A memoir of successful leadership in times of crisis: the former CEO of General Electric, named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s, shares the hard-won lessons he learned from his experience leading GE immediately after 9/11, through the economic devastation of the 2008–09 financial crisis, and into an increasingly globalized world.
In September 2001, Jeff Immelt replaced the most famous CEO in history, Jack Welch, at the helm of General Electric. Less than a week into his tenure, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and the company, to its core. GE was connected to nearly every part of the tragedy—GE-financed planes powered by GE-manufactured engines had just destroyed real estate that was insured by GE-issued policies. Facing an unprecedented situation, Immelt knew his response would set the tone for businesses everywhere that looked to GE—one of America’s biggest and most-heralded corporations—for direction. No pressure.
Over the next sixteen years, Immelt would lead GE through many more dire moments, from the 2008–09 Global Financial Crisis to the 2011 meltdown of Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, which were designed by GE. But Immelt’s biggest challenge was inherited: Welch had handed over a company that had great people, but was short on innovation. Immelt set out to change GE’s focus by making it more global, more rooted in technology, and more diverse. But the stock market rarely rewarded his efforts, and GE struggled.
In Hot Seat, Immelt offers a rigorous, candid interrogation of himself and his tenure, detailing for the first time his proudest moments and his biggest mistakes. The most crucial component of leadership, he writes, is the willingness to make decisions. But knowing what to do is a thousand times easier than knowing when to do it. Perseverance, combined with clear communication, can ensure progress, if not perfection, he says. That won’t protect any CEO from second-guessing, but Immelt explains how he’s pushed through even the most withering criticism: by staying focused on his team and the goals they tried to achieve. As the business world continues to be rocked by stunning economic upheaval, Hot Seat is an urgently needed, and unusually raw, source of authoritative guidance for decisive leadership in uncertain times.
Former General Electric CEO Immelt looks back on what he terms his "controversial" 35 years at the company in this page-turning if petulant debut. Spurred to action because of a "histrionic" 2018 article in Fortune that called him "inept," Immelt energetically recounts triumphs, failures, and the end of his time at GE in 2017: "I'd been about as brilliant as I was lucky, by which I mean: too often I was neither," he quips. Immelt started as CEO the day before 9/11, taking over for Jack Welch (who had no shortage of "idol worshippers," the author notes). His defensiveness about this transition shines through, and he points out that he took over "without speaking a single negative word" about Welch, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship. Immelt's account reveals the inner workings at GE, including efforts to clean up the Hudson River, corporate board issues, and the decline of GE Capital. Though it's presented as a leadership book (sections are headed with such koans as "Leaders Show Up" and "Leaders Manage Complexity"), instead of guidance Immelt opts for succinct, personal writing that often comes across as self-exoneration. Readers in search of a behind-the-scenes look at GE will be entertained, but those looking for business wisdom can give it a pass.