Wake Forest University Schools of Business welcomed one of the world’s best CEOs to campus on Oct. 4 for the Leading Out Loud Broyhill Executive Lecture Series. Jeff Immelt is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GE, a company that operates in 125 countries and employs more than 300,000 people worldwide. Barron’s has named him one the “World’s Best CEOs” three times.
Dean of Business Steve Reinemund introduced Immelt to a packed auditorium of students, faculty, staff and guests. So many came to hear Immelt speak that several overflow rooms also filled to capacity. Students, faculty and staff at the Wake Forest University Charlotte Campus watched the presentation via a live telecast.
Reinemund said Immelt has “achieved success with integrity” and despite the demands of being CEO of GE, he has always been generous with his time.
In his presentation “Developing Global Leaders for a Global Economy,” Immelt stressed to students that they must prepare to compete in a volatile, global economy. “You are going to graduate into a world that requires adaptability. It rewards people who know how to manage volatility.”
He said GE is a $155 billion company with 60 percent of revenue outside of the U.S.
“Understand globalization, don’t be afraid of it,” said Immelt. “You have to stay open, you have to stay curious, and you have to stay confident. Be willing to travel, to understand and to see different cultures. You can’t have the same fears that your parents might have about the world.”
The fundamental challenge our country faces today is one of competitiveness, according to Immelt. He told business students they have two essential tasks ahead of them. “One is to be a competitor and the other is to bring those people who haven’t had the benefits of a Wake Forest education along with you.”
Immelt became CEO of GE just days before the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. “That unspeakable human tragedy signaled the end of the old days and the beginning of a new world that was more volatile, less predictable and less U.S. centric,” he said. “I was scared for the country, I was scared for the company, but when you are the boss, no matter how you are feeling at any moment in time, you have to show confidence.”
In February, President Barack Obama appointed Immelt the Chairperson of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Reinemund asked Immelt, “When you got this pretty important phone call from the President, what did you say?” The audience erupted in laughter when he responded, “Mr. President, you do know of course I’m a Republican.”
Immelt explained, “I accepted the President’s offer because I thought it was really important that the voice of business has a presence inside The White House.” He said the Council is working to build confidence, momentum and excellence. “We are going to give to the President a great jobs plan and reach out to the business community and stay focused on our task. This is non-partisan and non-political. We just need to get it done.”
“The fire power exists to get this economy going again. What doesn’t exist yet is that sense of confidence,” said Immelt.
Immelt joined GE in 1982 and has been Chairman for the past 10 years. Since he began serving as CEO, GE has been named “America’s Most Admired Company” by Fortune magazine and one of “The World’s Most Respected Companies” in polls by Barron’s and The Financial Times. Immelt earned a BA degree in applied mathematics from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University.
Dean Reinemund, retired chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, considers Immelt an advisor, confidant and friend. Laughter filled the room when Reinemund commented, “Jeff, as a friend, it’s great to have you here, but it’s even better to have your team of GE recruiters here, because they have jobs for our students.”
Immlet’s presentation was the culmination of two days of events as part of GE Days at Wake Forest University. Recruiters met with students from the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences to discuss opportunities at the company.
Full-time and working professional MBA students from Winston-Salem and Charlotte learned about GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Program, founded by Jeff Immelt in 2002 to develop talented individuals with prior marketing and sales experience into commercial leaders at GE.
Representatives from GE’s healthcare division also conducted sessions about biomedical engineering and biotechnology opportunities.
Undergraduate business, Master of Science in Accountancy and Master of Arts in Management students learned about GE’s Financial Management Program (FMP) that provides two years of intense training in areas such as financial planning, accounting operations, auditing and business development.
Wake Forest alumnus Michael Maina (’98), who is a Senior Finance Manager at GE Energy, went through the FMP at GE right after graduating from the Schools of Business with an undergraduate degree in business administration. He has received multiple promotions during his 13 years with the company and leads the recruiting at Wake Forest for GE finance talent.
“The real learning is being able to adapt to different situations in a short period of time,” said Maina. “You learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Overall, more than 200 Wake Forest students had exposure to GE recruiters and executives during GE Days.