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Carroll School of Management

Boston Ecosystem

Jeffrey R. Immelt

Chairman and CEO, General Electric

Excerpt from remarks to Boston College’s Chief Executives Club  

March 24, 2016

TAKEAWAY: Why Boston  

HARTHORNE:
So GE is really famous for people management. Leadership development is one of the key underpinnings of the success of GE. So now you’re in Boston, how will you judge Boston as an ecosystem and community and contributor to the GE family, and what do we have to do to be in the top 20% contributors as a city, as you look out across the world?

IMMELT:
So, look, I think, as we went through the process—first, I’d say it’s a two-way street, right? So first here’s I think what we can do for you.

Clearly, the economics, the jobs, things like that—you know, I always tell people the most important thing any company can bring is competitive spirit. We want to win. We win. And we want to bring that competitive spirit for what we do. So we want to bring that.

Our people are—GE is a working person’s company. Our people give back to the community. They know what it means to go to public high schools. They know what it means to volunteer in hospitals and things like that. So I think you’ll find us a generous neighbor in town. So I think those are the things we can bring to the city.

Now, the schools and the startup ecosystem in Boston is amazing. More than 50 universities, lots of alums from the universities are with GE. I would say the historic startup culture is astounding. In some industries, the town does extremely well. And we want to be part of this ecosystem of universities and scholarship and in this sea of ideas.

But 20% of the S&P 500, as we sit here today, is from consumer Internet companies that are less than 20 years old. And they’re in San Francisco and Seattle. And almost all of their leaders went to MIT and places like that. So my thought is that there might be a chance to be a good convener here.

The next generation—if you look out 10 or 15 or 20 years—probably 20% of the S&P 500 is going to be the merger of data and physics. This is a real amazing, it’s called—you know, there’s buzzwords—industrial Internet and things like that—but it’s real. This is going to happen. And if Boston isn’t the headquarters of that flow, shame on both of us. It’ll mean that GE hasn’t done what we think we can do; it’ll mean that the town hasn’t done what it can do.

So you got another whole wave coming at us in terms of technology and change. It is equal to or bigger than the consumer Internet was 20 years ago. And Boston needs to get more than its fair share. And that’s kind of what we’re betting on.

We’re betting on our ability to kind of be part of that as it evolves and really, in the Boston setting, this was the genesis in this country of a lot of big iron, which we’re very comfortable with, but it also has to be equally good at the big data analytics. And there’s no reason why Boston can’t be that city for the next 20 years the way Silicon Valley and Seattle were for the last 20 years. And that’s our job—to do that together.