What Business Leaders Can Learn from GE’s CEO Succession Plan

What Business Leaders Can Learn from GE’s CEO Succession Plan

Earlier this month, Jeffrey Immelt was replaced as CEO of General Electric after 16 years at the helm of the company. Much of the coverage has depicted Immelt’s stepping down as a result of investors losing confidence in his leadership after GE’s stock underperformed in the past year, as in this Bloomberg report, for example:

Amid mounting pressure from activist investor Trian Fund Management, GE said Monday that Immelt will be replaced by John Flannery, a 30-year company veteran who oversaw a jump in profits at the health-care unit. In a sign of just how great opposition to Immelt had become in the investing community, the stock soared the most in more than a year and a half after the announcement was made.

This was not a snap decision by GE’s board of directors, however. In fact, the planning for Immelt’s succession began not in 2016 or 2015, but all the way back in 2011. Susan Peters, Senior Vice President for Human Resources at GE, shared the company’s strategy in a LinkedIn post, illustrating a thoughtful process befitting a giant corporation responsible for hundreds of thousands of employees and hundreds of billions of dollars in assets:

First, we knew it would take years to move potential candidates through the leadership roles that would develop them. We began intentional moves of key leaders to give them new, stretch experiences with ever increasing exposure to complexity.

By 2012, we wrote the job description and then continuously evolved it. We focused on the attributes, skills and experiences needed for the next CEO, based on everything we knew about the environment, the company’s strategy and culture.

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