General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt admits he was skeptical at first that moving to a big city would be good for business.
“I thought it was a little bit of B.S. initially,” Immelt told biographer Walter Isaacson in a Wednesday interview at the Washington Ideas Forum. “I wasn’t sure.”
Needless to say, he’s come around.
“At the end of the day, I think, for the company, we wanted to get into a place where ... every day, you could get up and be part of an academic setting. And so I think it was important to get to a city,” Immelt said.
After shaking up the Boston business landscape by announcing the move from Connecticut in January, GE bigwigs quietly set up shop in interim headquarters in the Seaport last month. They plan to move into a new, larger Seaport campus in 2018.
“I’ve been in Boston now six weeks,” he said. “You just walk out the door, you’re in the middle of an ecosystem that, quite honestly for a big company, it makes you afraid, right? You’re where the ideas are. You get more paranoid when you’re doing that, and that’s a good thing.”
If that seems like strange praise, it was a talking point of Immelt’s for many months ahead of the move.
In February, a month after the company announced the move, Immelt told investors that he hoped Boston’s innovation economy would keep GE on its toes and “in the world of ideas, so that we remain contemporary and paranoid.”
GE first began exploring a departure from Connecticut in mid-2015 amid criticism of the state’s business climate. Immelt contrasted Boston with his former suburban workplace.
“When I looked out the window when I was in Connecticut, it was beautiful – awesome, great office,” he said. “But when I looked out my window, I saw nothing, nothing, there was nothing going on. I could watch cars going on the highway, things like that.”
Immelt waded into presidential politics in the interview, criticizing Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump for their shared disapproval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
He also repeated past criticism of Trump’s racially tinged comments over the course of the election cycle as “unacceptable.”
“Make no mistake: I’m a Republican,” he said. “I don’t want necessarily four more years of a Democratic administration as a philosophy. But as a human being, and as a company, we don’t tolerate discrimination in any form. We don’t believe in it and can’t accept it.”
Immelt called for greater infrastructure spending in the US, saying the country has a “huge need” for such projects to boost both jobs and productivity.
No word yet on his thoughts on the state of the infrastructure in his new home city, like the Seaport’s gridlocked streets and jammed Silver Line buses.