The implications, opportunities and challenges of increased longevity are beginning to dawn on many companies, as our Silver Economy series is revealing. But here is one that I don’t believe chief executives have yet focused on: the increased risk that your predecessor, and possibly his predecessor’s predecessor, will still be around to snipe at your strategy.
Stephen Immelt, brother of Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric, has become the second Immelt to lead a multinational organisation – in his case the law firm Hogan Lovells.
Jeff Immelt has given his brother some advice on how to do so. In an interview with The Lawyer magazine, Steve says Jeff has a rule of three-to-five for managing GE:
General Electric’s thinking on leadership has shifted, according to an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal: from breadth to depth. The WSJ writes:
[GE] for decades had made a rigorously applied but generic management tool kit central to its identity. Like all companies, GE wants some of both traits in its leaders, but the balance has tipped toward expertise.
I’m doubtful that the shift is quite as earth-shaking as the WSJ implies. Expertise is one of several attributes GE has long sought in its leaders, along with External Focus, Clear Thinking, Imagination & Courage, and Inclusiveness. In his 2010 letter to shareholders, chief executive Jeff Immelt added some new ones – including the eccentric-sounding goal that its leaders should be “humble listeners”. It already adds up to a pretty demanding checklist, as I wrote at the time.
When it comes to his annual letter to General Electric’s shareowners, Jeff Immelt is no Warren Buffett. Not for him the jokey anecdotes and fables preferred by the Omaha billionaire in his own yearly communication. But the GE letter is still worth a read, if only because of the industrial group’s status as a training ground for future chief executives of global companies.