The Vice-Chairman of GE, Hong-Kong based John Rice, has called on Africa to develop the best trained human capital in order to stay competitive. Until recently, GE generated most of its revenues in the US, but the rapid growth in emerging markets means this is no longer the case. In an interview with Omar Ben Yedder, Mr Rice explains how GE operates in distinct regulatory markets across the continent.
How does one manage a behemoth like GE, operating across so many countries?
We do business in 170 countries but we can’t let that scale confuse us, we have to be what we need to be in Nigeria, what we need to be in Ghana, what we need to be in Mozambique, what we need to be in South Africa. We can never think about the world as one homogeneous place.
Even though every airline wants the same capability in a jet engine – fuel efficiency, low noise, low emissions – the way you deliver that technology, and support it and service it, is different. You’ve got to balance the size and scale that comes with being big with the speed and dexterity of being small. It’s the constant constructive conflict in a big company.
You don’t get business because you’re big: you get business because you’re good
You want to be big because it brings benefits but you have to be small and agile to win business. You don’t win business because you’re big: you win business because you’re good – and sometimes being good means being local and doing things in Nigeria that you don’t have to do in some place else.
The staff of GE seem to be passionate about what they do and are results oriented. How does one create this attitude?
We try to hire people who are good athletes, who we think can play a number of different positions. It’s hard to know when you’re 21 or 22 years old, or even 24 or 25, exactly what you want to do or what you’re really going to be good at – so we hire people who are versatile, who are team players, who never think that they’re bigger than the company, they always understand that there’s something above them called GE.
And we hire people who are inquisitive and want to be lifelong learners, and if everybody we hire has the right combination of those ingredients then I think we’re going to be more successful at what we do, and I think people are going to enjoy long, fruitful careers at GE.
So it’s not a scientific formula but if you hire team players, if you hire people who are inquisitive and want to learn, and you hire people that believe in the value of the institution, your chances for success go up.
Where do most of GE’s revenues come from?
Over 60% of our orders last year were outside the US.