General Electric, founded by Thomas Edison, is a company steeped in America’s history of innovation, and now its partisan politics.
Former GE CEO Jack Welch renewed his skepticism of Department of Labor statistics that showed the U.S. unemployment rate falling below 8 percent for the first time in more than three years.
Welch told MSNBC today he didn’t have any evidence of corruption or an actual attempt to cook the jobs numbers. But he made clear he’s astonished by them.
“It just defied the imagination to have a surge larger than any surge since 1983 one month before the election,” Welch said.
Welch’s comments and the current presidential election have placed the company’s present and former CEOs at stark odds with each other – with one publicly backing the Obama administration and the other lambasting it over its jobs record.
Welch has as close to a sterling reputation on Wall Street as any CEO. As the longtime head of one of the largest multi-national corporations in the world, Welch was credited with restructuring the company – and enduring criticism for the subsequent layoffs – and growing its stock a whopping 1,800 percent in two decades.
When Jack Welch speaks, the business world listens. And so when he suggested on Twitter that the Obama administration cooked the books on the September jobs report, which showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, just about everyone listened, though few economists supported his claims.
He is now the face of GOP skepticism of the relatively rosy employment picture.
But then there’s Jeff Immelt, GE’s current CEO and Welch’s successor. Immelt has led GE since 2001 and is head of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Immelt has hosted an administration event with the president at one of GE’s plants in Schenectady, N.Y. – was controversial on both sides of the aisle.
Obama and Immelt are of one mind on at least one major policy priority: green energy. Immelt has repeatedly criticized the U.S. for not doing enough to prioritize green energy, and has made GE’s wind turbine business a priority. They disagree on other issues.
In recent months, Immelt has quietly stepped into the background - along with Obama’s jobs council – as the campaign swung into high gear, but his presence at Obama’s side for more than a year allowed the White House to tout the support and advice of a panel of business leaders, which he led.
A spokesman for GE said that while Immelt has served on the president’s jobs council and appeared with him at several official public events, he has not endorsed the Obama reelection effort or his economic policies.
“Neither Jeff nor the Jobs Council endorsed anyone’s economic policies. Jeff led a volunteer council on American competitiveness that gave advice to the President and issued public reports. Jeff led a volunteer council on American competitiveness that gave advice to the President and issued public reports,” said GE spokesman Gary Sheffer.
This post has been updated to reflect that Immelt has not endorsed President Obama.