The company already has 305,000 employees but it plans to add 16,000 by the end of next year. Its business lines include aviation, appliances, financial services, energy, and health to name a few. It is the largest producer of commercial jet engines. Fortune has declared it one of the world’s most admired companies.
In spite of all that success, GE continues to retool for the future. The company does this because it understands how important it is to be proactive, prepositioning itself so that hindsight will declare, “perfect!” That is not easy to do. Nevertheless, GE is committed to doing it.
The company’s leadership drives that commitment. Jeff Immelt is GE’s CEO. Erika Fry describes Immelt’s passion for research and development, a commitment so many other companies have learned is crucial to long-term success (“GE Gets Back to Basics” Fortune, May 20, 2013, p. 31):
“A stat that CEO Jeff Immelt loves: GE doubled its R&D budget over the past decade. He backs that up with a pledge to be a company that can develop a new engine and gas turbine not every decade, but every year.”
Immelt’s situation offers some excellent leadership lessons:
Future Guarantees—A company’s future is never guaranteed. To be successful, leaders must constantly work to create that future. If you do not build your organization’s future, someone or something else will, but that does not mean you will like it.
Maintain Momentum—Although a company should never rest on its laurels, it can still capitalize on prior successes to fuel momentum. Leaders recognize when the wind is in their sails, and chart the course accordingly.
New Challenges—Complacency and satisfaction with the status quo are the afflictions of all human organizations. Immelt knows this. That is why he is championing a new engine or gas turbine every year. Once a decade is old news. An annual accomplishment will definitely keep everyone challenged enough to flush out complacency and satisfaction with the status quo.