A memoir of successful leadership in times of crisis: the former CEO of General Electric, named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s, shares the hard-won lessons he learned from his experience leading GE immediately after 9/11, through the economic devastation of the 2008–09 financial crisis, and into an increasingly globalized world.
In September 2001, Jeff Immelt replaced the most famous CEO in history, Jack Welch, at the helm of General Electric. Less than a week into his tenure, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and the company, to its core. GE was connected to nearly every part of the tragedy—GE-financed planes powered by GE-manufactured engines had just destroyed real estate that was insured by GE-issued policies. Facing an unprecedented situation, Immelt knew his response would set the tone for businesses everywhere that looked to GE—one of America’s biggest and most-heralded corporations—for direction. No pressure.
Over the next sixteen years, Immelt would lead GE through many more dire moments, from the 2008–09 Global Financial Crisis to the 2011 meltdown of Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, which were designed by GE. But Immelt’s biggest challenge was inherited: Welch had handed over a company that had great people, but was short on innovation. Immelt set out to change GE’s focus by making it more global, more rooted in technology, and more diverse. But the stock market rarely rewarded his efforts, and GE struggled.
In Hot Seat, Immelt offers a rigorous, candid interrogation of himself and his tenure, detailing for the first time his proudest moments and his biggest mistakes. The most crucial component of leadership, he writes, is the willingness to make decisions. But knowing what to do is a thousand times easier than knowing when to do it. Perseverance, combined with clear communication, can ensure progress, if not perfection, he says. That won’t protect any CEO from second-guessing, but Immelt explains how he’s pushed through even the most withering criticism: by staying focused on his team and the goals they tried to achieve. As the business world continues to be rocked by stunning economic upheaval, Hot Seat is an urgently needed, and unusually raw, source of authoritative guidance for decisive leadership in uncertain times.
About the Author
Jeff Immelt was the ninth Chairman of GE and served as CEO for sixteen years. He has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” three times by Barron’s. During his tenure as CEO, GE was named “America’s Most Admired Company” by Fortune magazine and one of “The World’s Most Respected Companies” in polls by Barron’s and the Financial Times. Immelt has received fifteen honorary degrees and numerous awards for business leadership and chaired the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness under the Obama administration. He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and a lecturer at Stanford University. Immelt earned a BA in applied mathematics from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard University. He and his wife have one daughter.
Amy Wallace is a writer based in California. She splits her time between magazines and books. Her magazine work has appeared in GQ, Wired, The New Yorker, New York, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Details, The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, Elle, and other national publications. Two of her profiles—“Hollywood’s Information Man” (Los Angeles, 2001) and “Walking Time Bomb” (New York, 2019)—have been National Magazine Award finalists. An archive of her work can be found at Amy-Wallace.com. In 2014, she collaborated with Ed Catmull, then the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, on his New York Times bestselling book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Her second collaborative book, this one with former CEO of General Electric Jeff Immelt, is Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company.
"It is a given that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Many chief executives, however, operate on a default setting of can-do optimism. Asked to revisit their failures, they naturally hesitate, unless they can depict them as way-stations on the road to inevitable glory. Hot Seat is a valuable addition. . . . [Immelt] offers much that is useful to other executives: about succession; about coping with crises; and about how to leave." —Financial Times
“An extraordinary combination of insights and candor. Jeff Immelt’s Hot Seat takes you into the office, head, and heart of the man who became CEO of GE on the eve of 9/11, and then led the iconic behemoth for sixteen fascinating, and often turbulent, years. A handbook on leadership – and life.” —Stanley A. McChrystal, General, US Army (Retired), CEO and Founder, McChrystal Group
“Jeff Immelt has always been one of my leadership role models. He leads with head and heart. He is an ‘all-in’ leader who is completely committed to his team and his customers, and he cares deeply about both. This book shows how leadership is a full contact sport and Jeff leaves everything on the field.” —John Donahoe, CEO, Nike
“Jeff Immelt’s Hot Seat is the ultimate and intimate insider’s account of sixteen epic years as CEO of GE. With remarkable candor and self-awareness, Jeff tells hundreds of riveting stories—sharing hard-learned lessons in leadership. Hot Seat is the brilliant, fast-paced, tough love story of Jeff’s personal devotion to his family and GE’s people. He literally bleeds for GE (spoiler alert: tattoos revealed). If you work in tech, finance, energy, or health care, this book is required reading. If you care about world affairs, global progress, or public service, it is inspiring. Hot Seat is a great gift from Jeff, a personal hero and patriotic, magnificent servant leader.” —John Doerr, Chairman, Kleiner Perkins and author of Measure What Matters
“Hot Seat is a must read for anyone wanting to learn about what it takes to lead through turbulent times. The real world is full of tail events, constraints, and circumstances you don’t control. Jeff's book is full of insights on what it takes to show up and lead and move the organization and world around you forward.” —Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
“A fascinating account of the drama of what it takes to lead a great global business in times of rapid change. Hot Seat weaves through the lesson of leadership at every step of the story. It is an important read for leaders of global commerce—today and for those of the future.” —Bob Dudley, former CEO, BP
"For anyone who's endured failure or heartbreak in their professional life—and that means everyone—Jeff's tale, full of insight, wisdom, perseverance and heart, is an invaluable resource and a blueprint for dealing with the wonderful chaos of leadership." —Jennifer Aaker, Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of Humor, Seriously
"Jeff Immelt’s disarmingly candid retrospective of his sixteen-year tenure as CEO of GE dissects his successes and failures, providing insider perspective on the rationale for his most controversial decisions. He explores the emotional and intellectual challenges of the loneliest, most challenging position in any organization. There are many lessons to be gleaned from this narrative. This is an insightful perspective for aspiring, current and future leaders." —Toby Cosgrove, Executive Advisor, former President and CEO, Cleveland Clinic
“Jeff pulls back the curtain on his many battle scars, talks about lessons learned and gives us insight into the importance of optimism, growth and, most important, humility.” —Ruth Porat, SVP and Chief Financial Officer, Alphabet and Google
“Jeff has delivered the most insightful perspective on GE over a remarkable period of change and growth with the same intellectual energy, self-reflection, and bold leadership that he used in running the company for more than sixteen years. This book is the definitive account of how it all unfolded.” —Geoff Beattie, Chairman and CEO, Generation Capital
“Hot Seat is bravely honest in a way few CEO books have ever been. Jeff shows deep humility, taking you inside the boardroom during an extraordinary time in GE, and American, history. It is fascinating insight from a career filled with incredible highs and lows, and Jeff does not shy away from any of it. This is a must-read book for every CEO, aspiring business leader, or anyone who has to manage teams, big and small.” —Jeff Zucker, President, CNN
"A must-read for all students of capitalism." —David M. Rubenstein, Founder and Coexecutive Chairman, The Carlyle Group
“Hot Seat provides a detailed inside view of the intense challenges in leading the most successful diversified industrial company of the 20th century into a turbulent 21st century. The book reveals the enormous energy, passion and commitment needed to navigate a highly complex and global business. Jeff’s energetic and charismatic leadership style, based on his unwavering commitment to innovation, customers and employees, is seen through incredible events and business portfolio challenges. Hot Seat also provides many insightful business and leadership lessons.” —Joe Hogan, President and CEO, Align Technology
“Hot Seat is an interesting and captivating read. It chronicles Jeff Immelt’s career at GE, how he spent his time, especially as CEO, how he himself grew over time and helped develop others. The book provides useful background and perspective on the many critical decisions he made—selecting leaders, buying and selling businesses, where to invest and where not to. Like any big company, others may or may not agree with his decisions, but Jeff’s rationale is explained clearly. The lessons learned about business leadership are extremely valuable and thought-provoking. We can all learn something from Hot Seat. I recommend it highly.” — Omar Ishrak, Executive Chairman, former CEO, Medtronic; Chairman of the Board, Intel
"I very much enjoyed and learned from Hot Seat. There are so many valuable leadership lessons from Jeff’s experience in successes and failures. The book is so direct and honest, which makes it special. And it explains the story of GE over the last 30 years, which is fascinating in and of itself." —Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft
“The metric that matters in a business leadership book is how many pages you underline things on because you know you want to remember and refer back to them. Hot Seat scored 192 for me. If you’re looking for a ‘How great was I?’ memoir, move to the next book. If you want the real lessons of leading one of the world’s most complex companies through sixteen of the world’s most challenging and least predictable years, take a seat and turn to page one.” —Andrew Robertson, President and CEO, BBDO Worldwide
“Read this book. You’ll be a better leader for it.” —David Rogier, Founder and CEO, MasterClass
“In this artfully told biography, Jeff Immelt offers a master class to today’s CEOs who are building global businesses as they encounter unprecedented pace of change and tail risks. The reader is afforded a rare window to see how lonely leadership can be at critical times and teaches key leadership lessons that are both timely and timeless. We learn so much on how to run our businesses more effectively and be better human beings, making this not only a must-read book but a go-to reference.” —K. R. Sridhar, Founder and CEO, Bloom Energy
"Hot Seat is a compelling account of Jeff Immelt’s sixteen years as the CEO of GE. It is both a raw and honest interrogation of himself and his tenure. For me, the highlight of the book was his sharing of the personal learning journey; acknowledging success and failure, absorbing fear while acting, energizing and obtaining energy from his team. In writing this, Immelt answers his critics, displays the leader as teacher, but most importantly finds his redemption." —Gordon Cairns, Chairman, Woolworths Group
“Jeff Immelt’s approach to leadership, his work ethic, and his ability to embrace ‘systems thinking’ holds lessons for everyone. His own account of his time as head of GE is an important read that reflects the big questions all leaders face—from pivoting strategically towards the future, to balancing the needs of businesses as well as other stakeholders.” —N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons
"Hot Seat delivers valuable stories and lessons that show what it’s like to lead a global company through uncertain times. As Jeff says, ‘leadership can be a lonely job.’ It takes courage and authenticity, and Jeff brings both in his memoir." —Meg Whitman, former CEO, eBay