis leaders show up. And sometimes the best role of leadership is to absorb fear, right? Do you have to be a shock absorber and not an accelerator. And I think if you’ve lived through COVID, and all the things you’ve had to do, all the things entrepreneurs have to do is frequently absorb the volatility so that you can just show your team a path forward.

Kara Goldin 11:11
Absolutely. You know, just thinking on that on that time. And frankly, for me, it was even, you know, March 2020, when I was I was definitely feeling a lot of what you described in the book, too, that how did you know how to lead? I mean, how did you know you had never quite been through that time?

Jeff Immelt 11:33
It’s a great question, because to a certain extent, you know, certainly looked by the time March 2020, turned around, this was like my fifth calculus given. So I was quite, you know, I could give advice. But yeah, you know, you have to go to root instincts, which are, you know, again, people are either good at absorbing fear, they’re not, people have instincts for showing up. I think communication has to get sharper. You know, really, you know, you have to lean into people you trust. And in my case, the people you trust the most are people that always put the company first, ahead of their own desires. And maybe the most difficult thing, if you think about March 2020, and somebody in your shoes, is you have to hold two truths at the same time, to be a leader, you have to have the truth that things can always get worse. And in some cases, it can get worse in a terrible way. But the other truth is, you want him to exist in the future, you’ve you’ve spent your life building it, you don’t want to give up on your dreams to build a platform or, you know, in your case, you know, deodorant, or suntan lotion, or things like that. So, you know, the best The advice I gave people in March 2020, particularly the ones that were the first time entrepreneurs, was learning how to hold two truths at the same time. You got to play defense, but you got to play offense. And you’ve got it, you got to be able to communicate the paradox between the two.

Kara Goldin 13:06
Yeah, I absolutely believe that. I mean, reading from the book, from your book, the hot seat, I loved this, quote, at the most crucial component of leadership, is the willingness to make decisions. And I think that recognizing those two pieces that things could get worse, but you have to move, you could move slower, but you can’t freeze.

Jeff Immelt 13:34
And you can’t worry about the critics. You know, in other words, I think, I think we live in a haters world, you know, and you’re gonna get criticized no matter what you do. And I think good leaders, they know how to listen, but they also know how to make you know, when to make the decisions, who to listen to. And, and, and who not to listen to. Right. So I think that’s, that’s the other part that you see, I think all the time, but particularly during a crisis.

Kara Goldin 14:01
Yeah, absolutely. Well, and the more crisises you go through, I mean, certainly you you were through some challenges before that. But the more you go through, you’re actually getting stronger. I was telling an entrepreneur the other day, I said it, they she was pretty bummed out by some conversations that she had had with a doubter, I call them you know, the critics and I said, Can you imagine how they would feel if they knew that they’re at, but the stuff that they’re saying to you is actually making you stronger, and a better leader? And she said, What are you talking about it? And I said, No, it’s it’s, it’s actually it’s building your, your resilience and your tenacity. And it I just made you laugh through this whole thing, but more than anything, you you will get through this and you will get

Jeff Immelt 14:54
through this. Right, essentially, and you have to show up, you know, in other words, I think, you know, I’ve been watching like, like every American you watch what’s going on? And who’s kind of showing up and leading and, and who isn’t. And, you know, I think picking your critics in and, you know, who’s criticism because I always used to like her I like to make decisions in a crowded room, you know, I didn’t like going with two or three people. Because I believe that that transparency was motivational particularly to good people. But if you if you make a decision in front of 20 people, there’s going to be three or four that disagree with you. But, you know, I think I differentiate between critics who were critical because they really wanted to find the right answer. And their voice mattered to me. And I differentiated on the other side, people that were critical, because they were just lazy. They were lazy. intellectually, they were lazy, personally, they just didn’t want to write and over the course of my career, you know, it. This is sounds crazy today, right. But in 2005, we started a clean tech initiative, we believed in climate change, we want to do something about it. The entire company criticized me, right?

Kara Goldin 16:07
Yeah. And that was early 2005. For that conversation.

Jeff Immelt 16:13
You know, it’s, it’s, it makes you look soft. You know, that’s it, but but I recognized that I wasn’t gonna listen to them, because most of them didn’t understand the science had kind of an old perspective on, you know, look, companies pollute NGOs are stupid, blah, blah, blah. And that life is changing, that world was changing. So I different always differentiated in my own mind. Who would I listen to? And who would I just let them talk with just say, Okay, now I hear you. But yeah, it’s, you know,

Kara Goldin 16:47
it’s interesting, many, many years ago, and it was one of my first roles was at a company called CNN and I was really fortunate to be able to work inside of CNN, when it was kind of a late stage startup. We didn’t even call it that. But it was maybe in 60% of households and the US, and the only reason why I knew about cnn as a 22 year old was I lived on the Upper West Side, and I couldn’t have television unless I had cable. And so I, I had to get it, because there were too many buildings around me. And anyway, I remember, Ted Turner would come into the office and and we all thought he was a little crazy. I mean, depending on the day, we thought it was really inspiring. But, you know, there were moments that, you know, he just kept saying the same thing over and over again, that the world needs 24 hour news. And, you know, we’re like, do they, I mean, there’s a lot of people that say, they don’t really, he doesn’t really need 24 hour news. But I think that that’s the other thing that I see in a leader is that they’re consistent, right? He believed it. And he put those stakes in the ground. And he kept saying it, and then ultimately, when the Gulf War rolled around, and you know, the leader of Iraq, reached out to the president and said, my, I see that my country is being bombed. All of a sudden, we all said Ted was right. But nobody was saying he was right, until there was like, an incident where they could catch up to him, and they don’t really see it. And, and I think that stories like that, you know, even even that that’s part of my own journey, right? Where I see the people that are a little crazy, the Steve Jobs of the world, they, you know, you right, where you’ve got a belief system, and at some point, you know, I’ve just learned to kind of listen to those people, right?

Jeff Immelt 18:38
This is the hardest thing that I have to work on with my students. Because they, you know, for good reasons, they get taught for two years that listening to everybody is what you should do if you’re a good leader. And by and large, that’s true, right? Why you should respect everybody, for sure. But I said, Look, you know, guys, I gotta tell you, I know, I got to know Steven jobs a little bit. He didn’t listen to everybody. I know you on musk a little bit. He doesn’t listen to every I know Warren Buffett a little bit. He doesn’t listen to everybody, right? So you’ve got to know what you believe in, you got to be consistent with your beliefs, you can still learn. And let’s face it, the people around you that you want their voice, but not everybody either understand your context, or cares about the company versus themselves. And as a leader, you got to filter those things out. There’s a lot of people you know, GE had 330,000 people when I retired. I love them. Right? And they’re amazing people and I and I owe so much to them. But there were a few that didn’t put the company first and it’s your job to kind of screen those those people out.

Kara Goldin 19:47
Yeah, definitely. So we talked about jack Walsh a little bit. So jumping into that role. I mean, what I mean, those are big shoes to fill. I mean, right? It’s like how do you do that? I mean, on the one hand, I mean, you talked about Afghanistan. I mean, I was just thinking about this as I was reading your book, too. I mean, I’m sure there’s a few people that are looking at Biden and saying, Well, if Obama was in I mean, this is what he do. Right? Like, did you? Did you ever feel like that? Were there were?

Jeff Immelt 20:19
No, it’s hard. But, you know, well, in 2000, was voted the best manager of the previous century by Fortune magazine. I mean, that’s, that’s 100 years, that’s. So the first thing I would say is I loved working for him, I learned so much from him. He was a, he was really a good leader, and a good person to learn from, but I didn’t want to be him. And, and the main difference was, that times were just so different. I knew they were, I had real strong instincts, particularly, you know, in the late 90s, that were missing out on some things that were going to be important in the future. And so, you know, the trick is, how do you bring an entire company with you, as you try to go to the places you think you need to get to, while never like pointing fingers, you know, cuz you always want people to be proud of what they’ve done. And certainly, you never want that, you know, somebody that famous but to say, look, we’re, we’re almost 80% inside the United States, a company our size, we’ve got a, we’ve got to be more global. We, we’ve lost our technology edge as a company, we’ve got to be more technical. We have almost no women in senior leadership positions, we’ve got to be more diverse, right? Our customers don’t really like us, we got to be close to the you know, and so I had these big ideas, where I felt like, you know, jack could either miss the boat or or just wasn’t contemporary. And and you wanted to bring people with you, while never say, you know, doing anything to whatever, denigrate his greatness, because, you know, he was he was a great fun person to work with.

Kara Goldin 22:04
Yeah, absolutely. Did he? Was he still around?

Jeff Immelt 22:07
Yeah, no, he was always right. Look, I think he always wanted to public life, you know, Kara, so he was on CNBC and stuff like that a lot. He was available, when I wanted to use him. And you know, there were moments in time, if you read the book, where we weren’t the best of friends. But every time for the 15 years, I ran the company, I had a really tough decision to make, I would call him and he would offer good advice. And, and so we always had, you know, we always had that kind of relationship. But throughout, but it’s, you know, it’s, it’s hard. It’s hard replacing a famous person. You know, if you if you have a choice in your career for your viewers, or replace a bob, it’s a lot easier.

Kara Goldin 22:51
Right, then you can it’s only up from here, so, yeah, absolutely. Well, I think, you know, obviously, the it reading the book, The biggest challenge, challenges were actually inherited. I mean, you don’t know it necessarily until lots of other things come into into play. But I think that, that as, as you started to dig in deeper, and things like innovation, and and we’re not as critical. I mean, what would you say? I think so often large companies, I’ve certainly met many, many leaders along the way, who have really kind of felt like they were answering to Wall Street around profitability versus investing in innovation. You know, clearly, even Coca Cola. We’re seeing them just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut to get closer and closer to profitability versus looking at innovating in any way. I mean, in my industry, I just how do you think about that today? Like, can you grow and be a kind of a growth company and innovative company and also focus on profitability? I mean, what what is it that

Jeff Immelt 24:06
this is the this is really a deep and important questions, it’s almost another another entire podcast, but, you know, I grew up in an era of professional management, really, and so, you know, what I was trained to do really was more what private equity people do today, you know, you were, you were, you know, invest a little bit of growth, take cost out, you know, hit these metrics, things like that. That wasn’t the kind of leader I wanted to be. But that was what I was trained to be, you know, I had a pretty good instinct, that we were heading into a technical era. And that and that the company, our company needed to be much more technical, much more global. And look, if you’ve looked at what’s happened, you know, in the, in the, let’s say, the subsequent 15 or 20 years, you know, I would say GE was a conglomerate. was founded on professional management. Apples, or let’s say Amazon’s a conglomerate founded on technology, you know, the conglomerates of this era are all are all really deep technical conglomerate. So that’s point number one, if if you’re not investing in technology, you’re not going to be leading anything for lawn. I think point number two is, look, if I wanted to start an all electric Aircraft Company today, I could raise a billion dollars right now going, they’re gonna worry about that. And they’re saying, we can’t afford that we can’t go that direction. You know, you’ve you’ve grown your company, you know, if you look at throughout the consumer product space, look, you can raise venture money to do anything p&g or Coke or Pepsi do today, that’s different. So I would say, if you’re a big company, and you’re not innovating and you’re not growing, you’re not recruiting the right people, you’re not attracting the right people, you know, you’re gonna get left behind. And it may not happen in a quarter or two, but it’s going to happen in a, you know, half a generation or something like that. So I see a lot, you know, because I’m a, I’m a legacy person living in a startup world. So there’s probably not a month that goes by that I don’t see, you know, CEOs of my old friends, who I have breakfast with at the rosewood or something like that, who are saying, you know, how do I get more FinTech? Or how do I get batteries? Or how do I get that? Or how do I get this, and that, to me is kind of the secret of the next five or 10 years, if you’re a legacy company, you’ve got to do enough innovation to protect your position. And if your startup, you know, I’d say legacy companies have never been more vulnerable than they are right now.

Kara Goldin 26:47
You know, I talked to many leaders who still I mean, look at the pandemic, and they’re cutting costs, they’re doing everything that you’re talking about around, you know, maintain profitability, and yet they know all these things, and they, and they want to act that way. But they don’t do it. Right.

Jeff Immelt 27:05
You got to find a way to have permission to change, right? You just the thing that impressed me about your book was how quickly like AOL became a bureaucracy. That’s the other that’s the other kind of, like, watchword is, you know, if you’re, you know, people in the valley, already looking like Google is an old company, I look at them as an amazing kind of what they say, Oh, it’s too bureaucratic. And so when I, I got a little chuckle, when, when I was reading, you know, I wanted to say like, you know, AOL was maybe eight years old. And through your eyes, they were already moving slowly and couldn’t make decisions. And that, you know, you had to rock the boat to get stuff done. And, you know, it’s just good.

Kara Goldin 27:51
Yeah. Well, and there were a lot of pieces of that as well, that I think is really interesting. I was I was actually on a podcast yesterday talking about this, that when I came into it, when I came into AOL, through an acquisition that started inside of Apple that a little known Steve Jobs concept, there was called on pissant inside of it, inside of Apple that was later called to market. We were acquired by America Online. But I mean, Steve Case may not want to admit this, or, or, or maybe he didn’t believe this, but he was number three to prodigy and compuserve. I mean, those were, you know, the online services that were that he was not, you know, there yet. And I think for me, supporting an underdog and supporting somebody that had a strategy and a mission that was that I believed in again, I had done this with, you know, CNN, and it just it felt very familiar. But I’m a I’m a builder, right. And I think that that’s what I’ve, I’ve shared with many business schools and and students and entrepreneurs along the way, understanding what you love doing and understanding, you know, the different types of people that are needed. I think I got to a point when I was a billion dollars in revenue, where they needed a manager, they needed something you really enjoyed mentoring and managing and I really wanted to just go blow things up some more and go builds more.

Jeff Immelt 29:33
You know, Kara, like, like, I always say, you know, we had, we had operators, we had analysts, we had builders inside ge. Extremely rarely, we had people that were all through, you know, I could probably name 20 in my 35 years there who I would consider to actually play, but that was okay, right. You know, there was a place and what you really had to do is see over time Like Jesus, you had to protect the builders, because everybody wanted to, you know, screw them up. You know, I had a guy named Omar Shrek. And he ran the ultrasound business for me and then went on to run that tronics. And he was a builder, he was a deep scientist. And 75% of my interface with Omar was protecting him, from the bureaucrats that wanted to show up every day. And he, he built, he built an ultrasound business from $100 billion to $4 billion a year. So if you can, if you can give a builder the advantages of a big company without bringing along the disadvantages of a big company, you can you can make things happen. And that’s something I think, Bezos has said pretty successfully. And Amazon has protected kind of this building culture, while still playing the big company game when they need to. And that’s a trick that’s hard to do

Kara Goldin 30:58
it and finding those people that are angels in many ways, and that are able to do that. I interviewed a gentleman. I’ve Ron Miller, have you ever met offer them? I know the name. Yeah. And so he just his book is just coming out. In a few weeks, I just interviewed him on my podcast. But Avraham was really kind of considered the grandfather of broadband. And he had that in Andy Grove at Intel. And where he basically was able to kind of do whatever he wanted to do, and, and he’s another one I’ve just admired for years, but you need those people when when you have those kind of people inside of your company, they don’t look the same. They’re known as misfits. They don’t. I mean, you know, that that very much is, I can relate in some ways to that as well. And and, and that was, you know, for me that the times that at AOL and sort of what they were going through, and then all my previous companies were folded into one and my husband worked for Netscape. And so he ended up coming in, and we were all part of the transition team. It was a it was a definitely a crazy time for for

Jeff Immelt 32:12
good, you know, look what works. You know, big companies can do amazing things when they really want it works. And I think you you raise the most important point, which is that technology is moving so quickly. And, you know, there’s just this universal wallet today, right? You don’t you can raise money to fund ideas. I think that’s what’s really different today than it was even 20 years ago, which is all good. All disruptive ideas get funded. And the ones you know, if you say, Okay, I worry about this, but we’ll never get to my industry because nobody will do it. There’s going to be somebody that doesn’t. That’s, that’s really terrible. That’s a terrible approach. Ron most boardrooms?

Kara Goldin 32:52
Yeah, no, at? Absolutely. And so you’re talking about boardrooms? How do you pick a board? What do you what do you think are the key components for picking that board?

Jeff Immelt 33:04
Yeah, look, I think there’s I think there’s maybe two or three ways to think about it. I think one is swimming, right. In other words, you want people that can bring relevant expertise to the company you’re trying to build, right? So in our case, somebody that new healthcare was very valuable, or somebody new globalization was very valuable, or towards the end of my career, like somebody that was new digital transitions and things like that those. So that’s kind of swim lane. You want people that have just good judgment that they they know when to speak, they know how to be collegial because it really are, there is really no hierarchy and a board room. You know, I was chairman, but I could get fired at any meeting, really. So I never acted like a chairman. And so you’ve got to you’ve got that. But the most important element of a board member is are they willing to put the company ahead of their own reputation? Everybody says they will. But you don’t know that until the worst day. You don’t know that. And so I tell all my, the CEOs I work with, look around the room. Picture the worst day you can possibly imagine in your life. And who’s going to stab you in the back? Who’s going to help you through that. And that, to me is the best attribute of a board. Two weeks after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. Washington Mutual, went bankrupt and destroyed the bondholders and we were getting crushed. Right. So we decided on a Friday night that we were going to go raise as much equity as we possibly could, which turned out to be $18 billion in 48 hours, right. So I had to do a board call on a Saturday morning. And you know, this was September 30 of 2000. And then, you know, maybe 15 people on the call and maybe

Kara Goldin 35:03
beautiful time

Jeff Immelt 35:06
trips into my conference room, and I’m like, Hey, guys, you know, you can probably see that, you know, we’re getting crushed, and lots going on in the world. And we’re gonna raise $18 billion. You can hear just silence on the phone. And then Roger Penske, who is an entrepreneur, racecar, racecar magnate, entrepreneur, great guy. He just so dead sounds, he says, You guys are right, let’s get the money. And then everybody else, 20 voices, let’s get the money, let’s get the money, let’s go. But without Roger, I might still be in that conference room, you know, 15 years later. That’s the kind of people you want on the board, that always really put the company first ahead of their own reputation. And you never know that until you’re at the worst day of your life. And, you know, that’s, that’s what people like you have to do, right? Because there’s gonna be, you’re gonna have lots of great days ahead. But you’re gonna have a few shitty ones. And you’ll just want to you need a few people that are with you on that day.

Kara Goldin 36:09
And I think even if you disagree with them, knowing where they stand, I think that is that is the other thing that is is so critical. I mean, I’ve said to entrepreneurs, I’ve seen many things along the way. And it’s like, I appreciate when you actually know where people stand, and whether in a boardroom or outside, because so often, you know, when they’re just saying what they think will make you happy, then that’s not good, either. Right? It’s just

Jeff Immelt 36:42
10 or 11, it was clear that we weren’t gonna be able to stay in GE Capital unless we bought a bank. So I had a board meeting. And what I used to do my board meetings was a really tough decision. We had a bank who were going to buy it, so I would go to each board member and ask them to speak individually, to hear their own voice. We went around the table. The vote was like 14 and one in favor. And and the woman who was against it was Shelly, like, surely lives are so I love and she was so articulate. I said, You know what? I’m gonna do the deal. Because Shelley so articulate. She’s so right. You know, are you are you guys okay? If we don’t do it this way? Right. And my GE Capital guys were angry as can be. But to your point, you know, you need these true voices. Yeah, nothing’s coming at it, you know, not from like, I don’t want to be in a bank or stuff like that. It was just pure. Like, I don’t think it’s right for the company. I don’t think it’s right for the team, I don’t think we can manage it appropriately, you know, 100% pure. So you know, they’re hard to find, they’re hard to find you don’t know until the chips are down, or you’ve got a big deal you’re working on and things like that. And that’s important. Important, right. And the other thing I would say is what I was trying to do was complete transparency. So I would make the board go visit our businesses without me there. They had full access, if they wanted to see a team or meet a manager, or my team could speak with them without going through me. I think you owe your board kind of complete transparency. But what they owe you is that they’ve had access to transparency and full information. They can’t say, Well, I’d never heard that. Or, you know, I wasn’t aware things like that. So that’s kind of a good two way street. accountability, transparency.

Kara Goldin 38:44
I absolutely love this. So what’s it like? So you’ve moved from being inside of a company to being inside of, you know, the money side, as I as I call it? So what, how was that transition for you?

Jeff Immelt 38:58
You know, I thought I wanted to so I had a couple ideas. When I retired, I wanted to work with small private businesses. I wanted to work on disruption. And you know, you know, care my, my career didn’t end exactly the way I wanted it to. And I needed time to think I needed I needed just to get out of the line of fire. I needed time to think and you know, my wife and I had lived all over the world and every place but we’d never lived in California. And I and I convinced my wife I just said Look, I need, you know, we need time away from this. I need to get into a different vibe I need I need time to think. And so I know that in the 18 from years gone by and I wanted to I wanted to primarily healthcare, I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do. And so I I want to get away California was a good place to be. I want to work on healthcare startups. I wanted to work in venture. I wanted to really build a new a new network in Silicon Valley. And looking back over four years, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s just been. You know what I mean? I think if you read the book, like, like I said things, things didn’t work the way I wanted to do. In many ways, my heart got broken numerous times. But you can keep going, right? I wanted to keep going. I didn’t want to give up, I wanted to keep learning. And I’ve loved I’ve loved NDA. And I would say, you know, like, small companies want to get big, I can help them with that, right? I’m not going to write code or, or I probably can’t help you build a brand. That’s something you know how to do. What I can help you think about, how do you go from 150 billion to 500 million or billion? Or, if you if you want to take him to China? I don’t know what the direct translation is. He could use you know, what your water sources gonna be? Two would be awesome. I can help you do that, right. And then big companies want to get small. So I, I can also have big companies try to think through what’s digital transformation going to be like, and things like that. So I’ve enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed teaching, I think teaching has been great. So yeah,

Kara Goldin 41:18
and what exactly did you share a little bit what your role is at Stanford, then?

Jeff Immelt 41:23
Yeah, so we teach a course called systems leadership, I have a co teacher who’s a guy named Rob Segal. And it’s basically a course on disruption. We have 10 classes, and we bring in five startup CEOs and five legacy CEOs, we try to talk about, you know, how the legacy companies are trying to, you know, you know, like, we will have an automotive CEO, and he or she’ll talk about how they’re trying to do autonomous vehicles or electric vehicles. And then we’ll have, you know, a startup battery company, talk about how he’s, he or she’s trying to sell to the automotive industry. And so it’s basically a course on disruption, we teach through the eyes of the founder and the CEO. And I think my hope is that it makes our students a little bit smarter, a little bit less judgmental, and gives them a little bit more confidence that they can figure it out on their own. And we’re going to have to,

Kara Goldin 42:18
yeah, such a, such a great program. And you’re such an amazing leader with, you know, clearly known and I love absolutely meeting you, because you You are all about head and heart, but you’ve also seen a lot and, and you own your mistakes along the way to or Own your challenges and what you learn from those along the way. And I think it’s just you’re, you’re known as a real person and an authentic person. So for, for me as a leader, you know, I’ve learned a lot just by reading. I mean, look, for me, GE has been all that you’ve done around automation, I mean, something that I had turned in my manuscript before, march of 2020. And, and it was, it was really the stuff that we had done for years prior that got us ready for the pandemic, we did a lot around automating our supply chain, when others in the beverage industry weren’t doing that. And that ultimately, we did it because we’re doing a preservative free product, when the beverage industry in general uses a lot of preservatives, and I didn’t want to use preservatives, and so we wanted to get people out of the room. It’s like, you know, beginning science like bacteria, somebody sneezes, they don’t even have to be sick, but during a pandemic, that really saved us. So I think for me, it was you need people who are you know, tactical leaders, I think as as you’ve shown, you have the ability to kind of roll up your sleeves and get it done. But then also people that have had an heart and and gotten rely on, you know, other people, trusted people, I just feel like you’re you have so much there. So these students are lucky for sure. I wish I was able to go and that’s what I said, I think I need you as a teacher sometime. So I would love it I’ve actually I keeps saying actually one of those schools in in England actually said when when you decide to to leave Hinton and I don’t know when that will be, but they said you can come and come back to school and I’m like, Don’t tempt me because I think I might, I might come and

Jeff Immelt 44:38
I saw your book, Kara that I hope comes from HUD see, that I think people can learn from is you’ve got to own your own narrative. Really. And it’s not, it’s not for yourself, like in other words, you and I, we’re going to do okay, we’re going to find, you know, different things to do in our life, but the people we’ve touched and worked with and work you know, work so hard for You’re speaking for them as well. And if people why about them if people aren’t true to them if people aren’t treating them the right way, you know, good leaders have to go in the alley sometimes and, and and fight for their teams. And I think that gets that gets lost. I think in this you know, in this world of social media and political correctness people lose sight of the fact that sometimes look, you got to fight for yourself and and and you got to be willing to do that. And and I think I read that in your book and I hope people that read hotseat see the same thing?

Kara Goldin 45:37
Yeah, absolutely, well, such an incredible book, I want to encourage everyone, I’m actually gonna go back and read it for the second time, I have a flight tomorrow. And there’s parts of it that I want to read, you actually sent me an email about shoe dog, I think I read shoe dog 12 times. I mean, I kept going back and, and I’d love to interview Phil Knight at some, at some point.

Jeff Immelt 46:05
Luke has a lot of that. And I I’d say the best story that I saw in your book was what you did when you lost Starbucks account. I think every entrepreneur should read that. I forget the name of the chapter. But you know, those are the things that are just much reading project or anybody really, but how you act? When those things happen, I think is critical.

Kara Goldin 46:28
Yeah, absolutely. And even, you know, over over time you start I mean, our, our direct to consumer business has tripled during the pandemic. And, you know, I talk about, I connect the dots back to Starbucks. And, and again, when you’re in it, when you’re in those challenging and hairy times, you wish they would stop and go away. But I think that if that wouldn’t have happened, Amazon for us, and our beginnings of e commerce wouldn’t have happened and, and then our own direct to consumer business, which is half of our business of our company now is direct to consumer and, and so I’m grateful, you know, that, that that Starbucks, you know, that’s where it all started.

Jeff Immelt 47:16
The other lesson is, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an entrepreneur, say, my customers an idiot, you know, or else they’d buy more. And I always say, I wouldn’t use that approach. You know, they’re telling you, every time you lose a deal, or every time it goes slowly, they’re telling you something about you go by yourself. And I and I feel like that is a huge gap among the venture capital community. And, and you deal with it show adroitly I think, in the book, but again, it’s, I take it back to my cousin, Stanford, young people, they everybody today, they want storage, they want to see what it feels like they don’t want to be lectured to. They don’t want checklist, you know, they don’t like getting that stuff they wanted. They wanted raw. And they wanted real. And I think that’s, you know, no matter what you do, and that’s what you got to tell that’s, that’s what you have to that’s how you get your message across.

Kara Goldin 48:11
Well, and I felt that way, just about your book as well, that I didn’t feel I it’s a style issue that some books have. But what at the end, when they say here’s what you should have learned about this, it makes me mental, right? Because I think they do they just think I’m stupid as I’m reading this book. I mean, why don’t you allow me to take what I want from this chapter? What are the lessons and I think that that, for me has been, you know, really rewarding to hear people, you know, remember the Starbucks story, remember the, you know, the financial crisis and dealing with my investors, and you know, and all of those things. It’s, you know, they weren’t pretty when we were going through it, but we got through it. And we figured a lot of stuff out along the way. And I think it’s it’s a anyway, so many lessons. So hot seat, by by by this book, or listen on Audible. And definitely, Jeff, you are just this amazing leader that I feel so fortunate to be able to have you here and I cannot wait to watch more of what you do. And very, very excited. So everyone thinks you’re listening. We’re here every Monday and Wednesday with amazing, amazing leaders who share a lot of their stories. And I would love it if you would all buy a copy of hot seat. And definitely, Jeff, thank you again for coming

Jeff Immelt 49:43
again. Really, really a pleasure and I hope to meet you in person someday.

Kara Goldin 49:47
Absolutely. Thanks, everyone. before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders, but achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book calm and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time, you’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight? send me a tweet at Kara golden and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara golden thanks for listening