When Jeff Immelt ordered me to write this tribute, I was honored. He then made it clear that there was a GE washer-dryer in it for me if I bumped it up to "deeply honored," and an MRI machine if I worked in a reference to his "catlike reflexes."
According to Wikipedia, Jeffrey Robert Immelt was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, played football at Dartmouth College and earned his M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. Wikipedia goes on to say that Mr. Immelt spent his early career guessing people's weight in an unlicensed South American carnival. Yes, there's nothing like the Internet when you need fast, reliable information.
Jeff Immelt is my boss. In fact, he's my boss's boss's boss. My Late Night program accounts for roughly 0.00000002% of GE's empire, yet I've actually gotten to know the man and his family. This is because Jeff genuinely wants to know and understand the people who work for him. As much as I want to reduce any CEO to The Simpsons' Mr. Burnssinister and out of touchJeff Immelt, 52, defies the stereotype. He gives you the impression that he's equally at home at a research lab in Bangalore, a turbine factory in Schenectady, N.Y., and a dress rehearsal for Saturday Night Live. This is not a man in a bubble.
Two years ago, Jeff invited me to a small meeting to discuss the seismic shifts in network television. I remember the meeting for two reasons: 1) There were snacks. 2) At one point, someone asked Jeff a question about ad revenue and the movie business. What struck me was that Jeff simply said, "I don't know." No spin, no double-talk, no corporate-speak. I've met a lot of accomplished people, and I've always thought it's a sign of real intelligence when anyone with power and expertise admits he doesn't have all the answers.
Let's be honest: any attempt to humanize a $320 billion monolith like GE will probably be met with cynicism. It's easy for a CEO to pay lip service to "going green" or "corporate responsibility," but Jeff seems to genuinely care about finding the nexus between doing well and doing right. God knows, it's a job I wouldn't want, but I'm certainly glad he has it.
And as if all that weren't enough, the man has some serious catlike reflexes.
O'Brien is host of NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien
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