What Sells (?)

“Two years ago, General Electric Co. Chairman Jeffrey Immelt vowed to make GE a corporate leader in addressing climate change. Since then, Mr. Immelt says, he's heard a refrain from some big GE customers: 'Can't you just shut up and sell us stuff?' That would be a paraphrase, maybe with a few blanks in between.

“Customer grumbling isn't the only hurdle facing the effort to bring earth-friendly policies to a $163 billion-a-year conglomerate that sells everything from airplane engines to light bulbs. Some of Mr. Immelt's underlings have questioned whether carbon-dioxide emissions are a proven cause of climate change.

“And he himself is willing to push GE only so far. ‘I don't want to change the economic flow of the company,’ Mr. Immelt says. So GE continues to sell coal-fired steam turbines and is delving deeper into oil-and-gas production. Meanwhile, its finance unit seeks out coal-related investments including power plants, which are a leading cause of carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S.

“Yet these limitations haven't stopped GE from making a big marketing to-do of its commitment to the environment. Indeed, the primary focus of the conglomerate's marketing efforts these days is a $1 million-a- year campaign to publicize its search for ‘innovative solutions to environmental challenges.’

“GE has dubbed its campaign ‘ecomagination,’ and Mr. Immelt calls it a success. GE is on track to sell $14 billion of its self-described environmentally friendly products this year, and projects the total will grow more than 10% annually through 2010. GE says it reduced its own greenhouse-gas emissions by 4% between 2004 and 2006, even as revenue grew 21%...

“His own lieutenants acknowledge that Mr. Immelt is creating friction. ‘Is there a tension there? Of course there is,’ says Lorraine Bolsinger, who runs the ecomagination program. ‘This is a big tough issue. The whole world is moving in a new direction. We've got to try to keep pace.’

"GE is ‘looking toward the future but they are not yet giving up all of the past,’ says Dan Bakal, director of electric-power programs for CERES, a coalition of investors and environmental groups.”

(“Greener Postures: GE's Environment Push Hits Business Realities; CEO's Quest to Reduce Emissions Irks Clients; The Battle of the Bulbs.” Kathryn Kranhold. Wall Street Journal: September 14, 2007. pg. A.1)

THE TEST over time is how one works toward balancing competing demands and apparently conflicting priorities. This appears to be one of the core capabilities for successful leadership in our age.

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