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Former GE CEO Immelt: 'In a crisis, you have to hold two truths'

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Jeff Immelt knows something about managing through crises. 

The former General Electric (GE) chief executive saw the industrial conglomerate through the post-9/11 period and the Great Financial Crisis. And he released a book, “Hot Seat,” earlier this year, defending his leadership after the value of GE dropped by $170 billion during his 16-year tenure.

Immelt, who is now a venture partner at New Enterprise Associates, told Yahoo Finance he thought the experiences he retold in the book could be valuable to other leaders.

“In a crisis, you have to hold two truths: You have to know that things could always get worse, and at the same time, you have to have vision that there is going to be a future that you need to invest in,” he said at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit.

Immelt also talked about the importance of “absorbing fear” and pushing forward. During the ongoing pandemic, he said, the companies that pulled back entirely on investment were unprepared to capitalize when the economy fired back up.

"I also think in this generation, all leadership is crisis leadership," he said. "From 9/11 through the financial crisis and COVID and Fukushima, my team and I experience lots of volatility and I thought some of the storytelling [in the book] and the lessons would be valuable to other leaders."

Immelt said he also wrote "Hot Seat" to tell a more complete story of his time at the company.

"The GE story is a complicated story," he explained. "And I think when you have a complicated story, you have to tell it fully and completely, and I didn't feel like that was happening in the context of GE. We won in our markets. We experienced globalization and digitization, but the market cap didn't grow, and all of us carry that as a burden as we go forward."

Jeff R. Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric attends a conference on June 15, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)
Jeff R. Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric attends a conference on June 15, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

As for the job of CEO, Immelt said, it's as challenging as it’s ever been. 

“For the first time in a generation, the leaders have to navigate inflation," Immelt said. "There is tremendous volatility in the global markets. They are expected to take a stand on social issues. There is an incredible need for improvement in diversity and equity. There are big problems to be solved in climate. These are all of the complexities that CEOs have to understand and have to navigate.”

Immelt’s comments come as the successor of his successor, Larry Culp, tries to find stability for GE. The shares reached a nearly three-decade low in May 2020, before rebounding by about 140%. Among other changes to strategy, Culp is about to complete the wind-down of the once-massive GE Capital business with the sale of its jet-leasing unit to AerCap Holdings for $30 billion.

GE reports earnings on Tuesday morning.

Julie Hyman is the co-anchor of Yahoo Finance Live, weekdays 9am-11am ET. Follow her on Twitter @juleshyman, and read her other stories.

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