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Jeff Immelt Does Not Trust Black People

The GE chief's shocking race revelation

JOSSIP REPORTS — The future of NBC, and what to do about Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews at MSNBC, may be the least of General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt's problems. Because he just dipped himself into the murky waters of race relations, and he's about to drown.

Two weeks ago at the annual Black Corporate Directors Conference in California, Immelt was one of several high-powered guests (among other corporate execs and political powerhouses) on a panel moderated by CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien (she of the Black in America specials). Official guests and attendees of the three-day conference operate under the assumption that everything is off-the-record; reporters and news crews are barred, and participants aren't supposed to share what's said there.

Except somebody did leak the conversation — and told Jossip about Immelt's thoughts on black men and women. We'll give you a hint: He only trusts them as far as he can throw them.

At the panel, O'Brien asked Immelt about diversity at NBC Universal — primarily, its lack of it.

Immelt responded, according to our tipster, that he hires who he is "comfortable with." He followed up that statement by listing, in order, the "type" of people he trusts. And they are:

1) White Men
2) White Women
3) Black Men
4) Black Women

You're not mistaken. Immelt listed, in front of a room full of black executives, the type of people he trusts in order of race and gender. By his own admission, this is a guy who would trust disgraced former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling more than he would Michelle Obama. (An extreme conclusion by our own admission, but you get the idea.)

The audience, we're told, "was gasping and people were surprised how he dug himself deeper. He was completely tone deaf" to the type of comments he just made. "But since these are high ranking Black corporate executives, the outrage was not very outward."

Whether Immelt, who has led GE since 2001, would like to revise his statement is up to him. (Says GE's publicist Megan Parker: "We have yet to confirm what was actually said at the conference,??however we??can confirm??Jeff Immelt's well-known commitment to diversity. Jeff's commitment is exemplified by the fact that he was at the conference.")

But not only does it show his obvious bigotry, his statement demonstrates his complete lack of tact as a man who is paid nearly $20 million to run a $239 billion global corporation. Even if he does, truly at his core, feel this way about black men and women (and, well, white women too), it is stupid to say it in public. And he should know better that "off the record," in front of a crowd, means little.

Meanwhile, we spoke with O'Brien, who moderates the conference every year, and who told us "the conversations every year at this conference are off the record." As such, she wouldn't comment further to confirm or deny our report. Other attendees, adhering to the conference's off the record rules, are also unlikely to comment.

Update: Read the comments from former GE execs Lloyd Trotter and Art Harper, who dispute our version of events. Our source stands behind the original claim.

Update 2: General Electric responds more formally to the story, though refuses to let us ask Jeff Immelt questions on the record.

Comments (28)
No. 1 · Ironic isn't it?

No wonder they never had a problem with Imus until the public outcry forced them too. Sadly Immelt's preferences are that of far too many of white-bread, corporate America.

Posted: Sep 17, 2008 at 8:20 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 2 · Jeff DeMarrais

Jeff Immelt named the first African-American vice chair in GE's history.

Under his leadership the company has been named the "World's Best Company for Diversity" (2006)and "Great Place to Work" (2007) by Black Enterprise magazine.

This website lays out the progress GE has made in its commitment to diversity under Immelt's tenure -

And you've twisted his positive speech about inclusiveness into an unrecognizable and
unbelievable post.

Shame on you.

Posted: Sep 17, 2008 at 8:55 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 3 · NR Davis

Yeah, and some racists marry outside their race too. If the entire speech was about inclusivity, that passage would not be included.

That said, if something is supposed to be "off the record," it is supposed to stay there. No wonder racists feel the need to hide.

Posted: Sep 17, 2008 at 9:09 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 4 · dfb

I don't work for GE, nor do I know that much about the atmosphere there. But I can see how this sort of comment would be taken completely out of context. It's human nature to feel more comfortable with people who share your background. Immelt was merely admitting the obvious. The fact that he was at this conference shows an understanding that diversity involves getting outside your comfort zone.

Posted: Sep 17, 2008 at 9:24 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 5 · mslewis

None of this will go beyond Jossip since everybody at that conference will adhere to the "off the record" nature of the conference. However, I'm sure Mr. Immelt is not so stupid that he would say what it is implied he said. The words are obviously out of context. You dont' get to run GE by being stupid . . . or racist!!

P.S.: I'm betting Soledad O'Brien is the source for this story!!

Posted: Sep 17, 2008 at 9:45 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 6 · Ayn Rand's Nanny

What a deeply-sourced *ITEM*. This seems straight out of "Hush Hush" in LA Confidential.


Posted: Sep 17, 2008 at 10:17 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 7 · cwrite

I'd rather he'd admit the truth than to pull that "some of best friends are black" ish or start touting the company's worthless "diversity" programs. (True diversity will only occur when employers seek excellence over personal comfort.)

I guess Soledad, a former NBC News (a GE subsidiary) employee is staying mum on the whole affair just in case she has to go back bowing and scraping to be let back on the plantation in the event she loses her CNN gig.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 8:27 am · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 8 · Ron Mwangaguhunga

Come on Soledad, go on record and put the comments in context for all of us. Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 9:13 am · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 9 · Gary sheffer

This is totally wrong. Jeff did not say this. I have spoken to many people who were in the room. What Jeff said is that diversity is about familiarity and expanding your perspectives and personal relationships. It was a discussion about the need for an open mind ??? the exact opposite of what this malicious gossip suggests. Context is important here.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 11:29 am · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 10 · Lloyd Trotter and Art Harper

As two members of the audience at the Black Corporate Directors conference, the Jossip post is a gross mischaracterization of what Jeff Immelt said and is taken completely out of context.

When asked about how he personally thinks about diversity and his personal journey to be more inclusive, Jeff used an example that he???s used many times to describe how he???s worked to expand his relationships with diverse people.

Jeff added that while previous generations seldom made efforts to break their ???circle of comfort,??? in their personal and professional relationships, today no GE leader gets a bye on this. At no point in this discussion did Jeff say that he does not trust African Americans!

As two African American former senior members of the GE management team and former members of the GE Corporate Executive Counsel with over 60 years of combined service in the company, we are aware that GE, like most companies, is not perfect. However, we strongly believe that GE has done much more than most in moving the ball forward on diversity and Jeff has always been a key leader in this effort!

Lloyd Trotter
Art Harper

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 12:02 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 11 · cwrite

Trotter and Harper,

So I guess some of his best friends ARE black? And how good of him to strive to mix and mingle with the funky negritude. Got to love those "leaders" in "diversity". And why no mention of Latinos or Asians?

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 2:01 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 12 · Teri Trotter

As a member of the audience at the Corporate Directors' Conference, I can confirm that Jeff Immelt did not say or even imply that he doesn't trust African-Americans. It is sad that some have chosen to turn a wonderful opportunity for dialog about diversity into a source of lies and distortions.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 2:05 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 13 · T. Troy Stewart

Might as well cancel any future CDCs now because the next one will be so PC and people will be so on their toes not to say a thing that may be even perceived to be offensive that it would make a meeting at The Vatican look like a crack head convention.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 2:22 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 14 · Georgia W. Carver

I've worked for GE for nearly 20 years. I was there when, with the active and enthusiastic encouragement of Corp. HQ under Jack Welch, a handful of us black employees created the GE African American Forum ( specifically to help blacks in the company develop a talent pool that can be fed into the Senior Executive career path (translation: break the stranglehold of GE's white old boy network on the top jobs). The creation and success of the GE AAF led directly to the formation of the GE Women's Network, the GE Hispanic Forum, the GE Asian Pacific Forum, and most recently (and under Immelt's leadership) the GE GLBT Forum.

Immelt picked up the diversity ball at GE when Welch retired, and has run with it ever since. I have seen Immelt speak about diversity before, and he's freely admitted that execs at GE default to a "my friends and people like them" mind-set, and publically demands that everyone–including himself–work to grow past it.

What Immelt did at the Black Corporate Directors Conference was admit where he personally falls short, where he personally has to improve. He's not denying that GE still has a problem in this area–he's saying that the problem is there, it's pervasive to the point where even he's part of it, and that EVERYONE, from the CEO on down, in the company has to do their level best to fix things once and for all.

I'll state this right now: in general, I am not a fan of Immelt. I think as a business leader he's made some pretty serious mistakes managing the coporation. But one thing Immelt ain't is some sort of dyed-in-the-wool closet bigot. It would have been MORE bigoted, and LESS HONEST, if Immelt had stood in front of all of those people and said, "Nah, there's no diversity problem at GE, we're all one big happy rainbow family!"

I'll tell you something else, too: us black GE employees talk among ourselves, and we identify to each other who the racists in GE actually are. Immelt's NEVER shown up on our radar as one.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 3:48 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 15 · Charlotte Flowers

I agree with Georgia Carver, I have been with GE over 37 years and have to say that even in the 1970's management did it's best to be diverse even before it was a popular concept. No one is perfect and we should all strive; black, white, asians, hispanics; to work together as one. But people are people and we all have our prejudices…..what's important is to be aware of your own prejudices and change.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 4:33 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 16 · MMoore

Has anyone addressed whether or not he in fact put down this list??1)WHite men, 2)White women..etc…
Is THAT factual?? This is what I want to can't spin that into "I'm all for diversity..but I can't help myself about whom I trust.."

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 4:44 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 17 · Tanya Spencer

I have worked for GE for 15 years and have had the opportunity to see both Jeff Immelt and his predecessor, Jack Welch, not just talk about diversity, but also put real action behind it. GE is not perfect, but as I talk to my counterparts in Corporate America, GE is doing more than the majority of companies to promote diversity and has done even more since Jeff became CEO.

I am an African American female and a leader within GE. While I was not in the room for this conversation, I have been in the room on several occasions to hear Jeff talk about expanding his "circle of comfort". This report is a complete distortion of that conversation.

Most people won???t talk about race at all, as if it is a non-issue. It is refreshing to hear my CEO have that conversation, talk about all of the things he does to expand his circle and also talk about holding GE leadership, including himself (and me for that matter), accountable for diversity.

This concept should not be a surprise to anyone. Whether it is people who look like you, were raised like you or have had similar life experiences, we all have people that we have felt (or still do feel) more comfortable with. The key is to make sure you are expanding your experiences and hence your own ???circle of comfort???.

We need more real dialogue like this, not distortions that make people stay away from these conversations.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 5:32 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 18 · David Faulknor

I too work for GE, and completely agree with Tanya. (No.17) In speaking with colleagues from other companies - GE sets the benchmark with which I would hope other companies could potentially reach in their commitment to diversity.

The mischaracterization that started this discussion does nothing to help bring true issues to the forefront, all it does is deride someone who has continually done all they can to foster diversity within a major corporation.

I commend Jeff on his work, and all of our forums/networks (AAF, APAF, GEWN, just to name a few).

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 6:36 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 19 · Chris Night

I think Jeff just has naturally terrible timing or something… but he is brutally honest with himself and others. His comment is a mere artifact of this countries racial divide which most of us are unfortunate enough to be subject too anyway. I do think Jeff has made, and is ready to make some more, positive changes in the company and the world in general. This is more than I can say for most corporate type big wigs who are too intimidated to even tap into a diversity conference.

If Michele and Barack win this fall it will signify a step change for America is coming and it will be a turning point away from the crippling racial paradigm that exists.

I'm not a psychologist but, I'm guessing, more weird / politically-incorrect comments from high profile figures (like Jeff) will surface before they ever can become a thing of the past. Hats off to Jeff for being a pioneer and getting it out of his system. Little tip: Next time don't do it in front of a large crowd.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 7:07 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 20 · V Smith

I am a female African American Human Resource Manager. I've worked for GE a little less than seven years and I've also worked for many organizations outside of GE in the HR capacity. I am extremely proud of GE's reputation and record of recognizing the importance of Diversity in the workplace. Our goal is to take that one step further in developing a culture of inclusion. I'm saddened to see these efforts undermined by those would choose to misrepresent Jeff's comments.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 7:55 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 21 · kelleytate

If you don't work or have worked at GE then you don't get to comment. Period. I've worked for GE 7+ years before. In that time I've been accepted and graduated from it's top leadership program, traveled the world, received numerous awards, and have had some incredible jobs. That is because GE rewards performance not race. Before GE I worked for a other top fortune 100 companies. They can't hold a candle to GE. I can say without a doubt GE doesn't just talk diversity, they make it happen. Everybody else just gives lip service. At the end of the day everyone has obstacles to success. Those who succeed use them as battering rams. Those who don't use them as roadblocks.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 10:09 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 22 · Ayn Rand's Nanny

Wrong - this is an open forum, anyone can comment. In any event, this sounds like sour grapes from a weak source or a woefully parsed jumbling of words from the same weak source.


Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 11:13 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 23 · hridesh

Jeff Immelt is a great leader. He gives utmost value to humanity and work performance.. He has never distinguished humans based on their race.. I am proud to be part of GE and its values. Misleading blogs should be ignored. Such inaccurate news are really bad to read, atleast for those who are member of the organization.

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 at 11:39 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 24 · Ranjit Das

As an Asian working in GE I would like to make a remark. I have nearly 20 years work experience gained across five different FTSE 100 companies - both UK & US - so feel I am capable of comparing GE against other companies.

For the past five years I have worked in GE and I can honestly say they have been the best years of my working life. GE sets the benchmark in being a meritocracy. I only wish the other firms I had worked in had met up to the standards of fairness & openness GE sets.

Posted: Sep 19, 2008 at 4:57 am · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 25 · AM

yes it is an open forum…however, the comments imply that unless you work for GE you are not really in a postion to comment on their diversity. Being a GE employee myself, I am in a position to comment - GE values and encourages diversity throughout the whole organisation. GE also encourages the reflection of ones own short fallings to promote personal growth, it is somewhat rare and refreshing to see this cascaded from our CEO.

Posted: Sep 19, 2008 at 10:41 am · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 26 · BCDC Sponsors

As co-sponsors of the Black Corporate Directors Conference, we are compelled to respond to this recent posting and offer our informed point of view. For background, the Black Corporate Directors Conference is a seven-year-old, invitation only, private conference that brings together black corporate directors from Fortune 500 companies across the nation. The individuals that comprise this accomplished group are leaders in their fields as well as in the boardroom. In their roles as fiduciaries, they are committed to the enhancement of shareholder value. As African Americans, they are also conscious of the unique voice and perspective they bring to the boardroom.

The goal of the Black Corporate Directors Conference is to facilitate a meaningful discussion about the role of the civil rights agenda in the boardroom. The desired outcome of this dialogue is to further equality in all aspects of corporate America ??? from employee composition, to philanthropic spend to fairness in purchasing. To this end, we have been privileged and delighted to have leaders from our nation???s largest and most respected corporations participate in this important forum. Their attendance has enhanced the discussion, helped spread the word and ultimately affected meaningful change.

One such attendee this year was Jeffrey Immelt ??? Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Electric. Contrary to the views expressed in this column, at no time did Jeff Immelt state that he did not trust black people. We respect and stand by Jeff. Likewise, we are grateful to him for taking time out of his hectic schedule to be with us to discuss his views on the importance of diversity as well as his deep commitment to building on the meaningful success of minorities ??? be they employees or suppliers ??? of GE.

Jeff???s reputation as a world-class leader of a world-class company is well-known and documented. His efforts to advance the careers and businesses of some outstanding African American leaders may not be as widely known. But these contributions were evident from his words and actions as well as the resounding support of so many who have directly benefited from his attention like GE alums Art Harper and Lloyd Trotter who were both in the room.

Truncated summaries framed without any context do not do justice to the serious dialogue that takes place amongst thoughtful people at the Black Corporate Directors Conference. They also do not do justice to Jeff Immelt, General Electric, or all of those who work to make the company great. Most important of all, they do little to augment the efforts to increase diversity which is so important to our country and our community.

John W. Rogers, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Ariel Investments
Charles A. Tribbett, III, Co-Leader, CEO/Board Services Practice, Russell Reynolds Associates
Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments

Posted: Sep 19, 2008 at 12:01 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 27 · Lloyd Thompson

I am an African American leader at GE with 34+ years of service currently based in Southern France. GE under Jack Welch was on the forefront of recognizing the need and benefits of a diverse meritocracy to the success of the business.

Under the leaderships of Jeff, there has been a markedly steeper and continuous upward trajectory in the numbers of African Americans, Women, Asians amd Hispanics holding and suceeding in leadership positions. Jeff quietly leads by example, but demands that the environment for continued success be the responsibility of every leader.

Having worked with Jeff on several business initiatives, I know that this small-minded incident will not diminish his dedication to ensuring that any professional can live their dreams at GE.

Posted: Sep 20, 2008 at 4:16 am · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 28 · John Carter & Cris Carter

As a Corporate Plus?? Member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council; as the first recipient of the National Urban League Entrepreneurship Award; as a GE Strategic Partner; and as two African American male business owners, we would like to express our support for Jeff Immelt.

It is disconcerting to us to see the deleterious energy and emphasis that has been placed on comments that seem to have been taken out of the intentional context. The participation of individuals in Mr. Immelt???s position, at a minority event as significant as the annual Black Corporate Directors Conference, speaks volumes as it relates to the awareness of the need for continued enhancement in the area race relationships. It is our hope that a violation of presumed confidentiality and protocol does not deter others from openly engaging in the future.

We have had the honor of partnering and working closely with Jeff Immelt. His commitment to diversity is evident through his leadership and legacy at GE. This expression of support is exemplary of the level of regard that we have for Jeff and the trust that he has in our ability to continue to grow Carter Brothers as a leader in the security industry. We are pleased to have had his mentorship and look forward to continuing to build a lasting relationship with him.


John Carters, CEO Carter Brothers
Cris Carter, Chairman, Carter Brothers

Posted: Sep 25, 2008 at 4:26 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
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