GE's Jeff Immelt, career fix-it man

Thu Apr 30, 2009 9:20am EDT
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By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Jeff Immelt has been fixing businesses since his first big job -- when the then-president of General Electric Co's appliance unit spent weekends crawling on customers' floors to help repair refrigerators.

That convinced Immelt, the 53-year-old chief executive of the biggest U.S. conglomerate, that he "was the worst screwdriver guy in the history of the company."

But it set the stage for a career in which he has been repeatedly called on to rework troubled GE operations, according to "Jeff Immelt and The New GE Way," by David Magee (McGraw Hill, $25.95).

The book follows Immelt, the son of a lifetime GE employee, from his first job -- a brief stint at Procter & Gamble Co where shared an office with now Microsoft Corp CEO Steve Ballmer -- through the October 2008 early morning phone call when he persuaded a bathrobe-clad Warren Buffett to invest $3 billion of Berkshire Hathaway's money in GE.

It comes at the end of a brutal year for GE shareholders. The global financial crisis has pounded the company's hefty finance arm, briefly in March driving GE's share price below $6 -- an 85 percent drop from their value before Immelt took the reins from Jack Welch in September 2001.

The worst financial crisis in decades has given Immelt the chance to emerge fully from the shadow of his famous predecessor, who was a darling of Wall Street in the 1990s, Magee said.

"He had that shadow over him," Magee said in a phone interview. "All of a sudden you're not hearing so much about Jack Welch and everybody is turning their attention to find out, 'What do we have here? Let's look at this plan, let's look at how this company is being reshaped for the long term and the future.'"

HULA HOOP   Continued...

<p>Jeff Immelt speaks during a function in Mumbai May 30, 2006. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe</p>