When things are going well, potential problem areas get brushed under the carpet. Its only when the economy gets difficult, that tensions surface.
Comments by General Electric CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, reported today by the Financial Times, are therefore a worrying sign of the uncertainty at the top of leading global businesses about the economic outlook.
Here is Immelt on China: “I really worry about China. I am not sure that in the end they want any of us to win, or any of us to be successful.”
And he went on to add, “China and India remain important for GE but I am thinking about what is next,” he said, mentioning what he called “most interesting resource-rich countries” in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America plus Indonesia. “They don’t all want to be colonised by the Chinese. They want to develop themselves“.
Then there is Immelt on the USA, and President Obama, where he claimed that “Business did not like the US president, and the president did not like business. We [the US] are a pathetic exporter…we have to become an industrial powerhouse again but you don’t do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in synch.”
These comments expose major concerns. A GE statement has since tried to limit the damage, noting that “Mr Immelt’s comments at a private dinner focused on the relationship between business and government in general and did not single out President Obama. Mr Immelt also discussed the attractiveness and importance of China as a market for GE.”
However, as denials go, this is pretty weak, and it didn’t stop the FT running the story on the front page. Coincidentally, the FT’s main headline today is “Global alert over faltering economy“. Immelt’s comments demonstrate just how real is this concern.