All aboard! Mr. Immelt goes to Washington

Thu Feb 5, 2009 11:33am EST
 
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By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jeff Immelt leaves the corporate jet behind when he travels to Washington.

The chief executive of huge global conglomerate General Electric Co says he is mindful of the way rich CEOs are perceived these days, and when he travels to Washington on business, he takes Amtrak.

"We have to be cognizant of the fact that people are really angry," Immelt told a group of investors and media at a Wall Street Journal event on Thursday. "They blame us, they blame guys like me, we have to be accountable."

Then, asked what the environment was like in Washington, Immelt sparked loud laughter when he said:

"First of all, I take the train when I go there. Somebody had to show me how to buy tickets. I'm sitting in the first class lounge over at Amtrak, these guys are going past me three or four times, saying, 'You're not Jeff Immelt."

Corporate executives have come under fire in recent months for perks that used to be commonplace. Last year, the CEOs of U.S. automakers looking for a Washington bailout drove from Detroit, after their earlier trip via corporate jets offended some lawmakers.

More recently, Citigroup had to cancel plans to buy a $50 million jet to appease critics who said such luxuries are inappropriate for companies looking for taxpayer help.

As for Immelt's impressions of Amtrak's first-class amenities:

"It's instant coffee, but it's free, and there's a bag of pretzels that comes with it."

(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)

 
<p>General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Immelt listens during a news conference in Beijing May 29, 2006. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV</p>