The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



General Electric CEO to address graduates

Kaitlynn Riely | Friday, May 18, 2007

Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric, Inc., will be the principal graduation speaker and will receive an honorary degree Sunday at Notre Dame’s undergraduate commencement ceremony.

University officials announced in February that Immelt would speak at Notre Dame’s 162nd Commencement ceremony – to be held in the Joyce Center – and that he would receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

In a statement released with the announcement of the speaker, University President Father John Jenkins praised Immelt and expressed excitement for his visit to the University.

“During his five-plus years as head of the world’s second largest company, Jeff Immelt has demonstrated the innovative philosophy, leadership traits and personal integrity that make him a business executive worthy of emulating,” Jenkins said. “We are delighted that he will join us in May to speak to our graduates and accept an honorary degree.”

The commencement speaker is traditionally chosen by the president of the University, with the input of University officers and other leaders, said Dennis Brown, the assistant vice president for News and Information. But anyone can make a suggestion to the president’s office for the graduation speaker or for honorary degree recipients, he said.

“We seek speakers who have made significant contributions to society in any number of ways and who also will deliver a compelling message to graduates,” Brown said. He emphasized that speakers are not chosen on the “basis of celebrity,” and said Notre Dame has, in the past, had speakers who were well known, but also speakers who were not that widely known.

University officials also try to draw speakers from a variety of fields, like politics, science or entertainment. This year, the speaker is from the corporate world.

“We have a partnership with [General Electric] through NBC, so many people know Mr. Immelt through that,” Brown said.

General Electric (GE) owns NBC Universal.

Immelt, 50, was appointed the ninth chairman of GE Sept. 7, 2001, succeeding Jack Welch. He has worked for GE since 1982, became a GE officer in 1989 and jointed the GE Capital Board in 1997. He served as president and chairman-elect starting in November 2000.

GE makes and sells products and services ranging from jet engines and home appliances to television broadcasting and power generation equipment. The company employs more than 300,000 people worldwide and in 2006 had revenues of $163.4 billion. Its stock is among the most widely held in the world.

Since assuming his position as the leader of GE, Immelt has paid special attention to his company’s impact on the environment. In 2005, he announced his “Ecoimagination” initiative to use cleaner technologies and reduce gas emissions. The initiative includes the development of solar energy, fuel cells, lighter and stronger technology and water purification technology.

GE plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by one percent by 2012 and to reduce the intensity of those emissions 30 percent by 2008, as compared to the intensity in 2004.

In a 2005 Industry Week magazine interview, Immelt said his Ecoimagination plan is not only good for society but also a positive move for GE and its investors.

“We intend to put our global capabilities, technology leadership and market knowledge to work to take on some of the world’s toughest problems – and we think we can make money doing it. This is good business,” he said.

Immelt has received recognition for his work at GE, and under his leadership, GE has received honors as well. In 2005 and 2006, Barron’s Magazine named Immelt one of the “World’s Best CEOs.”

With Immelt at the helm, GE has been named “America’s Most Admired Company” in a Fortune magazine poll and called the world’s most respected company in polls conducted by Barron’s and the Financial Times.

Immelt, a native of Cincinnati, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics. He received a master of business administration degree from Harvard University in 1982.

In addition to his responsibilities at GE, Immelt serves as chairman of The Business Council and is on the board of three non-profit organizations. He is involved with Catalyst, a group that works to advance women in business; Robin Hood, which addresses poverty in New York City; and the Federal Reserve Bank.

He lives with his wife, Andrea, and their daughter in Connecticut.

Brown said he had not yet seen a copy of Immelt’s speech, but said Immelt has been in contact with News and Information to get background information on Notre Dame to help him prepare.

Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland, was the principal speaker and an honorary degree recipient at last year’s commencement ceremony.