Disruptive Forces: General Electric

By Chris Gonsalves Print this article Print

General Electric

Location: Fairfield, Conn.

CEO: Jeffrey Immett

Revenues: $169.7 billion

What they do: As one of the United States’ last truly great diversified industrial corporations, GE has divisions that deliver military and commercial aircraft, train and heavy-equipment parts; wind, gas and steam turbines; factory automation; medical equipment; and home appliances and lighting. Its NBC Universal division entertains us both on the air and at its theme parks, and the company’s finance arm is there to help customers pay for it all.

Disruptive qualities: GE’s labs remain among the world’s most creative places. The latest GE television ads tout the company’s “Ecomagination” as they race through images of some of GE’s most important new efforts. It’s a heady mix. Energy-sipping hybrid trains that cut emissions in half, new jet engines, powerful new medical scanners that improve diagnoses while cutting radiation exposure and a restructuring of its famed lighting business to focus on organic LED illumination.

The tech that makes them tick: Topping the list of innovations at GE are its newest photovoltaic cells, which are ramping up commercial solar power adoption, and cutting-edge health care imaging that is promising to detect more cancers earlier and double cardiac disease survival rates. Powering all this innovation is a massive network of servers and high-end applications that span every time zone. In addition, GE has mastered design and supply chain management to shorten the time between inspiration and time to market.

Who they are disrupting: GE may not yet even be playing in the place where it could be the most disruptive. As Intel co-founder Andy Grove posited late last year, GE could instantly take the lead in efforts to build an efficient, affordable electric car. (It currently invests in companies that manufacture electric vehicles and batteries.) Not only would that upend the super-innovative little guys like Tesla Motors, it also would turn the auto industry on its ear.

Dimmer switch? What some see as heft, others view as a dilution of creative energy. Indeed, GE may be overextended in many areas. In challenging Grove’s call for GE to enter a new market, business expert William Taylor wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Why would GE, with so many headaches from Wall Street—GE shares are barely unchanged from when Immett took over six years ago—take on a high-profile gamble such as electric cars?”

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This article was originally published on 2008-03-27
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