tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations PBS December 28, 2019 5:00am-5:32am PST
announcer: support for the pbs presentation of this program was provided by general motors. man: i see a future. woman: i see a good future. woman: i see a future filled with roads and no rage. both: we see a future... man: with zero crashes. womafo i see a future wheril fuels... man: are a thing of the past. all: we see a future with zero emission man: i see a future where traffic... second man: keeps perfect time. third ma where intelligence is always by design. fourth m see a future with zero congestion. woman: zero congestion. man: we e... second man: we are... both: we are... all: general motors. david: is a big burden off your shoulders now? jeffrey: i'm starting to feel a little bit of decompression. david: you have succeeded a legendary business fige. jeffrey: if i was going to give advice, it woulde to follow a bum. david: the financial crisis of 2007, 2008. jeffrey: you know, i kind of just wted to say, "i want my mommy right now." david: you sold things that were pt of ge's history. jeffrey: we weren't on a path to greatness.
david: if a president were to say to you, "come in as a cabinet officer," what would you say? jeffrey: i'm not sure businepeople make great public servants. ieman: would you fix yourplease? david: well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. just leave it this way. all right. i don't consider myself a journalist. and nobody else would cons i began to take on the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? after 16 years as the ceo of ge, you have just stepped down. is a big burden off yo shoulders now? jeffrey: i do think if you're doing the job well, you feel ownership over everybody who is a constituency,
and you wear that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. so, look, k 16 years is a long time to run one of these coanies, and i'm kind oke-- i'm starting to feel a little bit of decompression, let's say. david: so do you think it's too long to run a publicly-traded company for someone like you, or anybody? jeffrey: that's a grt question, david. i think there's aright e and wrong time, in terms of doing it. so a company our size, you need to run it long enough to make a difference, to be ableo ape strategy. and it's always been our philosophy but at the same time, you know, it's good to get a new set of you know, as things change, you develop habits. are you listening as closely as you need to do? i think--personally, i think 16 years is probably on the outer edge of how long somebody should be runninga com. david: so you succeeded a legendary business figure. was thatof a challenge when you succeed somebody as well known as your predecessor? injeffrey: yeah, if i was to give anybody advice,
it would be to flow a bum. it's a lot-- it's a lot easier. i remember in 2000, "fortune" did a retrospective of the 20th century and the best manager of the previous 100 years was jack welch, right, so you better have some confidence if you're gonna take his job because are pretty big shoes to fall into. but i loved working with jack, and i was proud to follow him. david: when you got the job, it was the result of a 3-way process. jack welch had narrowed it down to you, bob nardelli, and jim mcnerney. and it was very puhsic, i think, for 6 momaybe a year, and then you were selected. did you know that you were likely to win? and did you think you were gonna win? and when you were told you were gonna win, were you surprised and did you think you were ready to do the job? jeffrey: you know, so i had been wking for ge for about 20 years by the time at came up. and anybody who works for the company that thinks they'ra be ceo of the company,
that's weird. you shouldn't feel that wa right? there's so much luck involved. there's so much chance and things like that. so i never really was captivated by that, you know, getting that title. and i remember jack brought each one of us in and said, "if you get the job, you have to leave." and i said, "you're kiing." you know, come on, man. it's like, i'd stay, you kn, it's ok. and so--but it was--you have to recapture that moment in time, you know, david. in other words, i think what you would say, what i would say is 2016, 2017 is so different than 2000. we were at the peak of the bubble economy angs like that. i'm not sure anybody since then has done it in quite as puic a way. david: before you got the job, you grew up in cincinnati area. e.and your father was atwas tha? what was his job? jeffrey: so my dadinorked in the aircraft e business for his whole career, almost 40 years. so i kind of grew up aroun factories, and i grew up around the technology business.
i had the clkind of middle-class education, high school--public high school in one of the most midwestern cities that you can have--cincinnati, ohio. w david: all right. so ye a football star there. is that right? jeffrey: i was a good athlete. i was really--yo, when i was in high school, if you said, "what are you gonna do?" i would have said, "i'm gonna be a professional football player." david: i said that, oro, until i was about years old, then i realized it wasn't gonna work. jeffrey: i played with a guy-- jeffrey: i remember in high school playing against a guy that got aatschol and i was an offensive neman. i didn't block him once all night. and i said, ok, the nfl career may be out. i better take care of my math-- my math skills may be more important. david: did the big ten come after you or something like that? jeffrey: maybe like-- so i wasood enough to play for the worst team in a big league. so i could have gone to northwestern or vanderbilt or something like th. you know, i was a... i was on the upper end of mediocre, let's say.
so that was kind of my karma, if you will. david: all right, u chose to go to dartmouth, an ivy league school. and you played football at dartmouth. ba jeffrey: i played fo for 4 years at dartmouth. and that was really how i got there. i was a recruit. i hadn't really thought about going to an ivy league school. i gog to see it through playotball. and that was really my entrée into going to college. david: so you went to dartmout re you good enough to be in the nfl after dartmouth? jeffrey: maybe as a sideline reporter, something like that. david: after you graduated, you went to proctor and gamble. jeatrey: uh-huh. i show up roctor and gamble on my first day, duncan hines cake mix, td sitting at the desk rinext. so steve steve and i have been friends since we were 22 years old. and we ere horrible employees. you know, we were like a dilbert cartoon. we were--we werencorrigible, we would stay up too late at night, all that stuff. david:e tell you he had an offer to go work for this small company in seattle? jeffrey: steve to describe to me what he was doing.
and i said, you know, "do you have a backup plan j wt in case this doesnk out?" outlook, desktop software-- what could that possibly-- who could ever want that, you know? david: so you o harvard business school. after harvard business school, you went to general electric. jeffrey: yep. david: now, why did you picke? jeffrey: you know, there was no connection to my dad or anything like that, but i knew ge wa ta good place to learn arain. and i said, hey, i'm gonna go there and stay 5 years, right, and see what happens. i joined the plastics business when i joined ge and that kind of just-- i was in field sales and marketing and thgs like that, and that was really how my career started. i always tell people, like they say, o you put up with stress?" and i say, well, you know, my first job was selling plastics in plike detroit, and i would sit in a shoney's restaurant at breakfast having dry helves, getting ready toa pricing increase. walk across the street,say, i hope i don't die today." you know, on those experiences, big careers arborn. david: all right, well, it worked out, and you went to a series of positions.
jeffrey: i did classic ge appliances, ge plastics, ge health care. david: so yoannound as the ceo, and, in fact, you took the job, and then a/1ouple of days later,happens. so what did you think was g to happen to ge and your career? ffrey: oh, gosh, david. so, you know, it was an amazing time, you know, and every year when we go through 9/11, i think of the tragedy for the country, which is still very real. at that moment in time, we owned 1,200 aircraft, we owned nbc. we were--the biggest business in ge in 2001 was insurance. people don't know that. so we had retrnsurance on the worle center. and it was just-- it was a panic, really. so, you know, we went dark on nbc for 3 days. we had to take morthan $1 billion write off. david: dark meaning you had no advertising? jeffrey: no advertising, right. but wae most important thing what happened in aviation with the leased aircraft. so we would have like nightly calls.
and the vice chairman at that time was a guy you know, dennis dammerman, who's a great guy. , he's since passed awbut i . we would have a teleconference at, let's say, 9:00 at night. and guys would call in and say, ok, yeah, airline "x" is going to go bankrupt tomorrow unless we buy a billion dollars of double-e tcs. ok. and i would say, "dennis, what's a double-e tc?" and he'd try to explain it to me. and i'd say, well, "what would you do?" 'd say, "we got to do it"ok, le. and it was night after night of this airline bailouts. so we were shutting down airlines around the world because the country had passed terrorism insurance. and so you're making these decisions. so that wa 30 days, right. and then i'm finally thinking-- i'm in fld, and i'm thinking, ok, the sun's gonna rise again. phone rings. "bob wright's onhe phone. he needs to speak to you right away." and he said tom brokaw just received anthrax in the mail.
tom: another infection, this time at nbc news in rockefeer plaza. jeffrey: rudy giuliani is in the elevator. they shut down 16 square blocks around 30 rock. what do you want me to do? i said, "bob, let me put you on hold just for a second." i'm just ahh! you know, just like... so that was my first-- that was my first month. you knat was... david: well, you got through that. and ultimately, though, a number of years later, another crisis arose, and that is the financial crisis of 2007, 2008. and it was very severe. jeffrey: i went to work in 1982. i became ceo in 2001. if you were an american businessperson during that period of time, you had never seen a terrorist event. you know, you'd seen recessions and stuff like tha but you'd never seen something that was unimaginable. 9/11 was unimaginable. global financial crisis was unimaginable. and i think e all of us smarter about risk. e day lehman brothers went bankrupt actually wasn't the worst day of the financial crisis. it was actually the day washington mutual went down
because all the bondholders got wiped out. david: usually when somebody goes bankrupt, the equity gets wiped out, the bondholder get something. jeffrey: the bondholders get something. david: there, the bondholders got nothing as well. jeffrey: sfo came in that day and said, "hey, we are going to go raise equity, right, amuch as we can get." we called goldman sachs up, we said, ok, what's the largest secondary in the history of the world? and they said--in those days, maybe 15 billion. i said, ok, we're gonna go $15 billion. 're gonna do it moay.is w. we have a teleconference with our board on saturday morning. you know, nobody's there, just my cfo and i, but all the board members are calling in. "hey, guys, ony we are going to go raise some equity." you know, you could just hear silence, ok, on the other end oline. and roger penske, who i love, was on the board for a long time. roger, guy in says, "let's get the money." so then david-- this was the weekend washington was voting otarp, they were desperately trying to find a buyer at wachovia, an7 banks went bankrupt inrop.
and i had toalk from my office to get to 50 people to make the call. do we go the next day? and it was the single most stressful-- can i phone a friend? n - so i walk in and say we're not going tomorrow. man: defeat in the house for the massive emergency economic rescue plan. jeffrey: tarp fails, the market's down 1,000 points that monday. we waited 48 hours, we raised $16 billion. and that was the moment in time that we were totally safe. jeffrey: no. david: ok. jeffrey: and i think, you know,-- lookthg back, david, i thinlesson for everybody in any crisis is the people that move first in uncertainty, you know, that's how-- at least in that crisis, that's how you became safe. david: or call your mother if you can. jeffrey: exactly. vid: you inherited a very large industrial conglomerate, you could call it, maybe thomlargest industrial conerate. and then you began to reshape it and you sold things that were part of ge's history.
je yeah, so if you just go back, we were really a conglomerate. so we went fronbc to pet insurance, jet engines, plastics. we were kind of a classic conglomerate. and i think--you know, in our business, a little bit different tn-- we're kind of in the permanent hold business, right. so at the end of the day, what i wanted to do was construct around the things we really viewed as being our core competencies as time goes on, where we can generate a good retu, where we could build competitive advantage. we were the biggest provider of rang-term care, of re-insue. i lookes at those and said, are not, you know-- "a," i don't like the industries they're in, go"b," we're not very at it, and we run it the wrong way, let's go. so i started chopping away. david: ge appliances. was that hard to sell? jeffrey: so again, i always feel like it's good if you're your own activist. and it's always good if you ask yourself the question, run this business better than anybody else, orould somebody run it better than we could?
in the case of appliances, it was a classic capital allocation because we weren't going to globalize the platform. we didn't want to spend the money to be big in china. we didn't want to spend the money to be big in africa. i worked in appliances. i wouldn't have been ceo if i hadn't spent 4 years in the appliance business. so i had great afftion-- and i loved the brand, so i had great affection for it, but we were justing wood. we weren't on a path to greatness. and we could take that capital and put it in our energy essiness or aviation bus david: what about nbc universal? your predecessor bought that business, and it was profitable. didn't you like hanging out with tv stars and movie stars? you didn't like that? jeffrey: so good iustry, good team. and we generated a good return for the company in the time we had it. t here was my value added with nbc. make better shows. david: so just tell them to make better shows. jeffrey: make better--you know. as a company, we weren't adding a lot ofalue, number one.
number two, you could see the industry nds going through this f change. we always did, as a board, strategic reviews of nbc. i think one of our theories of the case in 2010 when we sold it, that really is true today was, can only be captured by those peop that both own the pipes and the content. and we had no interest in owning the pipes, right. so, and 3, i would say, unless you're in an existential way willing to go into digital delivery, you're gonna get trumped. now, the one other point i'd make, david, is one i missed completely is the theme park business. a new ride, the mummy, costs 100 million bucks. you say, "how could one ride cost 100 million bucks?" i missed it completely. it turned ouusto be maybe the onlyess in media that has sustainable competitive advantage is the theme park business because it takes capital, you can build a good spirit
of the people, and things like that. that was the one i gotrong. david: when you go to universal parks now, you can get in for free still? jeffrey: you know, maybe so. when we boht it, i called the guy that ran it, a guy named tom williams, great executive, and i said, let's just do a walking tour at universal. i want to see how it works. this is 2003. he says, "you want to ride on theummy ride?" i said, "yeat'd be great." so we go up. there's a 3-hour line. ey put me-- i break in the line. i'm in the first seat. they don't let anybody sit with me. and i am saying, "oh, my god, i am jerk of the year." you know, i've just been voted the permanent jerk of the year. davi d now, what you tried as ceo of ge was globalize the business, you've said. well, why would you have to globalize ge? wasn't it already a very global company? jeffreh, no. actually, in 1982, we were 80% in the united states. by 2001, we were still 70% inside the united states. and what people forget, david, i mean, i think you see it, but, you know, the decade of the nineties
kind of the quintessential american decade. i mean, this place was booming. and really, it was easy to kind of grow your companies. so we really weren't-- despite the fact we were an old company, eren't as global as we needed to be. and that was really, i think, one of the central missions of the leadership team over the past 15 years. and i would argue today we are maybe the best global company of any multinationals, in terms of we're 70% outside the united states. we have a very strong footprint in any country that matters. jeffrey: again, arithmetic. i think there's two ways to globalize. one is to go to washington dc and are for trade deals, go to davos and think you can cut a deal. the other way is to hire 10,000 people in a country and say, "let's go-- let's go win the customer. let's go." that's always been the approach that we've taken, you know. i would say we're good in china because we understand the 5-year plans. we built a strong team. we go outside of shanghai an c beijing to go into tntry.
and we very much see every country we're in from the botm up. davi of the things you tried to do was change the culture of ge. what was the culture that you arinherited and you were pof and how did you try to change it and hoansuccessful was it to the culture? jeffrey: a company like ge is a study in how do you make scale. how do you make size an advantage and not a disadvantage, ght. because inherently, size means bureaucracy. there's just nothing-- there'wo ways to get around it, right. the company i grew up in was very process driven and very centralized. you could do that because we are basically an american company, but when you're vastly more global, you really can't have people in boston ma ng a decision for brazi. so we had to become more decentralized, anwhen you become more decentralized, u have to become more risk-based. so in other words,
you ask me to invest in a gas turbine power plant nigeria i say yes, not because it's safe, but because we're right, we make this much money, and if we're wroon, we lose this much m. you ask me to invest in a nuclear facility in india, i say no, because if you're right, you make $7 million, and if you're wrong, you lose 7 trillion, you know. so you learn to get-- velop managers that are more risk-based, you put bigger leaders into the field, and i think that's the only way you can survive moment in time, you know, we live in today. david: why did you want to move your headquarters, and how did you pick boston? jeffrey: we were on 570 lexington avenue for 40 years, and then we moved to fairfield, connecticut. and we moved to fairfield, connecticut because our executives lived in greenwich and the taxes were zero. for about 10 years, i wanted to be in a city. i just think... there's somethin not that i'm in the office that much,
but there's something about being able to walk out the door, see a customer, see an investor, see what's on, the vibrancy of a city that you don't have-- you know, when i would be infice in fairfield and i would look out the window, i could see the merit parkway and deer running for their lives as they were crossing. and it was idyllic, it was beautiful, but there was nothing going on, really. and i had an office that was probably as big as the first house i owned. and i could reallyusrawl in that office andsit there for like 3 1/2 years and nobody would ever kind o- is he in there? i don't know. i thought it wortant to be in the city, to modernize the company, to be in the flow of ideas. boston's been awesome. i think boston's a great place. david: so you're very happy with it? jeffrey: yeah. no, look, i like--i think... high tech, good schools, great community, but the thing about boston that people don't understand, ul's got a chip on its shor.
it's a townie town, you know. good sports teams. and there's competitive, in-your-face attitude in boston that i also think is quite healthy for our company. david: let's talk about government. you chaired a task force for--presidential task force-- for president obama, and you were later on one for president trump. so do these presidential task force ally do very much that anydy can observe? jeff y: you know, i think it'always , but i think era we're in right now, it's difficult group of business leaders to impact, you know, much. so, look, i wod say basically when was on president obama's jobs council, we gave him 4 or 5 recommendations. we said work on traitung, work on infrastruc, do regulatory reform, help small business, do things that nurture investment. those 5 things. now, i would say, david-- you know, as you would say, those 5 things are pretty obvious.
there's not like a sixth one or a fourth one. those are the 5. everybody in congress knows they're the 5. so it's not like you need another council to say you shouplify regulations, right. david: but it's fun to go to the white house usually. jeffrey: it's or to be in the white house. it truly is an honor. david: if a president, president obama, or the current or future president were to say to you, you have a terrific career behind you, now you should serve your country. come in as a cabinet officer. what would you say? jeffrey: i would make this comment with like trepidation to say i'm not sure businesspeople make great public servants. i said that before president trump. but i was honored to serve president obama. and i would watch my colleagues, and i think, you know, guys like you and me, we're used to saying, "here's what you should do. do this." the nature of that process is, here is what i would do if i were you, right.
i would do it if i were you. and we're not always that good at context. and unless you get context, all the dynamics of public service. so what do you do to relax? jeffrey: i really feellessed in that i basically like my family. i like my wifeyou know. i always say... david: you find that unusual in the business world? jeffrey: i say, i've ledsimple, you know, one wife, one daughter, one compy, right. and i use that line-- when we acquired alstom, e i was in paris, and i at line to describe myself. i lead a se ple life--one wife, ughter, one company. i said, i realize that's not the french way, but that's--it's worked for me. but i like to read. i like playing golf. i like to read. i actually like hiking. but i think one of the things that i trained myself is i've always been able to lead in the moment. so i've always been able to kind of separate different things, even though there's pressure.
in 2011, the fukushima nuclear disaster tk place, and a couple of the reactors were ours. it was terrifying, i would say. so i was on a two-hour teleconference on like, hey, we know what's going on. all we can see is the cnn helicopter feed. but if something happens to the reactor, this is horrible. two-hour teleconference. i'm in perth, australia. click. i have to go do a town hall with 1,000 people. so i have to walk 20 steps. and i'm going from the world as we know it is ending to kind of walk in and say, "hey, guys, i'm feeling good today. "everything is groovy, right, everything is co. we're gonna get through this" and things like that. anink good leaders know how to be in the moment, intezee, but compartmenta and i've always been able to do that in my personal life as well. david: would you say are the one or two st important lessons that you got out of being the ceo of ge? jeffrey: the future always comes, right,
so the notion that i hope this doesn't happen, that's a bad--you know, kind of nervous laughter's a d strategy. so i think this notion that the future always comes, live in markets. if you're a businessperson today turn your back on china, you're crazy. never odnfuse tailwind with anagement, right. i would say i've made that mistake a few times. then maybe the fourth one would be give fully of yourself, give--every person that works for you is their own story. they have a family. they have their own aspirations. give fully of yourself to everybody you meet. and those are just a couple of things i've learned. david: well, thank you for a very interesting conversation, and thank you for the great job you did at ge. as a shareholder of ge, i appreciate many things you did. thank you. jeffrey: thanks, david. good to be with you. david: thank you very much.
nouncer: support for the pbs presentation of this program was provided by general motors. man: see a future. woman: i see a good future. n: i see a future filled with roads and no rage. both: we future... man: with zero crashes. woman: i see a future where fossil fuels... man: are a thing of the past. all: wsee a future with zero emissions. man: i see a future where traffic... second man: keeps perft time. third man: where intelligence is always by design. fourth man: we see a future with zero congestion. woman: zero congestion. man: we are... second man: we are... both: we are... all: general motors. at you're wing pbs. ♪
>> he's dedicated his life to fighting for the condemned -- this week, on "firing line." >> i mean, we have a system of justice in this country uiat treats you much better if you'rrich andy than if you're poor and innocent. >> his story could be straight out of hollywood. as a boy, bryan stevenson went to a segregated school in southern delaware. at harvard law school, he found his calling fightingic for ju.. [ crowd cheering ] >> they had every intention of executing me for something i didn't do. >> ...and helping americans confront the most difficult parts of our hisry. his fight for mercy is so remarkable... >> ladies and gentlemen, bryan stevenson. taapplause ] >> ...hollywood haken notice. >> you're the lawyer? >> yes, ma'am. >> thank you so much for driving all the way out here. >> whaes bryan stevenson say inw? >> "fi with margaret hoover" is made possible by...