The risk in saving the world – General Electric edition (GE)

A guy I know writes software for energy rebates and building codes. It’s great world-saving type stuff, at one point there was even a feature that showed you how many trees you had to plant to offset the carbon footprint of your new AC unit. The more high-end your new machine, the lower your carbon footprint. He makes an awful lot of money to write this software for big companies and works long hours. From time to time he sits down with a couple of gin and tonics at night to work on his software and doesn’t have time to read his kids a story. “Tomorrow” he’ll tell them.

His wife likes to watch the morning news on the TV. She talks to the TV and has answers for all the problems in the world. Alan Garcia, Keiko Fujimori, Maduro, Trump, no problem in the world goes unsolved except breakfast for her kids, usually she leaves that to the maid.

When I recently shared some thoughts on the current situation at GE with a few of my former co-workers there, here’s what one of them responded:

I don’t blame Jack Welch for ruining the company, that’s not giving Immelt the credit that he deserves for what he steadily did for 16 years. Sure, the accounting was flawed back but at least Neutron Jack held people to some level of accountability. People got fired when they messed up. Immelt, and for that matter the whole corporate gang, was more concerned about looking good in the press; making sure we are known for our “diversity”, “equal opportunity”, LGBTA and how GE single handedly saves the world….bla, bla. He made very bad business predictions and based his spending and acquisitions on those. He gambled with $30 bil of the pension fund and lost. He should have been locked up, but instead he got a fat $211 mil retirement check.

People will debate Welch and Immelt and write books about GE. I suppose only the “corporate gang” as my friend describes them truly knows their motives. Were they liberal progressives at heart, did they enjoy the media attention, was it easier to talk about LGTBA rights than the corporate balance sheet, or did they think pushing a liberal agenda was good for sales of windmills, ECM motors and expensive light bulbs? Whatever the motive, they sure didn’t take care of their own house while they were busy saving the world.

One thing is for sure: be leery of any large organization – for profit or not – that peddles their “saving the world” ideologies while moving millions of dollars.

New Year’s missive for the General

Every year a few old friends from my previous job at GE are so kind as to check in around the holidays, exchange best wishes and such. Naturally there’s always some catching up on the latest happenings at what was once one of the most respected companies in the world. One of my friends wrote “I’m sure you’ve heard about the General in the news. Nothing good coming from there for over a year now”.

Here’s what I responded:

… I actually quit reading any and all news some time ago because I just got tired of reading how the world is coming to an end and everything is the fault of middle-age white men. Having said that I did know that GE is in bad shape. They’ve actually been in bad shape for a long time, were it not for the government bailout GE would have been bankrupt in 2008. I felt bad at the time I was there (believe it or not) for being so critical of the company and some of its management but I always felt that GE’s corporate culture was horrible. At least in the aviation business you guys are doing well because you’re building good products that the market needs but the people most responsible for its success (ie. the technical people) were always the ones with the least career opportunities whereas the ones that just look and sound good but couldn’t tell which pointy end of the airplane goes down the runway first were the ones with better career opportunities. Long story short it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that GE files Chapter 11 at some point (most likely a controlled type bankruptcy a la GM) which would wipe out the retail shareholders and significantly hit the “fixed” pensions of (ex-)employees like us. Jack Welch was really the bad guy here, with all his “financial engineering” he destroyed GE. Immelt was just to dumb or too timid to do anything about it, he only kicked the can further down the road and then made it significantly worse with some of his decisions. I mean, if you’re not fluent in French, you don’t launch head-first into the French corporate world. Here’s a guy flying around the world on a fleet of corporate jets, pulling in 8 (or 9?) figure paychecks, being a “jobs” advisor to the US Prez but he doesn’t know what anybody in a French cafe could tell you over 3 beers?! You could probably argue some of it was criminal, GE’s “financial engineering” clearly pushing the limits of acceptable accounting practices. Now you guys in aviation are like the spouse working a 9-5 job who just found out their ex ran up a $2M bill at a Vegas casino (in your name, while legally married, etc etc). I’m not saying they’re definitely going into Chapter 11 but you can’t rule it out either. Job-wise you guys should be safe but it does piss me off to think I might lose part of my pension while the schmucks responsible for the disaster got away with a fortune.

Anyway, don’t let it get to you. Here’s some pictures of the kids, would have you thinking that I lead a stress-free life with 3 well behaved kids. Entirely misleading to be sure.

https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B125oqs3q8sdOWe