Except for maybe Google, no company has been closer and more in synch with the Obama administration than General Electric.
First, there’s the policy overlap: Obama wants cap-and-trade, GE wants cap-and-trade. Obama subsidizes embryonic stem-cell research, GE launches an embryonic stem-cell business. Obama calls for rail subsidies, GE hires Linda Daschle as a rail lobbyist. Obama gives a speeech, GE employee Chris Matthews feels a thrill up his leg. I could go on.
Then there’s the personal connections: CEO Jeff Immelt sits on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory board and was asked by Obama’s Export-Import Bank to the opening act for the President at the most recent Ex-Im conference.
Finally, there’s the philosophical similarities. Days after Obama promised in his inauguration to “remak[e] America,” Immelt wrote to shareholders:
The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.
At that Ex-Im confernce (Ex-Im is a government agency dedicated to subsidizing U.S. exports), Immelt declared “Germany is the model” economically because they believe in “government and business working as a pack.” Immelt also showed some China envy, I reported at the time:
And Immelt flashed an envious smile when he said, “China pays all the bills.” “What you see in China,” Immelt added, “is an incredible unanimity of purpose from top to bottom.”
All of this is why I’m surprised to read in the Financial Times, “Mr Immelt also had harsh words for Barack Obama.” There’s clearly plenty of interpretation going on by the FT writer, and GE has fired back, but some details of Immelt’s talk jibe with my earlier observation:
Apparently, the writer saw as a dig at Obama Immelt’s “making a point of praising Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, for her defence of German industry.” And “we have to become an industrial powerhouse again but you don’t do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in synch.”
I’d love the full transcript. It could be that Obama is not progressive enough for Immelt.