REV: JUNE 30, 2008
CHRISTOPHER A. BARTLETT
BRIAN J. HALL
NICOLE S. BENNETT
GE’s Imagination Breakthroughs: The Evo Project
As he prepared for the December 2006 meeting with GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt, Pierre Comte faced some difficult decisions. Only eight months into his job as chief marketing officer (CMO) of GE’s Transportation business, Comte would be presenting Transportation’s recommendations on some of the most visible growth initiatives in its locomotive business—projects that had been designated “Imagination Breakthroughs.” IBs, as they were called within GE, were new projects with the potential to generate $100 million in new business within two to three years, and were a key part of Immelt’s organic growth strategy. At the IB Review, Immelt expected to hear how Transportation was progressing with each of its locomotive IBs and what plans they had for their future. Within GE Transportation, however, the future of several IBs had been a source of considerable debate, with none more sensitive than the Hybrid locomotive. Launched two years earlier in the belief that it could become a disruptive technology that could redefine the industry, the Hybrid had struggled to develop cost-effective performance, and some of its key sponsors were beginning to wonder if resources should continue to be committed to it. The ongoing debate had resurfaced in November at a growth review meeting in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Transportation’s CEO John Dineen asked Comte and Brett BeGole, head of Transportation’s Locomotive P&L unit, to describe how they planned to update Immelt on the Hybrid IB. BeGole, an experienced and effective business leader, explained that problems with the cost and performance of batteries had made the project’s future highly uncertain. Feeling it was sapping resources from more profitable growth opportunities, he wondered whether it should be sidelined until the technology was further developed. Comte was uncomfortable with that proposition. He felt that the Hybrid represented a real opportunity for GE to lead fundamental market change, and that sidelining the project could cause it to lose the resources and attention it needed at this critical stage of its development. He also worried about Immelt’s reaction, especially since the Hybrid was one of his favorite IB projects. But while he knew that the IB process was designed to encourage risk-taking, Comte also realized that at the end of the day, it had to be commercially viable. In GE, the bottom line always mattered. As Dineen listened to his direct reports, he understood the source of their differences. BeGole was responsible for the profitability and growth of the Locomotive P&L unit, and would be held accountable for its bottom-line results. But Comte, with his mandate to develop market knowledge and competitive intelligence, had been asked to challenge and stretch the existing organization. Indeed, Dineen recalled telling his new CMO, “Pierre, your job is to make marketing ‘the point of the ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Professors Christopher A. Bartlett and Brian J. Hall and Research Associate Nicole S. Bennett prepared this case. Some company information and data have been disguised for confidentiality. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Copyright © 2007, 2008 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-5457685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the...