GE's Immelt - An Opportunity to Actually Make a Difference

I read a story recently where GE's Jeff Immelt was quoted as saying about the nation, "We're not trying that hard; We haven't really tried as hard as we can to compete, educate, and sell our products around the world and I think we can do better."

Now, on the surface, this sounds reasonable; how can we sell more US products abroad, and in the process, create more jobs? But, I remain skeptical about Immelt's motives, especially considering that GE, under his leadership, and like many other large corporations, have shed thousands of jobs rather than look for creative ways to utilize displaced employees and help address the current unemployment picture.

Immelt tries to assuage the overall feeling of frustration and anger by many US citizens by saying, "It is natural to assume that people are angry and I think we have to be empathetic and understand people are not feeling great."

OK, great again, but there are probably many former GE employees who would prefer a paycheck over empathy.

Immelt does acknowledge there might be something to the notion that there's a huge discrepancy between an average worker's pay and that of CEO's by saying, "The discrepancy (the gap between the pay of CEO's and average Americans) is certainly one of the problems today, in terms of why people feel the system is unfair." But, he then downplays what most feel today by saying, "It is a symptom but it is not the problem."

It's also revealed in the article that GE expects to generate more than 60% of its revenue outside the US this year. So, why wouldn't Immelt want all of us to "try harder" to sell more products across the globe?

Finally, Immelt says, in response to criticism that he (as a republican) is working in concert with President Obama, "People need to try; I'd rather be in the arena trying than not doing what I can to help."

So, to all of this I say; how about GE trying harder to put more people back to work? For once, instead of waiting for the economy to try to miraculously recover on its own, how about Immelt and other top-level CEO's around the country stop the lip service and actually do something creative and different that might actually work? For example, I just looked at GE's profile at the Yahoo Finance site and saw that the top 5 executives listed had combined compensation of $27.5 million for 2010, or an average of $5.5 million each. At the head of the pack? Immelt who brought in roughly $7.7 million, with no stock options showing as exercised during the year.

Let's say, for example, that the 5 top execs at GE agreed to put 25% of their earnings into a pool so they could bring some employees back to work. At an average of $50,000 per employee, they could rehire 137 people. And, they could do it without spending one more dime. Now, this would mean that each of the top five execs would "only" end up taking home an average of $4.1 million, but come on; they could survive.

Now, imagine if this were to happen at the top 100 companies in the US, and assuming similar figures. Then we would see an additional 13,700 people back on the payroll instead of having to collect unemployment checks and draining the US financial system.

Before anyone gets riled up let me be clear; I'm all for hard work, ample reward and letting the market dictate the value of the work force. I started working when I was 13, I work as hard as any other guy out there and I'm always happy when my hard work pays off. But, this doesn't mean that there isn't a place for creativity from those who have blessed to be at the top of the economic food chain to help jump-start our moribund economy.

Immelt talks a lot, and maybe he thinks that his words are soothing to those who find themselves on the flip side of the economic equation. But, I can tell you from the perspective of someone who's much closer to the average man on the street than in the proverbial ivory tower, his words ring rather hollow.