Jim Cash sits on the Board of Directors of the General Electric Company. And if that was not enough, he also sits on the BoD of Microsoft, Chubb Insurance and Walmart. At 62, he is completely unofficious, not even a hint of air around him. He was over at the John F. Welch Technology Center during his bi-yearly India visit.
I took some notes. This was the 13th of Jan.
One of our GE senior leaders, Gopi introduced Jim Cash. He also mentioned that it was a good time to be in India during the Festival of Pongal, a symbol of prosperity, and that particular day was Bogi – a day one could take things that you did not want from the last year and burn them.
Jim rose to speak. His suit was crumpled. Did not one bit look like a “corporate honcho”. He politely asked, “Gopi, can I burn the whole of 2008 ?”
In my 8 years at GE, I have heard a lot — trust me on this — a lot of fabulous GE speakers. I don’t recall one guy, who essentially roamed through a crowd of 700 odd people. Jim did. Moved up and down, throwing references to his teaching days at Harvard, “I need to be close to the back-benchers”.
His sense of humor and his ability to get so close to people left most of us totally floored.
Jim started with the Mumbai blasts of 26/11. He mentioned that whenever he went to Mumbai, he would stay at the Taj and how he had developed a sense of belonging.
Hung-ho about India
He quickly moved on the to Indian economy. His point of view, is that in 2009, India will also be hit. From 9%, GDP might come down to 5.5 – 7%. But, he was ecstatic about the fact that in comparison to the global economies, 6% is a floody good number ! “You need to understand 200 million Americans would want to move into India. If I found abed of my size, I would.”
Jim is around 6′ 6″ and very wide.
“And remember, there is no negative sign in front of that 6%”.
Jim’s point is that world economy is going through a reset. The last few years had seen some unsustainable practices and this is just a readjustment. The world is not coming to an end.
Walmart – now is a good time
Jim had some great takes on Walmart. Walmart is a low-price value proposition and the current state of economics is actually proving to be beneficial.The stock price has increased and it is the only company in the Dow Jones index to have shown that behavior. We all know how Walmart had been beaten up by the media for being an employee unfriendly company. Jim mentioned that the management had been working, braving the media storm to fix some of those things. “Dont judge a company by what the media or press says for a couple of years”. He quickly drew a parallel to the GE stock price going on to reinforce how the company is fundamentally not only stable but in poising itself for explosive growth.
Google Vs Microsoft
Suddenly, Jim threw a question at the crowd. “If you or your company has bought a Microsoft product in the last 12 months, raise your hands.”. The room turned into a sea of raised hads. I did a quick srounge — pretty much everybody.
“OK”, Jim continued. “If you or your company have bought a Google product in the last 12 months, raise your hands”. I could see only one. One of our Principal Engineers, Ramesh Venkatesan. (I need to find out what he bought !)
“Now, how many of you have USED a Google product in the last 12 months”. Rumble in the room and all hands up. Silence followed and Jim spoke, “Now if the management at Microsoft is not learning from this fundamental shift in business model… ” and he left it on an ominous suspense. “But you know, when you are taking 1 billion dollar to the bank in net profit, every month, you cannot change so fast.”
Compliance and Corporate Integrity
He spoke about how GE had missed quarter numbers in 2008 first quarter due to the unforeseeable closure of Bear Stearns but he threw a different light. HE praised the heck out of Jeff Immelt (CEO-GE), Keith Sherin (CFO-GE) for their courage and integrity. “Its always easy to hide the truth and think, oh this is one quarter, this will pass and nobody will notice”. He briefly touched upon Satyam in this context, how a lack of integrity and compliance caused the down to tumble and burn. However, at a time when everybody seems to be bent of vilifying Raju unilaterally as Satan incarnate — Jim mentioned that he did know Ramalinga Raju and thought quite high of his contributions to rural India.
GE’s commitment to Innovation
Jim moved on to speak about GE’s commitment to Research and Development and that it will continue even under current situation. (And I heard exactly the same thing at John Rice’s talk later in the week).
Talking of Distributed Innovation, Jim brought out examples of how Procter and Gamble was crowdsourcing their R&D efforts via “Connect and Develop”. Alluding to GE and the general strategy he says, “The game is to go outside your company, supplement, speedup and enhance your R&D. We cannot have an exclusively internal R&D anymore here”.