GE Draws Top Tech Talent as It Transforms into ‘Industrial Internet’ Firm

The company’s CHRO says talent sees value in ‘changing how the world works’

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin Mar 28, 2017

Top talent from several of the country's high-tech powerhouses has been jumping to General Electric (GE) as the 125-year-old global conglomerate undergoes what it calls a historic transformation into a digital industrial company.

In November, for instance, Boston-based GE announced that it had hired Patrick Franklin, a Google vice president of engineering, to be vice president and general manager of applications for GE Digital. The company also named Steven Martin, formerly of Microsoft Azure, as vice president and chief digital officer for GE Energy Connections.

In February, GE hired Amit Phadnis, who had worked at Cisco Systems, as vice president and chief technology for GE Healthcare. And in one of the more high-profile moves, Apple's head of cloud engineering, Darren Haas, who helped found and develop Siri, became GE's senior vice president of platform cloud engineering in June.

As SHRM Online reported late last year, "27 percent of U.S. businesses surveyed said they have experienced an increase in poaching of C-suite talent," according to the report, The Prevalence of Talent Raids Among U.S. Corporations and the Implications for Talent Retention Strategies.

These appointments come as GE expands its Predix, which it calls the operating system for the "industrial Internet," to connect industrial equipment and to analyze data and support apps to improve performance for GE and its clients. GE has spent five years and $1 billion "learning how to become a software and analytics company," said GE Chief Digital Officer Bill Ruh, CEO of 18-month-old GE Digital, on his blog.

GE hired Ruh from Cisco in 2011 to develop its industrial Internet product and oversee the joining of GE's physical and digital operations. GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt has said the company aims to expand its software and analytics enterprise.

"We are going through a massive transformation of the company," Ruh said in February in a podcast interview at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge in Massachusetts. "We are realizing that digital is being put into every product, every service. And then a whole new set of products and services we're building are coming out that are pure digital offerings. So, as a result, you really have to rethink how the company is organized."

GE is getting into "a new set of businesses with business models very different from traditional industrial [models], more akin to what's coming out of the Silicon Valley or Seattle," Ruh said. "We're organizing the company to be able to move into this new digital world. … It's quite a great challenge, and it's probably one of the biggest transformations the company would go through in a hundred-year history."

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: How Do I Calculate Retention?]

HR: Top Talent 'Crucial' to Success

The challenge clearly requires talented technical teams, which may mean thinking more like an agile tech firm than a traditional industrial business typically would.

How has GE appealed to engineers and developers from Silicon Valley and Seattle?

GE Chief Human Resource Officer Jennifer Waldo offers insights in a recent guest column on TechTarget's IoT Agenda.

"Many of the top industrial Internet talent magnets are working on meaningful problems that are changing how the world works. Articulating this value proposition to potential candidates is crucial to success," she wrote.

When thinking of digitally transforming their organizations, leaders should ask themselves several questions, including where they see digital technology potentially disrupting their current business model, where data and analytics present growth opportunities, and how they can better use digital to directly benefit their customers.

Business leaders need to formulate a vision and ask themselves whether they already have the organizational talent to fulfill the vision and how their company's culture might need to change, Waldo wrote.

For successful digital transformations, Waldo said, "it is critical to acquire talent that has grown up in tech and is comfortable with agile methods of process, as well as an agile culture." It's also important to hire the right people at the right time, she wrote, going into detail about first and second generations of digital talent hires.

"At every phase of your digital industrial transformation, it is critical to give your key talent permission to disrupt, push back and question how things are done. By talking with each other, digital talent and industrial talent can learn from each other—and both get better," she wrote. CIO Magazine noted in an article this month that GE not only attracts top engineers with the prospect of working on transformative projects but that the company four years ago hired several recruiters with deep software experience to help bring in other technology workers. The company added bonuses and equity to compensation packages, which CIO noted is rare in traditional industrial firms.

In addition, the article stated, GE recruiters emphasized that the company allows leaders to move across business lines as they advance in seniority.

Now, CIO notes, tech companies have started to target GE engineers for recruitment.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer covering workplace issues, health, personal finance, entrepreneurship and supply chain trends from Philadelphia.

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