In this blog I try to put forward people and ideas that can or do have positive impact on the world. Though there is the occasional rant about all things wrong in the world, increasingly I want focus on the good! With that in mind I want to commend Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, on taking a bold step yesterday and speaking openly about how corporate leadership has failed us, and what leaders need to do going forward.
This morning the Financial Times reported on a speech Mr. Immelt gave at West Point Military Academy where he said his generation of business leaders had succumbed to “meanness and greed” that had harmed the US economy and increased the gap between the rich and the poor. Mr Immelt’s attack on his fellow corporate chiefs – made in a speech at the West Point military academy – is one of the strongest criticisms by a top executive of the compensation and business practices that prevailed before the financial crisis.
FT – I do not see this as an attack. I see this as more of an apology and more importantly a call to action for the leadership of corporate America ( which is 95% male CEOS of Fortune 500 companies) to think about their role in bringing upon us the Great Recession and help lead us out of it. He his putting his values out there by saying “the bottom 25 percent of the American population is poorer than they were 25 years ago. That is just wrong.” He goes on to say “Ethically, leaders do share a common responsibility to narrow the gap between the weak and the strong.” We need so much more of this kind of leadership. These kinds of bold words should be commended and we should hold Mr. Immelt accountable, as the CEO of one the world’s largest companies, to increasingly put these values, his values, in to action.
I am honored to be part of an Corporate Leadership and Ethics Roundtable, organized by Auburn Theological Seminary, that gathers CEO level business leaders in the NY area to talk about important moral and ethical issues they face in running their businesses. I am good friends with President Katharine Henderson, with whom I recently wrote two opeds – “Can Goldman Sachs Find God?” and ” If Wall Street Repents can Main Street Forgive?” on the Daily Beast. These conversations need to be going on as it is in part through having a private space to share, that leaders who step forward on moral issues will find their voice and stand together to have a positive impact on society as a whole. Thank you Mr. Immelt for taking a stand. If I were in the audience I would have given you a standing ovation.