‘Lights Out: Pride, Delusion, and the Fall of General Electric’ is a good business book read. In fact it probably should be on a list for any MBA program. The book was written by Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann. Two journalists who have followed the company for years and tell a long and trying tale of the years under former Chairman & CEO Jeff Immelt.
Gryta & Mann really focus on the Immelt years in part because so much has been written about acclaimed Chairman & CEO Jack Welch. Immelt essentially dealt with the fallout of Welch’s decisions and then piled on to those by making some poor ones of his own while dealing with multiple black swan events such as the financial crisis and 9/11. The bottom line is that GE was so big that no one really knew what it was worth and where the big revenue generating businesses were. In the end, it was GE Capital that was behind the earnings growth over the years for the company. At least it was during Welch’s time.
One of the more shocking things for me in the book was the amount of support GE received from the federal government during after the financial crisis. As the authors state on page 126;
“After repeatedly asserting that it didn’t need help, GE would use the government guarantee to sell almost $131 billion in debt through a staggering 4,328 different issuances. The second most active issuer, Citigroup, had just 1,655 issuances.”
After I read that I literally threw the book on the floor.
Despite being one of the most widely held stocks, GE was in trouble for a long time and it was account tricks that kept it together. It certainly wasn’t great management as they liked to claim. But GE is still around, albeit a slimmed down version, and is now thriving under the leadership of Larry Culp.
Let me say that if you are not into business books then don’t pick this one up. I happen to like books like this but even I found it long winded at times. Perhaps it was the short chapters that made it feel that way or just the amount of time the authors were trying to cover. Either way, if you don’t even have a remote interest then don’t pick this up.