Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading the Great American Company #BookReview

Jeff Immelt | February 2021 | 320 pp

Believe it or not, I don’t review every book I read, not even just the ones I like. Typically, the ones that move me in some way or another and up until this year, always fiction. This year though, Ive slipped into reading a few non-fiction books I’d like to share.

Hot Seat by Jeff Immelt

I worked for GE Healthcare during Immelts rise from leader in the Healthcare business to overall leader of GE. Some context, Immelt took the helm of GE after longtime, highly regarded Jack Welsh in 2001. 4 days later, the World Trade Center fell in a terrorist attack on 9/11. Eventually, this would cost the company an estimated $600 million in insurance payouts. Arguably, GE Aviation never recovered. There was also a $50M SEC scandal around accounting fraud and GE shares plummeted. Also, huge public backlash on GE’s ability to avoid paying certain taxes while still benefiting from government handouts.

Leading a company through any ONE of these events would be career making and interesting…to lead a company the size of mid-sized country through ALL of them (and many more) is mind blowing. There was no blueprint of best practices on 9/11/01 when the towers fell and the Pentagon went up in flames. When your planes are tasked with flying people around the globe and now, you have to make sure they aren’t being used as weapons of mass destruction, who do you call?

As soon as I heard about the book I wanted to read it. I had little expectation but, since reading it, im satisfied with what it was: a contextual retelling around some of the events mentioned. It was interesting to read about what was going through his mind during some of these events, perhaps what lead up to them, and from his perspective, his options.

He includes some great stories and really good, highlighter worthy, one liners.

What I would have liked to hear more of was ownership of his decisions. Instead, he vacillates between blaming politics, Jack Welch’s management style and prior decisions and the company’s Board of Directors and overall culture.

Being a leader myself, I know its complicated. Navigating a business (and yourself!) through 2020’s pandemic, political and civil unrest was and continues to be, difficult. There’s no blueprint for that shit either, which is why I know, at some point you are leading with your personal convictions and moral compass. It will be what you know for sure, right or wrong. In my opinion, that should make it easier for you to take ownership of decisions made. Apparently not for Immelt. Even with the benefit of hindsight and the ability to lean on the fact he was tasked with navigating the company through unprecedented craziness, he still blames it on circumstances and who’s ever standing closest. In some spots it almost reads as if he was a brand new employee on 9/11 instead of a legacy (his father worked for GE) and lifer, joining GE Plastics in 1982 when I was a toddler. 🤨😒 Ok. I was 9. Whatever. The man talks about having the meatball tattooed. Yikes. The point is, he was far from new to the culture and politics and was aware of what he signed on for.

I bought the audiobook for this and listened to it over the course of a weekend. The forward is in his voice but thats it. In my opinion, it would have been better in his voice. Again, my personal connection to the content probably makes me biased. I personally benefitted from his more liberal and better decisions, like increasing diversity among the GE workforce and encouraging strong participation in GE Affinity groups like the African American Forum Retreats. One year, at retreat, I stalked him in DC for a photo op and I bowled on his team during a team building event but, thats a story for another time.🤓 Those retreats were hugely motivating and hearing about them in his book sparked something in me that may give birth to something new, later. For now, I highly recommend picking this up and listening to one man tell about his experience having the weight of the world on his shoulders. Goodbook 23/2021

3 Comments

  1. Good question. I typically avoid themes of child abuse, sexual abuse, misogyny, glorification of slavery and/or exploitation of black poverty or pain. With that said anything can be written in a way that touches these themes but not completely engulfs the story. S.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You mention that a book has to move you in some way for you to want to review it and that you don’t review every book. Is there anything that is an instant decision maker for NOT reviewing a book?

    Liked by 1 person

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