Executive Briefings

Teaching GE to Think Like a Startup

Entrepreneur Eric Ries rose to prominence by teaching ­startups how to adopt the best practices of big, global ­companies. Today he's also teaching huge companies how to behave more like the upstarts.

In this edited excerpt from his new book, The Startup Way, he recounts how he persuaded managers at General Electric, a 125-year-old, 300,000-employee behemoth, to embrace a different kind of thinking.

The Startup Way

On a summer afternoon, a group of engineers and executives at one of America’s largest companies met in a classroom deep in the heart of their sprawling executive training facility to discuss their multi-$100m, five-year plan for developing a new diesel and natural-gas engine. Their goal was to enter a new market space; excitement was running high. The engine, named Series X, had broad applications in many industries, from energy generation to locomotive power.

All of this was very clear to those assembled in the room. Except to one person, who had no prior knowledge of engines, energy, or industrial product production and was therefore reduced to asking a series of questions Dr. Seuss might have posed:

“What is this used for again? It’s in a boat? On a plane? By sea and by land? On a train?”

The executives and engineers alike were no doubt wondering, “Who is this guy?”

That guy was me. The company was GE, one of America’s oldest, most venerable organizations. I’m not a corporate executive. My background is not in energy or health care or any of GE’s myriad industrial businesses. I am an entrepreneur.

But GE’s then-chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt and then-vice chair Beth Comstock had invited me to Crotonville, N.Y., that day because they were intrigued by an idea proposed in my first book: that the principles of entrepreneurial management could be applied to any industry, size of company, or sector of the economy. And they believed their company needed to start working according to those principles. The goal was to set GE on a path for growth and adaptability, to build a legacy that would allow the company to flourish long term.

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In this edited excerpt from his new book, The Startup Way, he recounts how he persuaded managers at General Electric, a 125-year-old, 300,000-employee behemoth, to embrace a different kind of thinking.

The Startup Way

On a summer afternoon, a group of engineers and executives at one of America’s largest companies met in a classroom deep in the heart of their sprawling executive training facility to discuss their multi-$100m, five-year plan for developing a new diesel and natural-gas engine. Their goal was to enter a new market space; excitement was running high. The engine, named Series X, had broad applications in many industries, from energy generation to locomotive power.

All of this was very clear to those assembled in the room. Except to one person, who had no prior knowledge of engines, energy, or industrial product production and was therefore reduced to asking a series of questions Dr. Seuss might have posed:

“What is this used for again? It’s in a boat? On a plane? By sea and by land? On a train?”

The executives and engineers alike were no doubt wondering, “Who is this guy?”

That guy was me. The company was GE, one of America’s oldest, most venerable organizations. I’m not a corporate executive. My background is not in energy or health care or any of GE’s myriad industrial businesses. I am an entrepreneur.

But GE’s then-chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt and then-vice chair Beth Comstock had invited me to Crotonville, N.Y., that day because they were intrigued by an idea proposed in my first book: that the principles of entrepreneurial management could be applied to any industry, size of company, or sector of the economy. And they believed their company needed to start working according to those principles. The goal was to set GE on a path for growth and adaptability, to build a legacy that would allow the company to flourish long term.

Read Full Article