GE’s New Boss Expected to Continue Promoting Local Innovation

Jun 12, 2017 | Boston Globe, Council in the News

By Andy Rosen

Christopher Anderson, president of the Mass High Technology Council, said Flannery “has all of the global experience and is totally focused on innovative tech.”

“He’ll be able to fit right into a number of other successful tech [companies] who have their headquarters in Massachusetts and fit into the global market,” he said.

General Electric Co. rolled into Boston with an unambiguous message, delivered by chief executive Jeffrey Immelt: The corporate giant wanted in on the “sea of ideas” created by the city’s culture of research, academics, and startups.

Now, as GE settles in, it will move forward without the day-to-day leadership of the man whose passion for change drove GE to move from suburban Fairfield, Conn. to be around the Boston’s world-renowned innovation scene.

People in the local tech scene said they believe the announcement Monday that John Flannery will take over as CEO does not darken the outlook for GE and Boston, where the company is building its new headquarters in Fort Point.

Christopher Anderson, president of the Mass High Technology Council, said Flannery “has all of the global experience and is totally focused on innovative tech.”

“He’ll be able to fit right into a number of other successful tech [companies] who have their headquarters in Massachusetts and fit into the global market,” he said.

Anderson believes Immelt will continue to be visible as he finishes out the year as chairman of the company. Flannery has been operating out of the Chicago area.

Though Immelt made a point of getting to know players in Boston tech, his time here has been relatively short. Many in the local industry said they did not get to know him well.

Immelt had been hosting dinners at GE’s makeshift headquarters to meet people in the local community, and observers have said he was particularly active in meeting entrepreneurs who were not well known.

GE has prioritized recruiting in the region, targeting software developers and other digital talent as it seeks to modernize its traditional heavy-machinery businesses with new software and technology, a transformation to what it calls the Industrial Internet.

The corporation has also become an investor in the Boston area’s startup scene, taking stakes in companies even before it said in January 2016 that it would move here.

GE Ventures, its venture capital arm, owns parts of companies including Catalant, Desktop Metal, Tamr, and Rethink Robotics.

Jeff Bussgang, a general partner at Boston-based venture capital firm Flybridge Capital Partners, said Monday that Flannery’s background — most recently chief of GE Healthcare — could be a particular asset given Boston is a center of medical and biotech research.

“I assume he is equally committed to Boston and the fact that he’s a health care executive, which is in our region’s wheelhouse, strikes me as a very good thing,” Bussgang said.

Bill Geary, co-founder and partner at Flare Capital Partners, has been closely involved with GE; GE Ventures has a representative on his firm’s industry advisory board and is working with Flare on a $200 million health technology fund.

Geary said the elevation of Flannery shows the company is dedicated to the strategy that brought it to Boston.

Its work in health care has been a particular emphasis, with the company announcing last month that it had joined up with Partners HealthCare to study ways to use artificial intelligence to improve several areas of medicine.

“This commitment runs deep in the GE organization,” Geary said. “Jeff has been a notably visible face of it, but it is not going away with Jeff no longer being the CEO. I think it’s only being accelerated by the individual divisions, and by John being the CEO.”

Mohamad Ali, chief executive of the Boston-based cloud backup firm Carbonite, said Flannery’s decisions will play a major role in the effect the company has on the Boston tech scene.

GE still has many workers on digital projects in California. If those jobs were come here, Ali said, that would show a new level of commitment to Boston.

“It would be advantageous for the Company in terms of hiring top talent that is already here, and would benefit Boston by creating more local jobs that are driving innovation,” Ali said.

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