Lessons for SMEs from General Electric

Later this year Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE will stand down after 16 years leading the company through a significant change process, while increasing earnings by a multiple. Immelt has given a rare interview outlining the lessons he has learned over this journey. Although GE is a large Global B2B company, some of these lessons apply to UK SMEs

Immelt lists 7 key lessons he and his team have learned, 5 of which are summarised below:


Focus on what the company does best. Ensure initiatives are connected. Develop a deeper business portfolio, rather than a broader one. This will almost certainly require analysis of product / service line profitability segmentation. Focus on the important issues, not only the urgent ones.

2.Anticipate (or lead)

While it is less easy for an SME to lead a major trend, being prepared for developments that will affect your company is critical. But don’t over-react to transient fads; absorb information, analyse and then act.


Not everything will go well and if one door closes, open another. Sometimes it is easy and quick to unlock value. Do this when available. But creating value will take more time. Don’t lose patience.

4.Listen to staff and customers

Make time to talk to all levels of staff and ask your top customers what is important for them. You may be in charge and have strong and frequently correct views, but be prepared to adjust your plans if what you hear is contrary to your views.

5.Employ diverse talent

Recruit people with different views into your company. Women sometimes think differently than men. Younger people have different habits and interests than older people – and young people get older each day. Don’t get hung up on ritual internal HR processes. Engage with your employees. Performance management is a continuous process. Hard work but worth it!

One significant lesson learned from applying these principles resulted in a change of approach to selling. GE learned from customers that what was most important to many of them was not the GE products or services themselves, but the outcome they delivered. Many customers said that improved outcomes would persuade them to change suppliers. This was something GE staff were not brought up to offer. But they changed approach, gained customers and, through the enquiry process, re-focused their product development. 

Tinderbox specialise in helping  business become more successful and profitable.  For help and practical advice on any of the above points, contact us or on 0116 232 5231

David Beer

Partner, London East





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