MIT CFO Summit: A lesson in change from GE CFO

By December 13, 2016Food for thought

The message from the MIT CFO Summit: Get out of the office and embrace change.

SQDM share an article published by the TechTarget Portal detailing cultural change at a major global company.   

Last November at the MIT CFO Summit, Jeff Bornstein, SVP and CFO at General Electric Company, said he is no stranger to being wrong, uncomfortable and quiet -situations that Hal Gregersen, executive director at the MIT Leadership Center, said are at the heart of being a successful business leader.

Gregersen said those situations -allowing yourself to be surprised, getting out of your comfort zone and taking time to listen instead of talk -unlock unexpected insights that help business executives ask the right questions and be better leaders.

“If we do not systematically put ourselves in these kinds of situations -especially outside of headquarters, outside of our office, with people who are not like us and in places that we’re not normally in -we will not find the surprising, unexpected information that will open up the future for us and our company,” Gregersen said during his MIT CFO Summit keynote.

A veiled allusion to the recent presidential election? Maybe. But, as Gregersen’s interview with GE’s Bornstein made clear, there’s lots of disruption to go around in the workplace where technology is undercutting traditional business models it seems on a daily basis.


Bornstein is seeing change at all levels of GE.

Historically, it was very rare for GE to hire outside the company for an upper-level management or “officer” position, he said. Now, it happens all the time. The company has also had to hire massive amounts of new, younger talent to keep up with the industry’s changing demands. This includes people from acqui-hires, as well as from Apple and Google who bring skills like machine learning and AI.

“[New employees] come from a very different place than where a traditional GE employee comes from, with very different experiences — both professionally and [in terms of] life experiences -and it’s very quickly changing the culture of the company,” Bornstein said.

Compensation systems are changing, as is the dress code -Bornstein told the room of suits that he wears jeans to the office these days. So is the pace of workflow and how the company thinks about and describes success. Bornstein says these changes are all for the better, opening up GE to a completely different way of thinking and problem solving.

But the change in workplace culture is not without its challenges. Reconciling the new and the traditional has become Bornstein’s latest CFO imperative.

“My challenge is how I get mid-career and late-career people to walk across the bridge and understand enough about technology and where technology is going, so that they can ask the right questions -or maybe more importantly, they’re not getting in the way of the people who do understand… that they’re not a barrier,” he said.

He thinks 50% of people will never get across that bridge -something he’ll have to address.

Meshing together different outlooks, contexts, intellects and problem-solving methods at this modern GE may not always be easy, but it is paying off.

“We do our best work at GE when we have cross-functional, mission-based teams that are focused on answering one question,” Bornstein said. “And the question has to have absolute clarity… when you do that, you get magic.”

Read the entire article here.

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