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The Immelt Revolution

He's turning GE's culture upside down, demanding far more risk and innovation

Despite his air of easy-going confidence, Jeffrey R. Immelt admits to two fears: that General Electric Co. (GE ) will become boring, and that his top people might act like cowards. That's right: cowards. He worries that GE's famous obsession with bottom-line results -- and tendency to get rid of those who don't meet them -- will make some execs shy away from taking risks that could revolutionize the company.

Immelt, 49, is clearly pushing for a cultural revolution. For the past 3 1/2 years, the GE chairman and CEO has been on a mission to transform the hard-driving, process-oriented company into one steeped in creativity and wired for growth. He wants to move GE's average organic growth rate -- the increase in revenue that comes from existing operations, rather than deals and currency fluctuations -- to at least 8% from about 5% over the past decade. Under his former boss, the renowned Jack Welch, the skills GE prized above all others were cost-cutting, efficiency, and dealmaking. What mattered was the continual improvement of operations, and that mindset helped make the $152 billion industrial and finance behemoth a marvel of earnings consistency. Immelt hasn't turned his back on the old ways. But in his GE, the new imperatives are risk-taking, sophisticated marketing, and above all, innovation.