What he has built is a global industrial concern, with 55% of revenue coming from outside the U.S., direct contacts with governments around the world, and with huge stakes in the key problems of that world: global health, the energy crisis and the automation of employment.
That's the context for Immelt's successful Alstom bid, of which our Richard Saintvilus approves, under which the company will launch three joint ventures partly owned by the French government and take over Alstom's turbine business.
Having a government as a partner, especially the French government, may seem off-putting to many Americans, but it is business as usual for Immelt's GE, which has been negotiating directly with governments in the developing world for years.
While many analysts have seen Immelt as building a company similar to Siemens (SI), the German industrial concern, it is more comparable to a Japanese company such as Sumitomo, which trades in Japan as number 8053. That's because Siemens has been making moves toward services, while GE has been making moves toward more industrial production.
Although GE itself remains headquartered in suburban Connecticut, its $18 billion-a-year health care unit is based in England, and its $37 billion-a-year energy unit was based in Atlanta until it was broken into three pieces in 2012.
The split came because of the energy business's growing complexity.
Even before the Alstom deal, GE was working directly with Hitachi on nuclear power, for instance.
GE's main units are energy management, dealing with electrical grids; oil and gas, focused on infrastructure rather than production; and power and water, where Alstom's turbine business will sit alongside its renewable energy and water purification units.
Investors who have steadily reinvested their dividends since Immelt replaced Jack Welch in September 2001, right before the 9/11 attacks, are just about breaking even. The stock is down 33%, but what you buy today has nothing to do with what you owned then.