Jeffrey Immelt 2007 Commencement address



Thank you, Father Jenkins.Congratulations to the Class of 2007, and welcome to all of your family here today.I would also like to congratulate all of the honorees, each of whom is a leader in their field.The fact that you are honoring President Coleman fromMichigantells me a little something about your ability to forgive.

To the faculty, let me say thanks for the doctorate.If you had seen my grades in college, you might want to take it back!This is especially sweet because we have 400 Notre Dame alums working at GE – including 25 in the audience today, that also includes our CFO, Keith Sherin.You all worked really hard for your degrees, so me receiving this after being here for just a few hours really makes you mad.

I want you to know that I did have to take a test to receive my doctorate.The trustees gave me a choice.I either had to:

  • Provide a complete explanation of the universe through a unified field theory, tying together electricity, magnetism, gravity and quantum mechanics; or
  • Throw a football farther than Brady Quinn; or
  • Spell GE.

So, you see, I did work hard to earn my honorary doctorate here today.

Every one of you is extremely bright and talented.But I know that Notre Dame can be a grind.There isnt a graduate among you who hasnt struggled at some point to reach this day.Maybe it was the hard work of holding down a job to make your tuition payments … or the effort required to complete courses for your major.

Or, perhaps you were brought to your wits end just trying to figure out what time zone you were in around here … or, worse yet, searching for the elusiveco-eddorm at Notre Dame.

I have had a life-long fascination with your school.You represent everything that is right about this country … the scholarship, the values, and the excellence.I like recruiting Notre Dame students and I like televising your games.As a young boy, growing up inCincinnati; I used to hum the Notre Dame fight song while I was riding my bike to football practice.By the way, that was the closest I got to playing football here!

But even with my love for your school, I must admit that giving your commencement speech is a bit intimidating because I always assume that I wasnt your first choice.

For instance, I know that Bill Gates is speaking at Harvard.Stephen Colbert is speaking atKnoxCollege.Oprah Winfrey is atHowardUniversity.Bill Clinton is giving six commencement speeches this year!Last year, you had the president ofIreland.Actually, GE is bigger thanIreland, but I know you have a special, emotional connection with the Irish.Im sure there are flashier people you could have here today.But it could be worse.

For instance, Kevin Federline is speaking at theUniversityofArkansas.Game show host, Bob Barker, is atDruryUniversity.Sanjaya fromAmerican Idolis speaking at Purdue.He wasnt invited, he just shows up places.

So see, it turns out Im not such a bad choice after all.Actually, there are some positive aspects of having the Chairman of GE speak at your graduation.For instance, if any of you needs a large diesel locomotive right now, I can hook you up.—wholesale.

As the leader of NBC network and Universal Studios, I haverealpower.For instance, Donald Trump works for me.The entire cast of Heroes, The Office, and Saturday Night Live … work for me.The models onDeal or No Deal… yep, me again!Jerome Bettis and the entire Sunday Night Football team… also for me.And if you ever need help with anger management, Alec Baldwin works for me as well.

If these credentials fail to impress you, I will shamelessly add that I can give you a job.That sure got your parentsattention.

Like every CEO, I have been criticized by the best of them, from the Wall Street Journal to Fortune Magazine.You think that when you have a position of power, like a CEO, that people would be nice to you.Instead, you are only a bigger target.Let me read you a few letters I received just this week.

Here is one about NBC.

Dear Mr. Immelt,

I find that NBC is too liberal.I would rather watch Fox News.

This is anotherdoozy.

Dear Mr. Immelt,

What is wrong with my stock?By the way, you are also overpaid!

And here is another one.

Hey you!You never pay attention to anything I say.You are thoughtless and rude.

Sorry.That is actually an email from my daughter, Sarah.

I have learned toroll with the punchessince I graduated from college … you will too.You are graduating from college during an interesting time.We are in the midst of unprecedented change and volatility – especially when you look 10 or 20 years down the road.

At a time when theU.S.faces its toughest industrial competition fromChinaandIndia, our national competitiveness is challenged.Our trade deficit is almost $1 trillion!This must change … and fast … or we risk losing our position in the world.

We are facing record high-energy costs and volatility, created – in part – by geopolitical uncertainty.We do not have control over our energy future.This must change … and fast … or we will always be dependent on others for our security.

Our population is aging quickly.By 2020, nearly 30% of our population will be older than 65.This will put a massive burden on our healthcare system.At the same time, we still have 45 million people who lack access to healthcare.This must change … and fast … or you will not have a healthcare safety net by the time you retire.

In a period of economic prosperity and wealth creation, the bottom 25% of this country are losing ground.There is a sense that theAmerican Dreamis skipping an entire segment of our population.This must change … and fast … orAmericarisks losing its mantle as the land of opportunity.

I know these are heavy burdens.But I dont want you to leave today feeling gloomy.In fact, I want the exact opposite.In times like these, we must remember that there are always times like these.

When I graduated from college, high oil prices had pushed the economy into recession.Jobs were hard to find and unemployment was over 10%.There was unrest in theMiddle East.Americans were being held hostage inIran.Some of these things may sound familiar.

But solving these problems is your great opportunity.In this country, the next generation is always the Greatest Generation.Americans always have a sense that the future will be better than the past.The key to the American soul is optimism.

Today, the people in the communities you will be joining are apprehensive.They worry about the war, their pension, the environment, or their childrens education.They want to be led.But they want a different kind of leader.

They crave people who have the courage to take on tough problems, the determination to build long-term solutions, and compassion to bring people with them.You must appeal to their optimism and not their fear.

To do that, you must be both great and good.We need you to compete to be your best, while maintaining your authenticity and sense of service.Your life journey should have three principles:

First, live with passion .Passion connects the mind with the heart.I had no idea where my journey would lead when I left college.But I did know I would go at full speed.My passion today is innovation.I know that technology, creativity and risk taking can change the world.

For example, innovation will create energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.The challenges of energy availability, global warming, water scarcity and conservation permeate every part of the world.While government policies may differ, there is a growing consensus that technology can preserve the environment and achieve productivity at the same time.

I have a passion to makeAmericaenergy independent.At GE, we will invest billions over the next decade to bring new innovation … wind, solar, hybrid, clean coal, new nuclear, water desalination … to the market.We have $15B of revenue in these technologies today … this could be $50B in the near future.

I need your help.Innovation is hard work.Some of the technologies are risky.People like the status quo.Government policy is uncertain.But the technologies exist to create American energy security and improve the environment by the time you are my age.

Energy innovation will create a different future for you.One that is cleaner, safer and more self-reliant.It will be the foundation for national competitiveness and job creation.But you must connect your mind with your heart.Make it your passion.

Second, live with purpose. Purpose turns passion into reality.

Your generation, more than any other, has grown up in a digital era.

You can get news on a24/7basis.You do something stupid on spring break and theres a video of it onYouTubeby the time you get home.The problem with the virtual world is that it is virtual.In other words … its not real.

My first management job was selling plastics inTexas.I know, pretty exciting stuff.I was inEl Pasoon a Friday visiting a customer and our product wasnt working right.The customer was irate!So I called our factory.They told me that we couldnt get a replacement product until Monday.I spent the entire weekend fixing and packaging parts with my customer.It never crossed my mind to say to them …I cant do this; I have a college degree!

Now I dont necessarily suggest this for you, but I did learn that very few jobs were beneath my dignity.I am willing to make the time for any task.

Today, the source of my greatest determination is in healthcare.I know that, in my lifetime, we can treat major diseases more effectively.I also know that we can do this at lower cost.But problems like this take human intervention to drive change.Thats why regular people – like you and me – must have a purpose to make the system better.

One of the challenges were taking on at GE right now is Alzheimers disease.This is a painful fate, not only for the victims, but also for their loved ones.Right now, 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimers.By 2030, the total will reach 14 million.The cost to systems is $100B.Theres no cure.There are only limited treatments.

GE has invested billions of dollars into technology that, for the first time, will be able to diagnose Alzheimers in a living person.But more importantly, this technology will help scientists and researchers track the progress of potential new cures.If we can delay the symptoms by five years, the overall incidence would be cut in half!

Can you imagine how were going to feel when we solve this problem?Im confident that we will.And theres more to be done beyond that.

I am the same age as most dads out there.I want all the dads to know that I administer a $6 billion research budget.My next pet project is theVirtual Colonoscopy.So dads, I have your interests close to my heart, I want you to know.

Distinguish yourself through your determination.Commit yourself to build competency.Have a purpose to your life.You will define your own goals.Work hard and live your dreams.

Lastly, bring people with you. When I graduated from college, I knew that I could compete for myself.What I have learned over the last 25 years, is that teaching teams to compete is a lot more fun.

My parents were great believers in education.My father used to say that a great education was societysequalizer,it could make a poor man rich.

I would add to that.You cant be rich unless you give something back.I dont mean charity, although that is important.The best gift you can give is confidence … teaching people to compete on their own.

Every day, people try to convince you that Americans cant compete.In fact, some of the people running for President believe that you need protection to save you from global competition.But I believe that embracing globalization is your greatest opportunity.

We have a 100-year-old factory that makes locomotives inErie,Pennsylvania.Like many towns in the Northeast,Eriehas seen erosion in manufacturing jobs . Not at GE.We employ 4500 people, mainly production workers.These are great, high value jobs.Our wages have paid for thousands to reach their dream of having a house or attaining a college education for themselves or their children.

We could make these products anywhere.Instead, we invested in technology, manufacturing practices and customer service.We have the worlds best products, that are now exported toMexico,Brazil,ChinaandIndia.

Winning is a team sport.We brought our team with us.They didnt graduate from a great school like Notre Dame.They depend on you to teach them to compete so that they can share the American Dream!

So there you have it.Live with passion.Live with purpose.Live for others.People are afraid.They need new leaders.They need the energy and optimism from you to triumph over the cynics.They need you to be Our Greatest Generation.

I hope you had a great time at Notre Dame.But there are two parts to any college … the academics and the values.On the academic front, there are a lot of smart people in the world who never live their dreams.It is as important that you live the values of Notre Dame -strengthening lives for purpose, service, and leadership.By living these values, you honor your school.

I was sad at my graduation.I knew I would miss my friends.I thought I would never have fun again.But let me tell you, there are some amazing days ahead!

For the last 25 years, I have had a career that has been both interesting and fun. Today, I am the 9 th Chairman in the history of GE.I run a $170 billion company with 300,000 wonderful people.GE is a valuable company and a leader in life-changing technology.I work for investors, and I have a vast responsibility to perform for them.

My life and career havent been perfect.But I have a passion for what I do; I am committed to drive change; and I put people first.I am an optimist, determined to put it on the line every day.Through my efforts, I am trying to give my great GE team one thing:confidence in the future.

I guarantee that every time you return to Notre Dame as alumni – over the coming decades – you will think of your parents.A great education is an essential foundation for your future.It is a gift from your parents to you.So before you leave here today, you might want to say thanks to your parents.

And thank the professors and administrators and everyone who makes up the community here at Notre Dame.There is a reason why GE hires so many of you.

A college graduation is not an ending, its a beginning.Your life starts again today … and you have a slight advantage because of this great place.But dont waste it.Be filled with confidence; be filled with compassion; be filled with courage.Believe that you can do anything.You can do anything.

And, if that is how you all feel … then you will do everything!You will be our Greatest Generation.Just remember:passion, purpose, team.You will fix the problems we leave behind.

You have honored me greatly today.But I also have a gift for you.This fall, when the leaves turn and the golden helmets run onto this field and you are feeling nostalgic and you dont have a prayer in getting tickets to the game…guess whose network you can turn to?Thats right…mine…NBC!

Class of 2007:Thank you for letting me be a part of this day.

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