Immelt, who has written a new book about his years at the company, shared how that process unfolded and defended his tenure during the tumultuous period at GE.
"I wrote the book really for two reasons. One is that the GE story is a complicated story," Immelt, author of "Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company," told Yahoo Finance's Julie Hyman at the All Markets Summit conference on Monday. "And I think when you have a complicated story, you have to tell it fully and completely. And I didn't feel like that was happening in the context of GE."
Under Immelt's leadership — from September 7, 2001 to July 31, 2017 — the company's stock dropped precipitously. In his view, there was one key problem for GE.
"We won in our markets. We experienced globalization and digitization, but the market cap didn't grow," Immelt explained. "And all of us carry that as a burden as we go forward."
The 'mythic' rise and fall of GE
GE was born out of a merger between Thomas Edison’s Edison Electric Company and the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in 1892, which was arranged by financier J.P. Morgan.
For the next century, the company grew along with the economy.
At its zenith, the company was a sprawling global empire. In 2000, GE was generating almost $130 billion in revenue. At that point, the global giant was a lender, an appliance maker, a media giant (with NBCUniversal), and a health care business.
But GE's path took a sharp U-turn soon after, just as Immelt took over in 2001.
The 2008 financial crisis hit GE particularly hard — particularly its financial services division, GE Capital, which was hammered with losses.
The entire fiasco continued for over a decade resulting not only in Immelt stepping down in 2017, but also in the company getting kicked off the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) in 2018. (GE was a founding member of the Dow in 1896.) More recently, GE has been selling itself part by part.
Immelt said his new book revealed what went behind the scenes during those many years in the red.
"I wanted to tell the story, a complicated story, more completely," he said. "I also think in this generation, all leadership is crisis leadership. And from 9/11 through the financial crisis and COVID and Fukushima, my team and I experienced lots of volatility. And I thought some of the storytelling and some of the lessons would be valuable to other leaders."
The company's since hired Larry Culp to turn the company around. And whatever comes next, GE's wild ride serves as a cautionary tale for many investors and business leaders.
"GE is a mythic corporation. It was at one time the largest, most powerful company in the world," Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates wrote in a blog post in June 2021. "It turns out that the word 'mythic' is the perfect word for GE. The corporation has come crashing to Earth in one of the greatest downfalls in business history."
Gates added that GE is "a textbook case of mismanagement of an overly complex business."
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.