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MBA Grads Critical to General Electric’s Growth

The Director of GE’s prestigious Experienced Commercial Leadership Programme tells us how MBAs are helping to lead the firm into the future

General Electric’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Programme (ECLP) offers highly motivated MBA graduates the opportunity to be the first to bring innovative practices to the firm, says programme director Heather Giese.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessBecause, Giese tells us more about what recruits to the ECLP can expect, and why MBAs are so valuable to GE as the firm shifts to “outcome-based” sales and marketing.

Today GE is evolving into a technology-driven, entrepreneurial business which operates like an agile start-up in many markets, while using its global scale and innovation to drive change.  The company is developing advanced technology, products and services in sectors such as power generation, healthcare and aviation.  And ECLPs are helping to make it happen.

Thousands of candidates apply to the ECLP each year, and this year 85 will be recruited, with more than half coming from outside the US. The two-year ECLP offers successful candidates the opportunity to rotate through three sales and marketing roles within one of GE’s nine businesses. Candidates must specify in their application which business they want to be placed in, with options including aviation, healthcare, oil and gas, power and water, and transportation.

“We want ECLPs to bring new skills and a fresh perspective to the organisation,” says Giese. “We want candidates who can leverage their experience in an industry. It would be difficult for a candidate to work successfully with our customers without solid work experience in that sector.” This is why ECLP applicants need five to eight years of work experience in their chosen industry.

The ECLP was the brainchild of GE CEO Jeff Immelt, who wanted to develop a corps of sales and marketing professionals to drive the growth of the organisation. Over the last few years GE has shifted away from B2C services such as consumer finance towards B2B products and services for industrial clients. “We’re moving into areas such as the industrial internet, connecting our customers with machines and data,” says Giese.

Selling to these customers requires a sound understanding of technology as well as of the complex business environment in which they operate, she says. ECLPs need to partner with colleagues in finance, to understand pricing and risk, and legal colleagues to understand who regulated industries work. “A successful sales person understands how GE makes money and how our customers make money, and is able to manage the relationship to optimise outcomes,” says Giese.

The current intake of ECLPs just completed their first boot camp on “outcome based selling”, which is a new element of their global training. “After our global training conferences, ECLP are empowered to take the learnings back to their commercial teams, where there might be just four or five sales people covering a region… the ECLPs truly are responsible for changing the culture across GE,” says Giese.

The attributes needed to be successful in GE are clear: “Very simply, a natural leader,” says Giese. She describes the most successful ECLPs as people with passion and energy, “and the expertise to be impactful with that passion and energy.”

“They have the energy to challenge the norm and ask questions that may have been answered already,” she says.  “They are also very active outside of their day job, participating on committees and helping to recruit for the programme.”

Giese was a member of the inaugural class of ECLPs and graduated in 2004. She had a liberal arts academic background when she joined GE, but is keen to emphasise that technical skills are a more sought after skill set for new ECLP candidates, since the shift in the GE portfolio from a Capital to an Industrial focus.

“This programme gives individuals a launch pad to get into future growth initiatives,” says Giese. “The ECLP is at the centre of future changes at GE, it’s a very exciting time.”

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