Above: Part one of Jeffrey Immelt’s Botwinick Prize acceptance speech on October 24. Watch the speech in its entirety.
Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, visited Columbia Business School on October 24 to receive the Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics, which is organized under the auspices of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics and its director, Professor Bruce Kogut, the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Professor of Leadership and Ethics.
The three keys to ethical leadership, Immelt told a capacity crowd at Riverside Cathedral, are keeping the company financially safe, operational excellence and protecting the future. He shared his thoughts on the industry’s future, citing its need for “a regulatory structure that is industry focused, led by domain experts” as well as more investment into technological research and development. He also encouraged the education of more engineers.
GE spends $6 billion annually in R&D, Immelt said. While this investment may not show returns on GE’s near-term balance sheets, it signals Immelt’s intent to lead the company into a clean energy future. He said:
We can make a clean energy future. This is an extremely solvable problem. Most of the technology is on the shelf today. There’s been a pitiful amount that’s spent in energy technology over the past 25 or 30 years. Even if the price of oil is considered low today at around $70 or $75 a barrel, maybe half what it was two months ago, it’s still four times higher than it was the previous 25 years. So the need to create this clean energy future, I think, is both a social imperative as well as an economic windfall for the people that figure out how to do it, and in my mind should be job one of the next administration because it’s so highly solvable. It requires investment in renewable technology; it requires rejuvenation of core technologies like clean coal, nuclear power.
It requires a build-out of the national grid. It requires the evolution of new technologies like battery and solar and technologies like that. But I would say in the next 10 or 20 years, countries like the United States and much of the developed world can really develop an energy infrastructure that is diverse, that is protected, that is economical and that can create lots of jobs while we’re at it. So the first thing I would say in our new society, in our innovative society has got to be an incredible focus on energy because it’s so solvable.