GE's Immelt May Have "ecomagination," but He Needs Project Managers for Jumbo-Sized Ideas

In a wide-ranging interview in Harvard Business Review (June 06), General Electric CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt talks about the hybrid locomotive and other "imagination breakthrough" projects that will take the company into a new era of emissions reduction and energy efficiency.

Projects like the upcoming diesel-electric locomotive require a huge capital investment in R&D, and managing these projects is stretching GE's legendary management team.

From the interview: "Looking at the evolution of the hybrid locomotive, we're talking about tens of millions of dollars. For the program manager, it's huge, the most massive thing he's ever managed...we don't have enough sophisticated product managers and great systems engineers to put in charge of high visibility programs...If there's a $100 million investment project, we might, out of the 310,000 people in the company, have 30 who really know how to spend that amount of money effectively. That's probably not enough. It has presented an organizational weakness."

As the world's biggest companies give sustainable business a look, there will be challenges at every turn. Immelt has the ideas, the technology, the cash and the commitment to turn green ideas into big profits. The next hurdle: a talent shortage, on a team with arguably the deepest bench in American business.

Implementation hitches aside, Immelt’s moving forward rapidly with the ecomagination rollout. One of his early success stories is the all-new GEnx jet engine, a hit product that will enable the new Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 jetliners to use 20% less fuel than the planes they will replace. GE's milking ecomagination for all it's worth, via a major PR campaign courtesy of New York consultants GreenOrder.

(For a look at the small entrepreneurial company that's beating GE to market with a diesel-electric hybrid locomotive, check out the website for RailPower Hybrid Technologies Corp, maker of the Green Goat.)

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2 Comments

  • MylesK

    Hmmm...think GE might find some engineers in China? After all, they're a TOP sponsor of the Beijing Games.

    And they wouldn't be the first...look at what Google is doing.

  • Chris

    Other organizations are in this same bind.

    NASA doesn't have the PM talent for programs that go into the hundreds of millions...thus the failure or loss of many spacecraft.

    DoD agencies have similar issues.

    The Defense Acquisition University has many classes designed to improve DoD...and they are quite good. Kudos to DAU.