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GE Capital: Elevating the Reputation of GE’s “Secret Weapon”

OVERVIEW

Few would argue that General Electric is one of the world’s most admired and best run companies. Its reputation in a myriad of industries from aircraft engines to energy to healthcare is strong. Financial services, however, was a different story. Ten years or so ago, GE Capital, GE’s $50+ billion financial services company with $440 billion in assets and 90,000 employees, was GE’s largest subsidiary. It was considered high performing, but with 28 distinct businesses, difficult to understand. Furthermore, consumers didn’t recognize the GE brand in this category, and business customers often thought of GE Capital as the “lender of last resort.” Furthermore, it was perceived that GE Capital grew through an almost unquenchable thirst for acquisitions rather than organically. How do you build the reputation of such a huge part of GE, without overshadowing the rest of the corporation? How do you enhance brand awareness in an already crowded and competitive financial services industry? And, how do you get back to business after GE Capital’s then CEO, Gary Wendt, makes headlines based on his controversial divorce?

APPROACH

In 1997, Fortune published a major cover story about GE Capital entitled: “Jack Welch’s Secret Weapon.” While on balance quite glowing, it still fed into the positioning of GE Capital being mysterious and purposely organized to be too complex to understand. This major article, however, helped set the stage for positive communication around the GE/GE Capital story. To build on this momentum and appropriately enhance the reputation of GE Capital with key audiences, these communications strategies were developed:

– Create “outside in” messaging, focusing on customer centric issues and solutions rather
than internal company dynamics.
– Leverage interest in current business issues, such as e-business and effectively operating
in a global economy, to develop a thought leadership platform for Wendt and Capital’s
President Denis Nayden.
– Develop vehicles specifically for security analysts, who comfortable covering industrial
companies, needed more information on how to value the financial services part of GE.
– Frame acquisitions in terms of strategic synergies, customer benefits and opportunity for
organic growth.

TACTICS

– Promote customer case histories as a way to show GE Capital’s positive impact in helping
businesses grow.
– Leverage the senior leadership for major business and trade press and keynote speaking
opportunities around the world.
– Reinvent GE Capital’s “annual report” into a true marketing brochure for use with customers
and analysts.
– Create a series of consumer-facing campaigns including the GE Center for Financial
Learning.
– Position the $5 billion Heller Financial deal, one of GE‘s largest, as a platform for better
customer service and organic growth.
– Execute a series of security analyst meetings.
– Better align new messaging to content at the annual senior leadership meeting.

RESULTS

– Increased positive brand awareness of GE in financial services among both executives and
consumers (Source: GE Image Tracking Study ’01).
– Increased positive corporate media coverage 200 percent over three years.
– Five point positive increase in the Quality and Growth Communications Index, GE’s
employee survey, at GE Capital.
– Improved ratings of annual leadership meeting: 92 percent of participants responded
meeting “exceeded expectations” or was “outstanding.”