There used to be this cliché in the old Western movies. It had to do with the Native American distrust of anyone claiming to represent the “Great White Father” in Washington. The usual form of the cliché was a line like:
White Man speak with forked tongue.
I was reminded of that line this morning while reading a Reuters account of a talk that Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which appeared as a CNET News article. Here are the opening paragraphs from the CNET source:
General Electric may have grown its clean-tech business fourfold over the past six years, but Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt wishes he had spent a little less time talking about it.
The head of the largest U.S. conglomerate, who in January was named a top adviser on job creation to U.S. President Barack Obama, said yesterday that GE's focus on the environmentally friendly aspects of its wind turbines and high-efficiency appliances might have led his critics to believe he was more interested in saving the planet than growing the company.
"If I had one thing to do over again, I would not have talked so much about green," Immelt said at an event sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Even though I believe in global warming and I believe in the science...it just took on a connotation that was too elitist; it was too precious and it let opponents think that if you had a green initiative, you didn't care about jobs. I'm a businessman. That's all I care about, is jobs."
The forked tongue wags again. As is clear as the article progresses, Immelt, just like any other CEO, can only care about one thing: whether or not shareholders are happy with the return they get on their investment. Any bigger picture, whether it involves the availability of jobs or the sustainability of the planet those job-holders occupy, is not merely irrelevant; it is counterproductive to cooking up the numbers for the next quarterly report. Why would I want to invest (as if there were any significance in the amount I am capable of investing) in a company with such a CEO?