“There are one billion potential customers in emerging markets that we have to tap into,” CEO of General Electric (GE) Jeffrey Immelt said Friday evening to the nearly 400 attendees of the 2012 Stanford Institute for Economic Policy and Research (SIEPR) Economic Summit. The dinner and Immelt’s keynote speech were held at the Arrillaga Alumni Center.
During Immelt’s talk, several protestors stood outside the Alumni Center carrying a banner emblazoned with the words “GE, here is a bright idea: pay your fair share of taxes.”
The protestors said that the company acquired $10.5 billion in profits over the past three years, but has not paid federal taxes on this revenue.
“We are here because we know the president of GE is here, and we want to raise awareness on this topic so that GE is accountable,” said protestor Peter McDonald ’11. “Some people have given us the thumbs up, and others have tried to call the cops.”
The summit was a daylong event that included seminars, such as “An Institutional Approach to the End of Western Ascendancy” given by Niall Ferguson, a history professor at Harvard University. CEO of Gilead Sciences John Martin and CEO of Hewlett Packard Meg Whitman participated in a seminar titled, “CEO Perspectives on the Economy.”
Immelt emphasized the role and importance of China in the global economy throughout his speech, stating that it will be the “engine for the world market.”
“If you [businesses] are not in China, you are not in the world,” he said. “But the problem with China is that it is hard to do business there.”
“The government is the player, and you really have to study the five-year plans they write up,” he continued.
Immelt stated that cyber security and intellectual property issues in China particularly concern him.
Despite his assessment of China, Immelt said that resource-rich regions such as Africa and the Middle East will be the key to the world economy in the future.
Citing what he believes to be the United States’ comparative advantages in technology and education, Immelt expressed optimism about economic recovery and growth in the country.
“The positive outcome of the crisis is that we have learned to make better risk-reward equations,” he said.
Immelt added that “populism and anger does not solve problems” and instead advocated investment in sectors such as healthcare, education and energy.
“It is a sin when we are number 25 in the world for math and invest only 2 percent of our GDP in research and development,” Immelt said. “Science is the secret to success, so we have to be a country of technology and science.”
“We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” he said. “We can take control of our energy future.”
While Immelt had positive economic assessments for many regions of the world, he predicted that Europe’s future economic situation will be “somewhere between bad and terrible.”
After his speech, Immelt answered questions from the audience. The topics ranged from how to conduct business in China to economic policies of the Obama administration.
“We have had an incredible collection of speakers today,” said William Faulkner ’13, who works with SIEPR. “It’s very complex putting together all the parts of the summit, but it’s satisfying to see it all work out.”
“It was a dynamic day with conflicting views of the world and economy,” said Camille Townsend, president of the Palo Alto Unified School District, who attended the dinner and keynote speech as well as several of the day’s events. “The ideas on where education should head were particularly compelling.”
Dodge and Cox Investment Managers, Koret Foundation & Taube Philanthropies, URS Corporation, Heidrick and Struggles and GE sponsored the summit.