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Change is everything – size isn’t, says GE CFO Bornstein

CHANGE in the CFO world is happening “almost at light speed” in “a world getting shorter of time”.

That’s the view of Jeffrey Bornstein, CFO of the $150bn (£98bn) turnover US conglomerate, GE, that dominates sectors as diverse as power and water, oil and gas, aviation and healthcare and finance – and a wealth of others.

The 25-year GE veteran was in reflective mood when speaking at The Economist’s CFO 2015 conference: ‘From boom to bust: financial leadership in the recovery’: “Over the last 20 years, the pace of change is increasing at an accelerating rate, particularly through the technology, connectivity and globalisation.

“What used to change over a quarter or years now happens in days or weeks. Things are changing almost at light speed, the one commodity we don’t have is time,” he said.

Such a pace of change has a direct impact on the firm – the only surviving member of the original Dow Jones 30 – as the business “has to have people who want change and embrace it”

It isn’t “the younger folk coming out of school that don’t know anything different to a new iPod being released every six months” that need to keep abreast of the relentless rapidity of change, explained Bornstein, of the 130-year-old firm, but “the people who are now 15-20 years into their career that we have to give more training and development to so that they can stay relevant.”

The biggest liability can sometimes be scale. “Size can be an enormous disadvantage and a liability. You need to convert complexity to simplicity. If you don’t do that successfully, you will have real issues,” he said.

To ensure a constant pipeline of refreshing ideas and challenge the status quo, GE constantly “brings in a lot of external talent and thinking across the entirety of the business”, a process which is “enormously valuable”.

A core mantra running through its DNA, Bornstein explains, is “everything begins and ends with the customer – they are why we do the things we do.

They key to both Bornstein, and the firm’s ongoing success is “100% based on the quality of the people I put on the field” and the ability to attract, retain and stimulate that intake.”

 

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