In previous posts, I’ve talked about the need for setting a compelling vision for the corporation beyond just making money. Jim Collins writes about this concept extensively in Good to Great and Built to Last.
On June 26, we saw a wonderful example of one of the most respected CEOs in America, Jeffrey Immelt of GE, doing exactly that.
Steve Prokesch at Harvard Business Review gives some of the background in his blog:
A couple of weeks ago I met with GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt and we were talking about the financial meltdown, the deep recession, and what it would take to fix America. He was outspoken about how business and government had let down the American people and the need for radical change.
That’s fine, I said, but if he felt that way, why hadn’t he spoken up publicly? Immelt ran from the room and quickly returned with a speech he was working on–one he delivered last week at the Detroit Economic Club. This was his speech and not something he had fobbed off to a speechwriter, he told me.
After reading this post, I went and watched the speech, which will take you about 25 minutes of your life.
I was blown away. In this very traditional corporate luncheon setting, glasses and sliverware clinking, video cutaways to bored-looking attendees trying to remember where their 1 o’clock meeting is supposed to be, Immelt presented a deeply personal vision for recreating America, and his company in the process.
Immelt flatly rejected the notion that the transition of the US to a service-based economy is inevitable. In fact, his assertion is that the economic meltdown could be just the event to reinvigorate innovation and manufacturing in America.
A few of my favorite quotes…
When talking about the current efforts for reform in government:
Business must engage. Because status quo isn’t an option. The country has massive problems and social unrest. Fighting to protect the past is just wrong.
And Immelt challenging the notion that a global company can not also be a patriot:
It is possible for a global business leader to also be a good citizen. The primary job of business leaders is to build competitive companies that win over the long term in every corner of the world. To do that, business must shake off the short-term mindset that brought on some of these problems. We can’t blame Wall Street. We must have the courage to invest, and do it now.
I wonder whether Immelt feels a little bit like Jerry Maguire after he sent around copies of his “mission statement.” I don’t know. But, given the context for this speech was the announcement of a major GE investment in research and manufacturing in beleagered Detroit, it seems this is not idle talk. He plans to put the resources of one of the greatest innovation machines in the world behind his vision.
And that may represent the start of a brand new day for corporate America.