Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

How top-flight execs McNerney and Nardelli left GE with breathtaking speed

It took all of five business days for Corporate America to snap up two of the most sought after CEOs-in-waiting, General Electric Co. alums W. James McNerney Jr. and Robert L. Nardelli. The two veterans, both top contenders for Jack Welch's CEO job, were expected to leave their posts. But their swift departure only underscores the urgent need for top-flight talent at some of the nation's largest and most vaunted corporations. Indeed, Welch noted that only one hour after GE announced Jeffrey R. Immelt as his successor, headhunter Heidrick & Struggles was on the phone inquiring about the two also-rans.

And for good reason. Both men have impressive resumes and endured test after tough test from Welch. But the GE pedigree also means they will face soaring expectations from investors--just look at the 11% jump in 3M's share price the day McNerney signed on. So now comes a new test: Can these men deliver outside the confines of GE?

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