JEFF IMMELT … NAMED ONE OF THE WORLD’S BEST CEOS FOR 2005 2006 BY BARRON’S MAGAZINE … CEO OF GENERAL ELECTRIC Sports do not build character. They reveal it. HE Y W OOD HALE BROUN, writer/sportscaster JEFF IMMELT 79 Sports were always a very big part of my life. They helped shape me, and I can’t imagine my life without them. From day one, when I started at three years old, I played like it mattered. My dad loved sports, and I think having an older brother who played also contributed to some of the success I had. In baseball I was always a pitcher; in basketball, I played center. Somehow, it seemed I was always in the middle of one season or starting another. Sound like a CEO yet? THE COACH WHO MATTERED I had a high school basketball coach with whom I’m still friends today. He was a screamer, but always in a positive way. He was a little guy and all of us would tower over him. But he earned our respect and attention because of the way he carried himself. He ran our asses off, and I was both afraid of and motivated by him. He had a vision of what he wanted us to be as a team and as individual players. I was captain because I could match his intensity and would question him.
I was a little ballsy and a pretty good player. I also knew to stand up to him in private and not in front of the whole team, which made him feel comfortable with me. He liked that and he learned to use me as his translator, a bridge between him and the rest of the team. HOW IT HELPS TODAY Playing on that team taught me a lot about being a leader. I learned that in order for me to be successful, my teammates had to be successful. I also learned how to adapt to the coach’s style and be successful, which has helped me today. REALITY STRIKES Jeff is incredibly humble, and it’s clear that he was having fun playing ball while having a fair amount of success, especially in football. But go pro? Not after one particular game in the midst of his best season. 80 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME I always had an idea I would play in the NFL. My senior year of high school, I played in the East-West All-Star game. I went up against a guy named Eddie Beamus, who was on his way to Ohio State on scholarship. He was kicking my butt all over the place. He just annihilated me.
I couldn’t believe how he crushed me every play, all throughout the game. That’s when I knew that I’d better find something else to do with my life. Fortunately, my grades, along with football, got me into Dartmouth. DARTMOUTH I played the line in college and was captain of the team for all four years. It’s a position that gets none of the glory and all of the scrutiny from coaches. Think about it. You’re on camera every play of every game, and when you watch the game films all you can see is how you did every play of every game. You can’t see the fullback or the linebacker, because every game film starts at the line of scrimmage. We would get graded every game and it was all up there for anyone to see. Despite the fact that blocking, hitting the sleds all day every day, is boring at times, it was great.
We developed a sense of humor about it, which you really have to have as a lineman in order to survive. HOW IT HELPS NOW In business, just like in my days as an offensive lineman, I always feel like I’m under scrutiny. But I’m okay with people watching me, and I am more than willing to be accountable for what I do. I’m not a guy who needs a lot of credit, which I think is the case with many athletes. Where does the personal drive come from? These days, when my father says to me, I wish you would just slow down. Why do you have to be so competitive? I have to laugh. I can remember coming home from a baseball game when I pitched a twohitter.
My father said, That’s great, but some other kid is out there throwing this afternoon to get better. No matter how well you do, you can do better. So when he says that, I just say to him, Dad, you created all this. You can’t separate sports from who I am. Who would want to? JEFF IMMELT 81 MY WRAP What I get from Jeff ‘s story is that it’s all about the effort. If you can handle football at an Ivy League school, you may not wind up in the NFL, but you might just find yourself ready to steamroll your way through the business world and not have to ice down at the end of the day.
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