Founded in 1878 by Thomas Edison, General Electric is nowadays a leading business in electrical generation, distribution and use in America and in the world. The company has been experimenting successful business models since its creation, and its human resources policy has been considered for a century one of the most sophisticated. It consists in a strong focus on human potential through executive development to the top ranks of the firm: this performance based meritocracy has made GE a “CEO factory” for the company and for all corporate America. In 2001, Jeff Immelt, the company’s new leader was faced with the problem of how to keep this talent machine humming.
In the last half of the 20th century, four CEOS made GE’s HR management one of the most successful in the world. Confronted to a strong diversification (due to World War II), Ralph J. Cordiner (1950-1963) implemented a thorough decentralization of the business decisions, created the first corporate management university and heightened GE’s dialogue with its executives (self-evaluation, performance evaluation, career forecasts, succession plans…). His successor, Fred J. Borch (1963-1972) intensively diversified GE and accompanied the operation with the creation of the Executive Manpower Staff to centralize the high potentials of the company. Reginald H. Jones (1972-1981) first reduced the role of HR in strategic planning but ended up aggregating business groups according to the sector, thus facilitating again the succession plans. John F. Welch, Jr. (1981-2001) restructured GE and based the HR policy on the company’s performance through executive rankings and stock options. He heavily promoted the participation in corporate courses and later extended the company evaluation system to all employees (polls, open dialog…).
The “CEO factory” thus became effective when GE no...