How innovation is changing at GE

Stephen Whiteside

For General Electric, the rationale behind its innovation strategy reads more like a page from the marketing playbook, rather than a technology play.

"Innovation at GE is starting to change," Alex Tepper, GE's global director/innovation, advised delegates at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit, in New York in late 2013. "We have always been a technology-led innovation company. We're starting to shift to market-led innovation, and coupling these two. It sounds fairly common-sense, but it's really not the way that GE used to be run. It used to be very focused on particular technologies."

Tepper's chain of command similarly illustrates the realignment of priorities. He reports into Beth Comstock, General Electric's chief marketing officer, who is responsible for identifying potential growth areas as well as overseeing the company's broad-based communication programs. "[Comstock] obviously runs brand advertising and marketing at GE, but she also runs market development," Tepper explained. "So my innovation group is very focused on figuring out the convergence of trends that will lead to the next biggest disruptions in business models across all of our businesses."