Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt was unanimously appointed chairman of online health tech platform Athenahealth this week, but don’t expect this to be his final landing spot.
“I think it’s step one as he fills out his professional portfolio,” senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told Chief Executive. “He’s an enormously talented guy who deserves yet another opportunity.”
Despite the abrupt end to Immelt’s 15-plus year run as GE’s CEO last year, Sonnenfeld says good leaders can thrive when given another chance, citing the case of Google’s Eric Schmidt, who previously had a less-than-perfect exit from Novell, yet was transformational at Google.
“Jeff’s global vision, his large system skills, and his now battle-tested understanding of working with activists are all priceless resources.” – Jeffrey Sonnenfeld
The pairing would appear to be a perfect fit for both Immelt and Athenahealth. The company, led by CEO Jonathan Bush (nephew of President George H.W. Bush), has been under pressure from billionaire investor Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. to shake things up in response to slow sales growth. Immelt’s experience in dealing with activist investors will likely prove very valuable to the company moving forward.
“He has highly complementary skills to Jon Bush,” Sonnenfeld says. “Jeff’s global vision, his large system skills, and his now battle-tested understanding of working with activists are all priceless resources. Athenahealth and Jon Bush have been stalked by activists, I think that Jeff realizes that short-termism can have a very corrosive effect, and they can push for the wrong timing of asset dispositions. He’s been battle tested and hardened by that experience in very valuable ways for Jon Bush.
Prior to being named CEO, Immelt was president and CEO of GE’s Medical Systems division (now known as GE Healthcare), and that experience is also likely to benefit Athenahealth in a big way.
“He also is an expert in health systems and health technologies, which is hugely helpful,” Sonnenfeld says. “Athenahealth’s board happens to be very good in health and digital technologies, but Jeff brings a great commercial expertise to it and sweeping global visions, with an unrivaled Rolodex of critical relationships.”